When Archie Miller was fired, Dane Fife wanted the IU men’s basketball head coaching job. Then when Mike Woodson was named the new head coach, he called Fife.
It was the first time he’d ever been offered a job at IU — and saying yes was an easy decision.
“Indiana is a really unique place,” Fife said. “I’ve always said I wanted to come back and coach in Indiana. Why? Because the passion for basketball. Why? Because people know basketball, and it's unlike any other place in the world.”
The hard part was leaving East Lansing, Michigan. Although Fife played for the Hoosiers from 1998-2002, he was only 45 minutes away from his hometown while coaching at Michigan State for the last eight years.
His kids grew up Spartans fans, even though both Fife and his wife graduated from IU. He said they’ve been subtly brainwashing their kids their whole lives, so once they get to Bloomington he thinks they’ll switch over.
“My 8-year-old booed me yesterday,” Fife said. “But she did have a candy stripe hair tie on and she didn't even know my wife slipped one on her head. And she said she liked it. So, she liked the cream and crimson and she didn't realize what she was doing.”
But his kids had a point. Fife said the IU men’s basketball program is fragmented, and there are still some missing pieces. But he said it’s not any one person’s fault, it’s just going to take time and effort to fix.
“I think we all — coach Woodson, myself — we all can talk the talk, but we've got to dig in with people and figure it out,” Fife said. “It’s got to be a complete and full investment, but it takes the right understanding.”
A lot of fixing the culture of IU basketball starts with the interaction between the team and the community, he said. He said the players are some of the nicest kids he’s met, but right now, they’re just social media sensations to their fans.
Fife wants all of that to change. Instead of just posting a picture after a game, he wants his players to go out and sign autographs. He wants them to go out into communities and be with the fans that love the program to thank them.
He said he knows these are steps that need to happen to make this work and get people excited about IU basketball again.
“What I can tell you is when we can get out and get into these communities, you can bet that me and my daughters, my two little girls, they're going to see what Indiana basketball is all about,” Fife said.
By working hands on with fans, Fife said that’s how you rebuild. That’s how he’s going to reestablish the culture that was once so strong when he played for IU. He said he’s excited to be back and do that at his alma mater.
Fife still hasn’t had a chance to sneak into Assembly Hall, but he said he’s excited to go sit in the bleachers and let all of the memories come back.
“It's just not much has changed,” Fife said. “That's what's really unique about it.”
Although the bleachers and suites haven’t changed, there’s room for other areas to adjust. Now, it’s up to Fife, along with Woodson and the team, to change the culture of the program and the attitude of Hoosier nation.
“I've always felt the Indiana basketball job, by and large, should be coached by somebody who played or coached here, spent a lot of time here,” Fife said. “And I think coach Woodson’s perfect at this time. And I think that coach Woodson had in mind that he was gonna bring in others that had the same passion that he did. And I do believe that this is the right move to once again to bring everyone together.”