Thursday, February 16, 2006

Now That Mike Davis' Days Are Numbered At Indiana, It's Time For the Hoosier Brass To Go After Alford -- And the Iowa Coach Should Take the Job

Mike Davis has made his bosses’ job a lot easier at Indiana University.

He is now known as a coaching dummy, and his days of running the Hoosiers' basketball program are numbered.

So I have the answer to what should happen next.

Indiana should offer the coaching job to Steve Alford of Iowa, and Alford should accept it.

I am convinced that will solve a number of problems.

Alford [right] and his Iowa players are on their way to winning a Big Ten Conference championship this season. The Hawkeyes are in first place all by themselves, and anything short of an outright title will now be extremely disappointing to Iowa’s fans and Alford’s bosses.

Alford is as clean-cut a guy as you can find. There is never a hair out of place on his head, his ties always match the expensive suits he wears, and it appears a team of Hollywood makeup artists and Armani designers prepare him for each game.

He is a man mothers absolutely love. Alford can come into their living rooms in small-town –- and, occasionally, big-city -- America to recruit anytime. They want their sons to play for him. They know their kid will be in good hands when they are in his high-caliber, squeaky-clean program.

They know the kid won’t ever beat Alford in a game of H-O-R-S-E after practice, but he'll always go to class and get a good job when his collegiate career is finished.

Maybe not in the NBA, but at IBM.

Fathers are starting to like Alford, too. For a while, some of them maybe wondered if he could coach. Now they know he can coach. The guy is going to win a championship in the strongest collegiate conference in America with a starting lineup that includes four white players. Heck, four of the regulars are Iowans. It's pretty hard to beat that kind of stuff in little ol' Iowa City.

Everybody knows basketball is a black man’s game. At Iowa, it doesn’t matter. Alford has proved he can match game plans with the best minds in the Big Ten and win with players whose names are never mentioned in the same sentence with the much-overused word “athleticism.”

Alford’s superior coaching would be a perfect fit at Indiana, whose basketball library hasn’t been blessed with a strong playbook since Bobby Knight had black hair and wore those funny red plaid sportcoats.

Davis [pictured at the top of this column] couldn’t win at Indiana if he had an entire roster of McDonald’s all-Americans who could shoot like Alford when he starred for Knight’s teams, and could jump through the roof at Assembly Hall in Bloomington.

Alford also has the perfect family for the Hoosiers’ job. I mean, it’s the all-American family. The TV cameras show us that all the time during games. His dad, who was one of his assistants at three coaching jobs [including Iowa], is now retired, and looks like the perfect proud parent while sitting with his wife, Steve’s wife and Steve’s kids.

Ozzie and Harriet all over again, that’s what it is.

It’s about as neat a thing as anyone could imagine here in America’s heartland.

Crowd roaring. Students dressed in gold [or is it yellow?] shirts and painted faces. Dance girls and cheerleaders doing endless backflips. People from Tiffin, Solon, Cedar Rapids and Lone Tree hanging from the rafters, breathlessly waiting for another victory over Ohio State, Michigan, Michigan State and, yes, Indiana.

Oh, sure, Alford couldn’t beat Northern Iowa and Iowa State in early-December, but nobody remembers that now.

Besides, after the train-wreck that happened at Ames last night against Nebraska, Hawkeye fans are wondering if basketball is still an intercollegiate sport at Iowa State. They’re shipping a coaching manual to Wayne Morgan and sending the Cyclones get-well cards and best wishes in the NIT.

The Alford-to-Indiana timing would be perfect. Ever since his first day on the Iowa campus, Hawkeye fans figured he’d be waiting for The Call from Bloomington. When Knight was sent packing to Lubbock, Texas, people thought The Call would be coming to Alford’s office.

Maybe it did. But if it did, Alford was smart to say no. He knew following Knight at Indiana was a dumb thing to do. It’s known as coaching suicide.

Following Davis, though, will be simple. Davis not only can’t coach. He’s also a man nobody likes in Indiana.

Alford is a guy everybody in Indiana likes.

Pity the poor guy on the Indiana search committee who doesn’t call Alford and offer him a multi-million-dollar, lifetime contract. That guy’s next address also will be Lubbock.

So what does Iowa get from all of this? Well, people around here will finally be able to relax.

We’ve all been waiting for the time when Indiana would make The Call. Now, when Alford says yes to The Call, Iowa athletic director Bob Bowlsby can hire Greg McDermott away from Northern Iowa, or simply turn the job over to present Hawkeye assistant Craig Neal [left] -- who’s getting a lot of credit these days and might look all right in an Armani suit himself -- or one of the other 500 coaching hotshots who will line up outside Bowlsby's door.

I know there probably are a number of readers who wonder why I’m being so nice to Indiana and to Alford. You’re probably asking why I say the two deserve each other.

I know there are a few Hawkeye fans who claim Alford is arrogant, but I find that awfully hard to believe. He’s never been arrogant to me. Then, again, I’ve never gone beyond a one-question, one-answer experience with him at a press conference.

I know a guy who used to have a high-profile job at Iowa doesn’t like it when Alford always calls him “Old-Timer.”

But that’s probably just because Steve can’t remember the guy’s name.

I also know there are still some people who maintain that the fans in this state haven’t warmed up to Alford.

[I’m not talking about the Cyclone fans].

Whatever, Alford has proved to me that he has matured as a coach, and is ready to take on the coaching challenge at his alma mater. If Indiana does the right thing and hires him, I predict he’ll be a big winner.

I hesitate to mess up this column by bringing up Lute Olson’s name, but I’d hate to see a repeat of what happened when “Mr. Wonderful With All That White Hair”--a man who was a coaching legend in his own mind -- sat in the Iowa coaching office.

Mr. Wonderful was the Hawkeyes’ coach for nine seasons. That was two or three years too long. In my earlier writing life, I’d several times have to wrap up Olson’s seasons by saying his arrogance was becoming a distraction to the entire program.

I never believed in sugar-coating anything, especially when it came to reviewing a season when I thought a thin-skinned coach found a way to blow what should have been a Big Ten championship year.

Mr. Wonderful finally did us all a favor by leaving for Arizona.

Alford can avoid all of this by taking the Indiana job. This is his seventh –- and, by far, his best –- season at Iowa.

It’s time for him to go back home. The man is ready.