Opinion: Mike Woodson is in for rude awakening as Indiana men’s basketball coach

For his entire coaching life, which now spans more than a quarter of a century, Mike Woodson has been an NBA man. He’s done the job well enough to get hired twice in the head coaching chair, even leading the formerly woeful Atlanta Hawks to three consecutive playoff bids. He’s respected enough to be an assistant in the league as long as he wants a job. 

On paper, that qualifies him to be a head coach in college basketball. But the reason Woodson is likely to fail at Indiana, which reached an agreement with him Sunday, has nothing to do with his NBA record. 

It’s the fact that a 63-year-old man who has never worked at the college level is taking on a job that, in this era, often has very little to do with the actual coaching of basketball. And it’s completely fair to be skeptical about his ability to do it, much less whether he really understands what he’s getting into in the first place at his alma mater. 

I’m willing to assume that Woodson will be perfectly competent at the X-and-Oing in the Big Ten. I’m even willing to give him the benefit of the doubt that he’ll hire some recruiters to help him navigate an unfamiliar and often tricky landscape. 

But it’s the third pillar of college coaching that often trips people who’ve never been in it: All the time you’ve got to spend dealing with college kids being college kids. 

Now more than at any other time in the history of college sports, the secret sauce of the job is how well you can connect, relate and motivate — and how much time you’re willing to put in to understanding what makes them tick. 

The most successful college coaches these days spend an inordinate amount of time and energy on things that coaches who come from a pro background just don’t have to deal with in the same way.


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