A hire full of promise ends with apathy. What went wrong for Archie Miller at IU?

When Archie Miller arrived at Simon Skjodt Assembly Hall in 2017, a once-proud but stagnant basketball program found new hope.

Indiana was bringing in a late-30s headman from Dayton, considered one of the up-and-comers in his trade. He’d coached the Flyers to the Elite Eight. He checked the boxes of a leader who could bring the IU’s men’s basketball program back to prominence.

“A coach’s son with the headiness and toughness to flourish as a 5’9 major college point guard, Archie is a proven leader, proven winner, proven recruiter, and a proven player developer with a defense-first mentality that will help us win championships,” then-IU athletic director Fred Glass said in a statement announcing Miller’s hire.

“Perhaps and most importantly, he understands and embraces the special stature of Indiana University basketball and the critical relationship it must have with its former players, Indiana high school players and programs, and the entire State of Indiana.”

Four years later, however, there were chants of “Fire Archie” at Lucas Oil Stadium as the Hoosiers went one-and-done at the Big Ten tournament. The season ended miserably with six straight losses, including a field-goal drought of 9:50 to end the campaign. IU was, again, going to miss the NCAA tournament.

The fanbase had lost trust in its bright young coaching star. Current IU athletic director Scott Dolson lost trust, too.

On Monday, Dolson announced Miller’s firing. The blow of Miller’s hefty contract buyout had been eased by “private philanthropic funding,” allowing the Hoosiers to start fresh. Again, IU is in search of a leader who can energize a fanbase that was growing entirely too apathetic.

What went wrong? Here’s an overview of the Miller era, one that started with promise, but inevitably fell flat.

Getting Mr. Basketball

IU didn’t turn around overnight. The Hoosiers went 16-15 in Miller’s first season. But some rockiness was expected as he took over for Tom Crean.

Miller needed to start getting his own guys, and he caught one of the biggest fish possible out of the gate.

In 2018, Miller landed Romeo Langford, one of the most hyped recruits in Indiana since Damon Bailey. The 6-foot-5 scoring guard from New Albany was packing gyms across the state, and it was expected that he would inject some excitement into an IU program that needed it.

In terms of his “inside-out” recruiting approach, Miller was a success. He secured three straight Mr. Basketballs, a school record, following up Center Grove’s Trayce Jackson-Davis with Bloomington South’s Anthony Leal. His 2018 class, in particular, was filled with in-state talent, including South Bend Riley wing Damezi Anderson and McCutcheon point guard Rob Phinisee, both four-star prospects.

But those in-state recruiting wins didn’t give Miller the juice he had banked on. Anderson transferred to Loyola after playing limited minutes. Phinisee’s development stagnated as a sophomore and junior. Langford was a one-and-done prospect, and his lone season at IU — hampered by a thumb injury — was a 19-16 campaign where the Hoosiers missed the NCAA tournament.

All of that combined to take some luster off Miller’s in-state recruiting wins. Jackson-Davis was a star, but Miller could never assemble the shooters around a talented post to maximize his skillset. Leal continues to be a work-in-progress. Miller arguably could have had a fourth consecutive Mr. Basketball if Khristian Lander had stayed at Evansville Reitz for his senior season, but he reclassified and proved unready to contribute consistently as a young 18-year-old freshman at IU.

Miller’s first recruit in 2022 was, again, an in-state player, Lawrence North guard C.J. Gunn. But winning players in the state of Indiana wasn’t enough to save Miller.

Failing against Purdue

One of the harshest indictments of Miller’s tenure at IU may have come from a midseason tweet via Purdue’s men’s basketball account.

After the Boilermakers won their eighth straight game in the rivalry series, in front of a sparse crowd at Simon Skjodt Assembly Hall, the program tweeted a picture of the Hall’s court and declared it “feels like home.” Purdue’s “P” was photoshopped onto the midcourt logo.

There were some big wins during the Miller era, including five victories over ranked teams during the 2019-20 season. IU beat a top-10 Iowa squad twice this season. But the losses on the scale seemed so much weightier.

Miller didn’t claim a single win over Purdue, seeing the losing streak extend to nine. As the Boilermakers claimed recruiting wins in the 2021 class, including in-state forwards Trey Kaufman-Renn and Caleb Furst, it was reasonable to worry that IU was very much falling behind Purdue’s development curve.

In the conference, generally, IU seemed to be losing ground. The Big Ten championship game featured two coaches, Illinois’ Brad Underwood and Ohio State’s Chris Holtmann, who were both hired the same year as Miller. Steve Pikiell, in his fifth season at Rutgers, has transformed the Scarlet Knights from Big Ten bottom-feeders to an NCAA tournament squad.

IU has lost six out of its last seven games versus Rutgers, including three losses this season. The Hoosiers had never lost a game to Rutgers before Miller arrived.

The losses hurt, particularly how they came. Oftentimes, right after a big win. Miller’s teams went 3-9 in the games following wins over top-25 teams. After IU’s first win over Iowa this season, the Hoosiers lost to Rutgers at home. They followed up their second win over Iowa with another win, but it came over a middling Northwestern program, in double overtime.

IU just could never sustain momentum under Miller. The Hoosiers never won more than two games in a row this season. They never posted a winning record in conference in Miller’s four years, finishing a combined 33-44 in Big Ten play.

Death by a thousand cuts

It’s possible to say Miller was just unlucky during his time at IU.

Langford was one-and-done, and he wasn’t even at full strength during his one season. Jerome Hunter, who looked to be one of the other stars of his 2018 class, turned out to have a leg condition that wiped out his freshman season and has slowed his progress since. This season, the loss of a key role player in Joey Brunk (back surgery) thinned the frontcourt. Armaan Franklin, one of the breakout stars of this season, couldn’t stay healthy because of foot and ankle problems.

In a season where IU was competitive in just about every game but fell short so many times, it’s possible that a few of those games would have been much different — and the Hoosiers could have squeezed into the NCAA tournament — if so many factors weren’t working against them. But at the end of the day, such a tremendous lack of consistency falls on the coach.

His teams were too often careless with the ball. They couldn’t hit shots, and the Hoosiers were also one of the worst teams in the league at guarding the 3-point line. They didn’t have the size to manhandle teams on the boards, and they didn’t have the dynamic scoring guards who could drive the lane and finish in traffic. IU’s margin for error was just so small, and the Hoosiers came up on the wrong end too many times.

The fan base lost patience because it was hard to point to one aspect of Miller’s program and know its worth. Inside-out recruiting wins? Yes, but somehow that came without shooters. A gritty, sticky pack-line defense? Against Iowa, yes, but it didn’t show consistently. NCAA tournament appearances? Yes, the Hoosiers likely would have made it last season, until the pandemic hit. But regardless, IU headed into Miller’s fourth year without a postseason appearance.

That didn’t change this season, and with the NCAA Tournament being housed entirely within the state’s borders in 2021, that was a difficult fact to swallow.

So the Miller era is over. Full of promise in the beginning. Full of apathy at its end. Now, it’s up to Dolson to find his own champion, renewing hope that IU men’s basketball can recapture some magic from its past.

“Indiana Basketball has a long, rich history of success that dates back generations,” Dolson said in a statement. “Our five national championships and 22 Big Ten titles make us one of the most accomplished programs in college basketball history. I have high expectations for our program, and we have not competed at a level within the conference or nationally that I believe we should.”

7 comments

  1. Miller should not have been told how important recruiting Indiana is to the program.
    IU should recruit the best players possible and then let the chips fall where they may.

    1. I agree completely, Nat. Hoosiers by choice are just as valuable as Hoosiers by birth. Some of IU’s all time greatest BB players grew up in other states. And I don’t remember anyone complaining about them while they were helping IU win Big Ten and National Championships.

    2. I think this is the catch 22 with IU fans. They complain when the Indiana Mr. Basketball doesn’t come to IU and then complain when IU gets 3 straight Mr. Basketballs and they don’t fit into the system that the coach runs. I think that is why being the coach of IU is difficult. If Miller didn’t get the Mr. Basketball the fan base would be going bonkers. He gets them and they don’t seem to fit and he gets criticized for signing them. This is why this job isn’t as appealing as it once was.

      1. Good point, 1992. But winning cures everything, and IU fans have to decide which is more important, signing Indiana Mr. Basketballs or winning games and championships? That’s why IU needs a head coach with a strong personality and the self confidence that allows him to ignore the noise from those parochial IU fans focused on the wrong priorities. If IU fans think back, they’ll remember that Knight failed or refused to recruit a lot of great in-state talent and repeatedly stated that “there are just some players that can’t play for me.” And some of his best players came from outside the State of Indiana. I don’t remember IU fans criticizing Knight for signing Scott May, Quinn Buckner, Isiah Thomas, Keith Smart, A.J. Guyton, Kirk Haston, etc. Follow the rules, develop young men and win. That should be the only criteria an IU BB coach should be accountable for.

  2. The problem of “in state” recruiting is more complex. Mr. Basketball award winners are probably not what they used to be when there was only one/single class basketball in Indiana.
    Don’t just recruit on popularity contests ..Much of the “coaches” and “media” votes are agenda driven. Must do your homework. Loyola, Xavier and Creighton are all our in the tournament with Indiana kids who weren’t names being floated around the Indy media, blogs, etc. And, of course, there’s that average kid from Ben Davis on MSU…(Aaron Henry? Heard of him?) who likely cost Archie his job (had two mammoth games to help bury us and move MSU into March Madness consideration).

    Got to land the better talent from the state…Going outside the borders is fine, too, but I think Archie was a bit enamored with the “popular” geographic picks (not to mention one who came right out of Bloomington) because he failed to understand the breadth and depth of Hoosier talent beyond the Indianapolis and Bloomington popularity picks arising out of the media/coaches
    “homer” lists. And it’s often those local kids who want to come to Bloomington….Their talent is overly hyped …and the hype they’re coming to resurrect the program plays to the choir.

    1. I often times get exhausted with your self indulgent wordiness and not so clever verbose writings, but I actually agree with you 100% on this one. Being 6’9” and padding stats against mediocre high school teams does not equate to being a solid competitor in the B1G. Especially if you can only go left and not hit a shot outside of 5’.

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