Buckner on Woodson: ‘He may be the best human being I know’

As Indiana athletic director Scott Dolson spoke Monday about his decision to hire Mike Woodson as men’s basketball coach, there was a certain quality in his oration.

It was a confidence Quinn Buckner heard. That confidence, Buckner said, inferred something.

“He did his homework,” said Buckner, the former IU basketball great and current member of the university’s board of trustees. “That’s part of learning, that’s preparation. That’s knowing the mission and going out and executing it.”

During Monday’s press conference, Dolson credited Buckner with being a liaison in a search process that inevitably landed a longtime NBA coach and former Hoosier as the school’s next leader. Buckner, who spent years in the NBA as a player and coach, defers back.

It was Dolson, he said, who called everyone possible in basketball circles, whether it be players, coaches, even commissioners. He learned what Buckner, who has known Woodson for more than 40 years, already knew about “Woody.”

Soft-spoken and warm in personal conversations, he’s a fired-up competitor on a sideline.

“The man can coach,” Buckner said. “He’s not soft-spoken then. He’s very animated. He’s engaged in the game and with his players. And the official occasionally gets in the way. So he deals with that, as well.”

Buckner knows Woodson about as well as anyone. Their paths crossed at IU, only briefly, when Buckner was a senior on his way out, and Woodson was a recruit on his way into Bob Knight’s program. Early in his NBA career, Buckner would check back on IU and watch Woodson play.

“He can score the ball. He might not be around you defensively,” Buckner said, “but he could score the ball.”

Their bond grew tighter across the decades, overlapping in the NBA, and back in Indiana, where they saw each other socially. Buckner has been golfing with Woodson and fellow IU great Scott May more times than he can count. He’s seen two generally laidback types, Woodson and May, engaged in a bitter war of words on the green.

“Hey, you didn’t put that marker down right! You weren’t there!” Buckner said, mimicking a typical exchange.

“What are you two doing? Guys, nobody cares, we’re just out here playing. ‘You can’t do that!'”

This hire brings happiness to Buckner, but not just because both of his golfing buddies are now close by. And it’s not just because IU’s program will be led by a protégé of Knight.

Buckner long knew that Woodson wanted this opportunity to return to IU as a coach. His passion for the university has long been there. Plus, he has the coaching acumen to execute a plan.

Detractors of Woodson will point to his .463 winning percentage in 680 career games as an NBA head coach. But that’s missing context. His first season in Atlanta — his very first season as a head coach — the Hawks went 13-69. The next year, they won 26 games. Then 30.

In Woodson’s last two seasons, Atlanta won 47 and 53 games, respectively. They won a playoff series in each of those campaigns.

“Mike took a team in Atlanta, a young team, to the playoffs, when nobody else thought they could get in the playoffs,” said Buckner, who provides commentary on Pacers broadcasts for Fox Sports Indiana.

“He came from the Pistons, where he had a bunch of veterans. Nobody thought that (Hawks) team could get there. They were so young. He was also the last guy to take the New York Knicks to the playoffs. He can coach.”

Woodson was only afforded three seasons in New York, the peak being a 54-win season in 2012-13. After the third year, Woodson was out with the Knicks, returning to an assistant-coach chair with the Clippers.

But several Knicks still have positive words to say about Woodson, from Raymond Felton, to Jamal Crawford, to Kenyon Martin. He’s a player’s coach. He knows his Xs-and-Os. He was, of course, welcomed back to the Knicks this season as an assistant before he left for IU.

In his introductory press conference, Woodson expressed gratitude that Knicks owner Jim Dolan, president Leon Rose, and head coach Tom Thibodeau let him leave.

“It’s a hard thing to turn down a guy who is going back to his alma mater,” Buckner said. “I don’t care what sport, what activity it is. That’s a hard thing to do when your alma mater comes calling.”

Buckner, a native of Illinois, doesn’t have the same depth of connection to Indiana as Woodson, the Indianapolis native. But he’s lived in this state long enough to drive by farms, its barns barely visible, but the giant IU flag on the property easily made out. IU basketball is part of the fabric of the state, Buckner said, something that makes this coaching hire just a bit more meaningful.

“It’s good to see one of our own come on and have a chance to do something that’s for the greater good,” Buckner said. “I honestly believe, the fact he’s here, it’s for the greater good. Having success, it means a great deal to a great many people.”

Buckner doesn’t want to put the cart before the horse. Now it’s just time for Woodson to put his plan into action, working as he knows the prolific Hoosier scorer always has. This is an opportunity Woodson has long wanted, and Woodson even admitted Monday he applied for the IU job once before and didn’t get it.

Buckner believes the timing is right, though, for Woodson to make the transition to college. In some ways, the timing is eerie.

Fifty years ago, on March 29, 1971, Knight was introduced as the Hoosiers’ next head coach. Woodson was introduced on March 29, 2021. Exactly 50 years.

Monday was also the 45th anniversary of the 1976 national title game, where Buckner’s squad completed a 32-0 season with a win over Michigan. On a March 29th.

Woodson’s arrival also comes more than a year after Knight made his long-awaited return to Assembly Hall, breaking down some of the tensions that built after his firing in 2000. As Knight walked onto the floor, Buckner was on Knight’s right. Woodson was on his left.

At the time, nobody could have known Woodson was on the brink of his own return, ready to become a tie between IU’s past and a hopeful future.

“I knew that it was big when Coach came back. You didn’t know where it could lead from there,” Buckner said. “I’m sure it had some impact on this process, understanding how people still appreciate Coach Knight.”

On the day Woodson was introduced as the coach, Knight released a statement through IU’s basketball program, offering his blessing. He said, “I’ve never known a better person than Mike.”

That is the quality friends of Woodson point to most. It’s not necessarily his fire on a golf course or a sideline, nor the points he scored on the hardwood for IU.

“What I have always found to be the issue with Mike: He was not nearly as good a basketball player as he is a human being,” Buckner said. “He may be the best human being I know.”

29 comments

  1. Great words from Buckner, who knows a thing or two and then some. I’m thrilled with this hire and quite frankly surprised that I am. I honestly wasn’t too excited when I saw Woodson’s name being thrown around as a potential candidate. Anybody who has any doubts (like I had) should watch the press conference. Woodson (and Dolson) said the right things and pushed the right buttons. This man is going to win over recruits and their families. He has a calm, strong, and confident presence about himself that will hopefully infuse the program to be the same way. I loved that he said he turned out fine. He’s literally a bridge to the past and the glory days but is not stuck in the past. The future looks bright. GO HOOSIERS!

    1. To me Buckner’s words have even more meaning. I had always known and seen Quinn Buckner but he was an invited guest at a small dinner to recognize and honor local winners of Boys and Girls clubs of Indiana. The talk he gave and the sincerity he had gave me a whole new perspective on the guy. There are certain things you just can’t hide and the honesty that Quinn Buckner shows. His endorsement of Mike Woodson speaks volumes.

  2. Like usual all these kinds of stories quickly get redundant. As with any hire it’s as good as anyone else or the same as anyone else.
    0 wins thus far.

  3. Pac94 I felt exactly as you posted. I did not have 1 negative thought about MW during the process playing out. But I did have other names I wanted as IUBB’s HC. It wasn’t till I read the beliefs of past players about Woody’s hire that pulled hard at me. His time at the mic at his presser revealed he is not a smooth public speaker or orator. But he exuded how genuine, original and honest a man he is. His love and respect of the Hoosier Nation is his motivation and will be paramount with setting his goals. While listening to him answer questions I could not resist the calm confidence I felt about IUBB being so similar to feelings I have with Coach Tom Allen leading IUFB. A Win WIN! Support for IU will now multiply under these 2 men. *☆Go HOOSIERS!!!☆*

  4. The more this settles, the better it looks. I think I have to give Dolson some big props here. This took looking at the Indiana program honestly. Then he had to look past the debris and myths surrounding the program to see it for what it was. The coaching choice wasn’t just about the person they brought in at the top. It took being thoughtful and open to all kinds of options.

    The solution to Indiana basketball’s issues isn’t a coach with a different offensive scheme. It wasn’t bringing in the latest coach with who made a run in the tournament. It is about hiring guys who know how to build a program for 2021, not harkening back to a time prior to the 3 pt line (80% of our banners were earned before then). The irony that it starts with bringing back a guy who played for Indiana from 1976 – 1980.

    Mike knows how to develop NBA players. His record in the NBA demonstrates that. He knows how to make players better to compete at the highest level. He took over as head coach for two TERRIBLE franchises. It’s like taking over the Northwestern or Penn State jobs. And he built playoff teams with a bunch of young prima donnas and had them playing together as a team.

    But college? Enter Thad Matta. Not just a coach with success in college, but a coach who actually loves Indiana basketball. Someone who wants to see Indiana find it’s way back to glory, not because it is the institution that signs his paychecks, but because he cares about it.

    Now, there’s rumors that Larry Brown might enter the picture. Just don’t put him in charge of recruiting!! Seriously though, Mike and Larry can both bring a ton of knowledge into the homes of recruits that not only will they compete at the highest levels in college, they’ll also be able to develop the skills they need to get to the next level.

    Not even a week later, and I’m seeing a lot of wisdom and thoughtfulness that went into this. Dolson didn’t hire the latest guy who will make Jeff Goodman swoon. He knew that this job required an entirely new way of thinking. Will it work? Who knows. We’ll see. But it won’t be because they weren’t thoughtful about it.

    1. Does Thad Matta really want to see Indiana build it’s way back to glory…? Gosh, I hope so. I felt like he was trying to deliver a final nail to our coffin when we were conducting a witch hunt and he was plucking Oden and Conley from Indianapolis Lawrence North (and later Deshaun Thomas of Fort Wayne Bishop Luers High School ) to be Buckeyes.

      One thing I know about Matta at OSU…is that he was going to have about as much success as Crean without Cody had he not landed those standout Indiana kids. I guess Matta has one strong trait…He’s ruthless…When your Hoosier Nation is down, he’ll kick you. Loyalty ends at the border. He also has nice reach as a pickpocket artist. Watch your wallet, Woody. Lol.

      1. Thanks for the insight. Matta is just a mole who is secretly trying to destroy Indiana basketball? I’m now enlightened.

        What a shock. Guy is a basketball coach who job it is to win games. He took Oden and Conely not because they were the best players, but because all he really wanted to do was destroy Indiana and plant a Buckeye flag on the moon.

        1. May I also say how much I love Chris Hotmann and hope he plucks many Hoosiers away (as any good coach would) during another one of our many transitional/ reset phases allowing Conference Midwest Elite to further distance itself from Indiana Basketball.

          Irony….It was only a few weeks ago when many of you were expressing just how much you get a “woody” over Holtmann…(along with predictions of a deep run for the Buckeyes this year). Note to Holtmann: You may need more Indiana kids. We’re on reset again. Go for it, Happenstance Holtmann….Timing is everything. ND is down. Butler is down. Indiana is having another one of those damn identity crises again. “:Are we Bob…? Are we not Bob? Because it’s Indiana? Because it’s dusty banners? Bring back the past? Leave the past? More reunions? Let Bob move into a nursing home wing built onto Cook Hall…? …or just drive him around the Hall every few months on a golf cart?”
          Anyhow, opportunity strike now, Mr. Holtmann. Painter looked like a poor man’s Huggin’s at March Madness. Butler who? Irish? Nope. Indiana? Reset.

    2. I like Woodson hire for IU…he gentlemanly gave me his autograph on a napkin around 1980 at the then happening TGIF Friday’s at Keystone and the Crossings. What I am talking about is…not referring to just the money $$$ millions paid to Woodson which is in line percentage of the overall money spent over the years to many others coaching and non coaching…but the many millions spent, thrown at, given to, earned and unearned etc…not just Indiana but in all major league programs college and non college…the perception often is these individuals are filled with overflowing wisdom…examples are athletes, singers, movie/tv stars, talk shows, politicians etc…My point…example pay me or anyone $$$$ millions as in $25,000,000 to $50,000,000 and it might be that I or many others may be overflowing with WISDOM. That’s what I am talking about if anyone is WISE enough to see it.

  5. Is it wisdom or lots and lots of money for sport of men making their existing lives or the rest of their active lives, self fulling, fun and exciting?
    Side note: I know that realistically it’s about money. However, if it was WISDOM maybe their would be very little money involved.

  6. My wife and I used to have an ongoing joke with each other whenever we had some apprehension about a big decision we had just made.

    CONVINCING STAGE.

    I’m hearing a lot of ‘CONVINCING STAGE’. I do admire these old Hoosier guys.. I sort of loved having the memories safely sealed away of their great achievements as standout players. Now I must muddy those memories…I must see them getting up in the years like me. Guess what? My own mirror is bad enough. I must watch them get overly critiqued in the ‘what have you done for me’ lately social media world we live. They defeated Syracuse…They’ve taken down Duke and UNC…They ran with the Runnin’ Rebels….They won on last second shots. They battled Walton and Wooden ….and marched to Final Fours. They put together magical undefeated seasons. Their youth and their teams…and their wonderful coach in his tartan sport coat was frozen in time in the memory cells of Hurryin’ Hoosiers ….Memories tied to my own days hurryin’ around the Bloomington campus on my 10-speed Schwinn from class to class.
    And now I must watch their reputation put through a paper shredder. Now I must allow some giant moronic tool (and that tool will end up being me) steal the lock and combination of those sealed away memories and soon throw crap at it.
    Now I watch the ‘Mighty Quinn’ simply play the game of podium assisting. It’s a game where the score is measured by saying what we want to hear…Now he plays distributor of endorsements rather than the rock. Now he magnificently passes the buck ranter than the Buckner making the magnificent pass. Woodson soon pumps us some fake news instead of Woodson faking out his defender with that marvelous pump fake. Now the memories meet the mud…Now the eternal youth frozen in time on the cloth of those banners meets a pair of scissors snipping away at the axons and dendrites of what I thought was safe.

    How fleeting the summer of youth reminds us all….Men who now just went into the transfer portal of my memories…They instantly transferred from young immortal Hoosiers of game-winning buckets to the ‘grandpa’ years they force upon my eyes. Grandpa Woody…and Grandpa Quinn…and Great Grandpa Bobby effing with my own delusions that the clock isn’t running faster than a rocket ship until the final shot clock expires.

  7. Seems like some of you just want a forum to barf out your personal issues. This is problematic. It’s impossible to have discussion when everything is always blown apart for no constructive reason. It’s always others who lack character, heart, brains, and are prone to sexism, racism, whatever your favorite modality of attack. All with the purpose of running in circles that brings us back to nowhere.

    Challenging opinions and having discussions are wonderful and why we’re here. Mic dropping, “Everyone is a bad faith actor but me,” leaves no room for discussion. Seems personal.

  8. DD- If it makes you feel any better (but I honestly don’t know why my opinion would), I believe Woodson was the best choice for the moment we’re in.

    It’s going to be very difficult for the tools at Indy Star to rip him to shreds. Archie was never given a chance. Whoever initiated all of this in motion (and if you think that’s just Dolson, I think you’re extremely naive) will, at minimum, give Woodson a far more realistic time frame to make some inroads.

    I’m glad he’s getting a shot at coaching the college game at his alma mater. Will this be a Juwan Howard home run? Time will tell. But I hope our fan base understands Howard inherited a far healthier program than Archie Miller. But we all know just how much impatience has grown since cue cards.
    I do think this is far better than someone like Alford…and a far stronger hire than any other alumni in the Knight pool. I hope ‘Woody’ gets a fair chance…Archie did not have much of one….considering he couldn’t get one recruiting class to upperclassmen , dealt with many sub-standard holdovers and hot dogs who giggled on our bench during losses…And there was this minor pandemic thing making for a lot of turmoil, a roller coaster of emotions, and funeral parlor arenas.

    Good hire. Best we could do at this juncture. I would love to see Woodson succeed and be here until I slip into the darkness beyond the final shot clock.

    1. Archie was never given a chance? I don’t buy it. No CEO deserves more than 4 years to turn around a business or at least have it positioned for a strong upward swing. Archie did neither. The Indy press was not his undoing. His own shortcomings did him in. If a coach getting paid 4 million(!) a year cannot take the pressure cooker of leading IU basketball, he shouldn’t be there, period. Water under the bridge. IU is moving forward under Mike Woodson, who exudes confidence and self awareness that Archie never showed. If Woodson could take the heat of the New York press, he’ll be just find against little ol’ Indy’s scribes and pundits.

        1. And those guillotine builders in Indy (Dakich, Indy Star, and some others who live to meddle on the many redundant forums and flame more dysfunction/grudges upon Indiana) will be back like clockwork. They’re all sunshine, lollypops and rainbows now….Dan sounds like Lesley Gore in ‘Ski Party’….lol. Give him time. Have some patience with Dan. That bus will no sooner be on the Highway to Hell.
          Sing it, Lesley!
          https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=ZSnxYtFarNw

      1. A “chance” is called nine years and 30 million to never go beyond a Sweet Sixteen. Watching coaching with a set of cue cards being the culmination of such “chance” after exhausting every avenue to keep a coach forever who was obviously inept.

        I repeat: Archie was never given a chance. He didn’t get to take any of his own recruits to upperclassmen status. He inherited mediocre recruits. His backup post player was Tim Priller. He honored scholarships and Glass’s ‘Student Bill of Rights’ and didn’t force average talent off the team. He was slated to be in March Madness last season before it was abruptly cancelled.
        He had Smith abruptly transfer (his only quality inherited recruit) and Brunk sidelined the entire season due to back injury/surgery.

        Archie made great money in an attempt to save a hype machine of empty gas left by Crean. He landed a so-called superstar Mr. Basketball right out of the gate…who bailed. Nonetheless, considering the nothing roster Archie inherited, you have to give him two mulligan seasons. Year 3 has March Madness cancelled. Most believed we were in.
        I don’t cry in Archie’s beer as he counts his cash…..but he was not given anything remotely approaching the timetables and blind faith put in a charlatan now doing his “upside” recruits routine and “we pray at halftime” preaching clown act at a football school in Georgia.

        We had the patience to watch halftime adjustments called “praying at halftime” along with the shock to eyeballs to see cue cards asking kids to “call out screens:” on a court Knight once taught the game at the highest level. Nine years of that BS …and you call what Archie was given in the midst of two final seasons altered by a pandemic as comparable patience and a chance?

        Archie isn’t leaving looking like damaged goods. I told him a long time ago that he needed to build himself some “prayer” armor…Quote some scripture like Tom Allen. Pray more at halftime. Put some Joyce Meyer tweets on your twitter page. Conduct some more reunions. Don’t just simply try to be a coach at Indiana. That won’t work. Sadly, for Archie, there was no torch rallies or witch hunts to build a jump start of hype.
        The program had merely lost all its fake wind and podium gas… “Hoosier Rising” had become the Hindenburg. We had nowhere else to place our patience as we watched multiple Midwestern teams (13 teams) reach 29 Elite Eights between 2010 and the day Archie stepped on the Bloomington campus. Patience had left the blimp with the bag of gas who filled it.

        Any other questions?

  9. Given that someone had to be hired, Woodson seems like a damn good pick.

    I look forward to seeing him do the job.

    Hopefully, the fanbase won’t turn on him if next year’s team isn’t in the Final Four.

    1. Funny, but a significant portion of the IU fan base turned on Crean within a year of IU going 27 – 8, winning the Outright Big Ten Championship and going to the Sweet 16. More of them turned on him after he produced an 18 – 16 season in spite of losing his All American and future first round draft pick, OG Anunoby to a serious knee injury with 12 regular season games remaining. How funny that some of us now look back and consider those the halcyon days.

      Isn’t it interesting how the Hoosier Nation’s collective expectations about IU BB have been lowered over the last four years! Fortunately, I think Woodson has very high expectations.

      1. Nobody said he totally failed at recruiting …He simply couldn’t coach. He collapsed when the game importance increased in March Madness. The highly ranked teams collapsed with him. For the level of talent (especially while having one of the premier centers in nation) the results in March Madness were substandard. Simply take a look at Conference Midwest Elite….if I must remind again how much the rest of the Midwest was dusting Crean and the Hoosiers on the biggest stages with far less rankings and hype.
        And then when you examine his ethics and how he scholly crunched kids and threw many under the bus after long term injuries or minor digressions to simply get to his next “upside” experiment, It was just evidence of a sad human being.

      2. In his seventh season, Kelvin Sampson has taken a completely comatose program which hadn’t seen a Final Four since 1984 to the biggest stage in the game. Meanwhile, guess what program is bragging about spending 50 million on coaching salaries over the past 13 years (nine on one who walked on water) to never go beyond a Sweet 16 or into the second weekend of March Madness? And even with said achievements, you’ll never see a Houston Cougar fan act like Kelvin walks on water…Our fan base is so, so terribly self-indulgent over very average achievements.
        BigTen standings are great for Purdue fans …and dominant teams in mid-majors. They are not the proving ground of March Madness…It ‘s the Madness that brings the cream (never to be confused with ‘the Crean) to the top.

  10. Does Woody bring Pat Knight to the bench…? Is it my understanding he’s a scout for the Pacers right now? So much like Woody, he knows the bridge between college and NBA?

    Conspiracy Theory #746: The Return of Pat Knight. lol.

  11. I hope the NCAA has the sense to take advantage of this ‘star crossed’ situation. It’s been 45 years since the perfect season (almost back to back perfect seasons). 4+5 = 9 or finality. With the entire tournament in our backyard,..when (not if) Gonzaga runs the table,..a photo op needs to include Mark and a ‘Few’ of his boys standing alongside the ‘General’ and the ’76 Hoosiers for a classic photo.

  12. I think Juwan Howard just shrunk a bit….Pegged for a Final Four run and came up short to Walton’s “Conference of Champions”….? Yuk. Like I’ve said, this Final Four stuff is a hard business.

    Maybe the BigTen was completely overrated. Illinois upset by Loyola…Michigan can’t get by the Bruins. OSU goes down in the Round of 64. Speed and pace throughout a roster. We’re falling behind.

    1. There are some bitter, pessimistic, never satisfied people on this thread anymore. I used to look forward to ‘some’ of the perspectives of the posters here, but for some reason it has turned into a sad display of high school composition class with little to no discussion of the subject matter; other than personal attacks and passive aggressive jabs written out in verbal garbage. Kinda like the person who talks just to hear themselves talk. Blah blah blah.
      Kind of sad really.

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