Overlooking IU Players a Costly Oversight?

BLOOMINGTON, Ind. - Former IU players Brian Evans and Greg Graham talk about the reaction from former teammates about the hiring of Kelvin Sampson, and the decision to not pursue Steve Alford or Randy Wittman.

BLOOMINGTON, Ind. – It might have been a feel good day in Bloomington with the hiring of Kelvin Sampson as IU's next basketball coach, but there were also likely some hurt feelings in the "IU Family" as well.

That's because indications are that neither Steve Alford nor Randy Wittman, a pair of former IU All-Americans who are in the coaching profession, were contacted about the IU coaching vacancy.

Alford, the head coach at Iowa, and Wittman, an assistant coach with the NBA's Orlando Magic, both appeared to be very interested in replacing Mike Davis on the IU sidelines. But it appears neither was contacted or consulted about the vacancy, let alone interviewed.

"I think if you were a coach and you felt you should at least be considered for the job or receive a phone call, those guys are probably going to be pretty bent out of shape if they weren't (contacted)," said former IU player Brian Evans, one of approximately 10 former players who were in attendance at Wednesday's press conference. "A lot of that is hearsay. But from what I heard guys weren't contacted, and I'm sure their feelings are hurt."

The news was also a disappointment to some IU fans who were holding out hope Greenspan would look to a former player or coach to lead the program.

"There are a lot of people disappointed in the choice, but that's understandable because you can't erase the memories that fans and former players have here," said former Hoosier Greg Graham.

IU Athletics Director Rick Greenspan and the IU search committee did consult with former Hoosier players about the sort of characteristics the next IU coach should have. But when it came time to pick the person that had those attributes, Greenspan kept a very tight lid on the search in an effort to keep the story out of the public eye.

In the short term, Evans thinks that closed-door approach could lead to disenchantment amongst some former players.

"I think there are going to be some former players that have become even more disconnected during this search," Evans said. "I think I talked to half a dozen of them, that maybe didn't feel they were used as a resource or they weren't contacted.

"For whatever reason, they chose to run this search in a real covert, underground kind of way. I don't necessarily know why you couldn't go out and talk to a number of guys, but that's not what they did."

The end result was the hiring of Sampson, a 23-year coaching veteran who has 455 career victories and has been to the NCAA Tournament 11 times in the last 12 years. That announcement came as a bit of a surprise to many of the former players as well.

"Shock was probably my first reaction," Evans said. "I think we all got pretty comfortable with the list of names. I care about this program, and I was paying a lot of attention, and that just wasn't a name that had popped up."

While it might have come as a surprise, both Evans and Graham said fans need to get behind Sampson as he tries to bring back IU's winning ways. If he's able to do that, some of the recently-opened wounds will likely heal.

"You have to give Coach Sampson a chance," Graham said. "Once the dust settles and everybody realizes this is a great move for Indiana University, they'll finally come around and we'll be reunited again."

Evans thinks Sampson could expedite that process as well by opening his doors to those IU alums now that he's the point man for the IU basketball program.

"I do think it will be good for Kelvin and his staff to reach out a little and make them feel welcome when they come back here," Evans said. "I think if you have former players hanging around, coming to practice, coming to games, it says something about the tradition of your program."

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