5. Coaching Search
Indiana ultimately settled on Kelvin Sampson to replace Mike Davis as its basketball coach, but the coaching search itself – and the secrecy in which it was conducted – was nearly as big a story as the hiring.
Rick Greenspan pledged to keep his search close to the vest, but such a clandestine operation seemed like wishful thinking with such a high-profile vacancy. But he managed to do just that, leading to plenty of speculation about who was a candidate and who wasn't.
To this day, no one other than Greenspan seems to know how seriously – if at all – he inquired about the availability of the likes of Gonzaga's Mark Few, Louisville's Rick Pitino and Memphis' John Calipari, among others. Reports linked each of them with the IU job, although none of the parties involved ever confirmed those reports. That can probably be attributed to the fact that as a one-man search committee, Greenspan let it be known that if word did leak out, he'd know who the source of the leak was – and that would all but rule them out as a candidate.
One thing that is known is Greenspan didn't interview either Steve Alford or Randy Wittman, a pair of former IU All-Americans who were interested in the job. That didn't sit well with some former players, most of whom thought they either deserved an interview or were at least entitled to be told first-hand they weren't going to be considered for the vacancy.
It all led to a six weeks of drama and speculation that was ultimately curtailed with the introduction of Sampson as IU's basketball coach March 29.
4. Terry Hoeppner's Health –
Terry Hoeppner delivered some shocking news to his team in early September – he'd be taking a temporary leave of absence to have his second brain surgery in nine months. The second-year Hoosier football coach was diagnosed with a brain tumor Dec. 26, 2005, and had surgery soon afterwards. A routine follow-up scan in September created cause for concern for Hoeppner's doctors, who suggested he undergo a second surgery to have a spot removed.
Hoeppner did that just days after receiving the news, and turned the program over on an interim basis to Assistant Head Coach Bill Lynch. The players and coaches said they wouldn't allow Hoeppner's health situation to be a distraction, but the Hoosiers went on to lose games to I-AA Southern Illinois and were then anemic offensively in a 14-7 loss to UConn to close out the non-conference schedule 2-2.
Hoeppner made a quicker-than-expected recovery, returning to practice just 11 days after undergoing the surgery, which he said was ultimately to remove scar tissue from the initial procedure. He was on the sidelines for the duration of conference play, and guided his team to a 5-7 mark, including wins over Iowa and Michigan State. But his health scare – and lingering questions about his health – continue to be a topic of conversation and concern among all IU fans.
3. Kelvin Sampson's hiring -
The IU athletics program embarked on its first men's basketball coaching search in 35 years, and there were many who were more than willing to offer their two cents. Some wanted a coach with an IU pedigree, such as Steve Alford or Randy Wittman. Others wanted a clean break from the past, instead preferring a Mark Few or a John Calipari or a Rick Pitino. All wanted someone who could reunite a divided IU fan base while also restoring the program to national prominence.
Ultimately, Greenspan decided Sampson was the man who could accomplish those two tasks. A 23-year coaching veteran who had spent the last 12 seasons at Oklahoma, Sampson guided the Sooners to a 270-109 record, a Final Four berth in 2002, and had won at least 20 games nine straight seasons. Sampson also was a two-time National Coach of the Year and arrived with a reputation for putting together teams that played relentless defense and rebounded the ball, two areas Davis' teams had often struggled.
While Sampson's track record for winning were big hits to IU fans, some were initially wary of two things - an impending NCAA ruling on rules infractions at Oklahoma, along with a less-than-stellar graduation rate among OU's players. Ultimately, Greenspan and IU President Dr. Adam Herbert were convinced Sampson's commitment in those two areas were every bit as strong as his dedication to winning, and they gave him a seven-year deal that pays him $1.5 million annually.
2. Mike Davis: "Indiana needs one of their own" – Feb. 13, 2006 –
Davis' departure could probably be the biggest IU sports story since the second-year coach took the Hoosiers to the national title game in 2002. The day Davis was named to replace Bob Knight was the day civil discontent came to Hoosier Land. Within days of Davis' hiring, IU basketball supporters became either Pro-Knight or Anti-Davis. Like him or him hate, there is no denying that the decision to make Davis IU's coach set-up the Hoosier Nation for six years of bitterness. The day Davis announced he was leaving, you could feel the collective Hoosier Nation exhale. Not only was the mediocre state of Indiana basketball being addressed, the veil of uncomfortableness that existed since Davis' arrival was being lifted.
Davis did no great injustice to IU basketball - he helped the program avoid a mutiny and took the Hoosiers to the Final Four for the first time in 15 years. But two years of not making the NCAA tourney - the first such span of March Madness absence in more than 30 years - and Davis' inability to keep homegrown talent in the great basketball state of Indiana (especially when you consider the wealth of prep talent the state enjoyed during Davis' tenure in Bloomington) never sat well the Hoosier faithful. And after a difficult stretch early in last season's Big Ten schedule all parties involved reached an agreement, a change of scenery was needed. So, Mike Davis announced his resignation, righted his last ship long enough to escort the Hoosiers to the second round of the NCAA Tournament and then left for parts unknown, which ultimately became UAB.
1. Eric Gordon –
This was a recruiting saga that left everyone involved bloodied. IU coach Kelvin Sampson's ethics were called into question for recruiting a player who had verballed to a Big Ten counterpart. Illinois skipper Bruce Weber was chastised by many Illini fans for his inability to land the big one. And Gordon and his father, Eric Sr., were belittled by Illini fans and even national media for their decision to turn their backs on Illinois and instead commit to Sampson's Hoosiers.
Why all the fuss? Because the 6-3, 185-pound guard from Indianapolis' North Central H.S. is arguably the best player in the nation in the 2007 class and unquestionably the premier in-state talent. After witnessing players such as Sean May, Josh McRoberts, Mike Conley and Greg Oden go elsewhere in recent years, IU fans had their fill of watching homegrown players bolt for the border when it came time for college.
It says something about college athletics when an 18-year-old high schooler's college decision is a bigger deal than the naming of a new head basketball coach, the approval of $55 million facility enhancement project and the health of your school's other marquee coach. But…there's no mistaking the fact Gordon's decision was the hot-button topic of 2006.
Top 10 Stories of 2006 - No. 1-5
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