The dogmas of the quiet past

  • 02/14/2010 12:40 pm in

For no reason in particular, there is an old Lincoln quote rolling around in my head today (Abraham, not continental). It comes from a message to Congress that was a precursor to the Emancipation Proclamation, when Lincoln penned the words “the dogmas of the quiet past are inadequate to the stormy present.”

Now, I’m still not entirely sure what that means, but it’s been rolling around in my head for the last few hours, so I just thought I’d get it out there.

Like most (if not all) of you, I watched at least some portion of the sound beating IU took at Wisconsin on Saturday. I was unable to watch from stem to stern, but I got the gist — not enough offense, not enough defense, not enough points, not enough hustle, not enough of anything for anyone to really find positives in anything but the final buzzer and those brief moments when it slipped from your mind that there was a game yesterday at all.

Now, it’s been suggested, in this space and in others, that I, specifically, am too easy on Tom Crean, too forgiving of the Hoosiers’ plethora of shortcomings as this season slowly turns the way of last.

But the truth is, folks, I understand. I really do. I understand how hard it is to watch this team play, and struggle as it does. There’s a standard Indiana fans expect, and it’s not being met.

And I know that for many of you, that standard isn’t measured solely with banners or wins-per-season averages, but simply with hard work, teamwork and commitment. The majority of you have (at least, I think you have) bought into what Tom Crean is selling — the rebuilding, baby steps approach that celebrates every move forward this team makes, and forgives most of its regressions.

But water will always boil when succumbing to intense heat, and so fans will become displeased when they see performances like the last three IU has managed. I’ve seen part or all of Northwestern, Ohio State and Wisconsin, and this time, I’ll agree with you, Hoosier Nation, your complaints are valid.

Sitting inside Mackey Arena on Saturday, (I cover Purdue for the Times now, too) I recalled IU’s trip to West Lafayette last season, because of something Matt Painter said after the game. I don’t recall, nor can I track down, his exact words, but essentially, Painter sympathized with Tom Crean a little bit.

Every coach that had come through the door after beating Indiana praised the Hoosiers’ hustle, their tenacity, their drive. But Painter had been through the same sort of rebuilding project, albeit on a smaller scale, in his first years at Purdue. So when talking about Indiana, and all those intangible qualities they supposedly offered, Painter also checked himself, saying essentially (and now I’m paraphrasing) that he understood how Indiana felt, that after awhile, you just don’t want to hear about how hard you try if you aren’t winning to go with it.

Painter said he knew Crean didn’t want pity, but respect, and I believed that day that in Painter, Indiana had earned it from the coach of their most-hated rival.

The problem, as I see it, is that Indiana has even lost that. They’ve lost that spunk that at least made them endearing without replacing it with genuine results, at least in the last three games.

Is it fair to judge so harshly on three games? Maybe. Maybe not. But it’s Indiana basketball. The coach is the state’s highest-paid employee, the spotlight is brighter, it comes with the candy-striped warm-ups.

In this team’s defense, which many do think I come to too often, it’s hard to talk about this group and the tradition of Indiana basketball. One former player told me last year that that tradition, as it was passed down from player to player under Bob Knight and at least for a time under Mike Davis, had all but evaporated well before everything fell apart and needed putting back together again.

So what makes us think that this Hoosier pride, as it were, can be restored simply through speeches and t-shirts? What was it that made playing for Indiana so much more special that it was set aside as “tradition” rather than simply the trappings of playing within an elite program? Was it a commitment to honesty? Academic excellence? Hard work? Fair play? All of the above? None of the above?

When Dan Dakich said Saturday on the Big Ten Network’s studio show that Indiana essentially played with no heart against Wisconsin, I’m not sure he was attacking the Hoosiers so much as he was pointing out a significant program-wide mentality that has been lost in recent years.

The questions, of course, are how that is restored, and whether Tom Crean is the man to do it. Is a commitment to the way of those who came before, with an emphasis on playing hard, hustling, out-working everyone no matter the task in front of them? Because those challenges look like maybe they’re starting to fall on deaf ears.

Or is it something else? Is it time for a coach to come in and put his own stamp on Indiana the way Knight did, but independent of Knight’s methods?

Alabama football clung for two decades to the notion of trying to do things exactly as Bear Bryant had done them, and the only coach who was successful in that span was Gene Stallings, himself an incredibly formidable sideline task master.

After Stallings, the program faltered until Nick Saban arrived, with his own way of doing things, with his own plan and his own attitude and no time to look back because it was necessary only to move forward.

Maybe for Indiana, the dogmas of the quiet past (although I’d hardly call it “quiet”) truly are inadequate to the stormy present. Perhaps it’s time to stop holding onto the Bob Knight-instilled way of doing things, and let another coach come in and run the show his way, with his methods and his agenda.

This isn’t condoning the methods of, say, Kelvin Sampson. I think we can all agree that an adherence to the rules is requisite for any program anywhere. (Well, almost anywhere.) But unless these recent performances become an aberration rather than the expected — and given the way the Hoosiers have played and who they have coming up, that seems unlikely — then this will become the latest in nearly a decade’s worth of seasons that ended, at best, in disappointment.

Tom Crean would be the first to tell you, that won’t get it done at Indiana.

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