Indiana is in the market for a new basketball coach. Maybe you heard about that as the Hoosiers’ brass metaphorically photobombed March Madness by firing Tom Crean an hour before the first day of games tipped off. “Hey, everyone! We’re making news in March, too!”
It was a successful strategy. Here we are talking about Indiana and its search, a search that has seemed to settle on one primary candidate: Indiana basketball legend and current UCLA head coach Steve Alford.
Gregg Doyel of the Indianapolis Star has a fascinating column on the back-and-forth going on over Alford’s candidacy. I always see parallels between Indiana basketball and Nebraska football. Not just because both proud programs have churned through coaches this century while trying to replace legends. The two programs also seem to share a central conflict: Is looking to the past the best way to reclaim that past or is it actually what prevents an historic program from replicating that past in the present?
To put it another way: Does Indiana basketball need “an Indiana guy,” someone who has been there, understands the tradition, the setting, etc., etc., or does it need to be progressive and seek a new way forward?
Based on Doyel’s story, that’s the question Hoosier fans are mulling right now. But that wasn’t actually what struck the most from this column. This little nugget was (emphasis mine):
The Alford-to-IU noise is so loud, coaches around the country are telling me what they’re hearing: They expect Adidas — IU has a $54 million contract with Adidas through 2024 — to pay Alford’s $7.8 million buyout at UCLA. It too was an Adidas school when UCLA hired Alford in 2013, but the Bruins recently left Adidas for a 15-year, $280 million deal with Under Armour. Adidas would love to return the favor and help Alford leave UCLA. That’s what other coaches are hearing, and telling me.
If you don’t follow the sneaker wars closely, Adidas is blowing up right now. North American sales were up 30 percent last year (meanwhile Nike announced disappointing North American sales growth on Tuesday). What’s spurring Adidas along? Here’s a good breakdown from last summer. The company’s somewhat unforeseen growth — just a few years ago it was assumed Adidas was destined to fall behind Under Armour in North America — has led Adidas to push the envelope even more. It says its eschewing TV advertising. It hopes to grow sales by another 47 percent in the next three years. It might just help Indiana foot the bill to land a local hero as its basketball coach (and throw some shade at Under Armour in the process).
That last part is just hearsay at this point — and prompts some sticky questions — but in theory it would be a shocking investment in the brand of Indiana basketball. UCLA is leaving for Under Armour next season, but Adidas still has basketball bluebloods in Kansas, Louisville and Indiana. If it’s even considering helping the Hoosiers foot the bill to land the coach it wants, any question how invested Adidas is in Indiana’s success?
It makes sense. The better Indiana basketball is, the better the deal for Adidas, but it’s hard not to think of Nebraska and football here, too. The Huskers were Adidas’s first college partner and the two have been partners since the mid-1990s. That’s a long-term relationship.
Maybe given Adidas’s current cultural capital the clamoring for Nebraska to jump to a different partner is subsiding. Maybe not. (Nike still crushes everyone else in North American sales even if sales didn’t meet projections last quarter.)
But perhaps this Indiana episode, whether it happens or was simply just an idea, indicates that there’s more than just dollar signs and logos involved here. It’s worth keeping in mind as it pertains to Adidas. Nebraska’s current deal with the company runs through 2018.
The Grab Bag
- Tough loss for Nebraska on the diamond last night as CSU Bakersfield scored eight two-out runs to rally for an 8-6 win.
- Nebraska’s curling club finished second at nationals. Curling correspondent Erin Sorensen has the story.
- ESPN’s Big Ten bloggers discuss which conference teams have the most to gain this spring.
- Guess which college coach said the following: “I enjoy the classic peanut butter sandwich. Peanut butter and jelly sandwich, with the extra crunchy peanuts. And also, from time to time, I like to put the classic potato chip for extra crunch.”
Today’s Song of Today
Brandon is the Managing Editor for Hail Varsity and has covered Nebraska athletics for the magazine and web since 2012, Hail Varsity’s first season on the scene. His sports writing has also been featured by Fox Sports, The Guardian and CBS Sports.