Friday, July 23, 2010

For Dan Dakich, The Best Is Yet To Come

So Dan Dakich (photo courtesy IU athletics) has made the big time. He’s in with Dick Vitale, Digger Phelps, Bob Knight and, heaven help us, Doug Gottlieb at ESPN.

Hey, who knows? Jay Leno won’t host the Tonight Show forever.

It’s been a quick ascent up the broadcasting ladder for Dakich. First, he landed a daily sports talk show for Indianapolis radio station 1070, The Fan. He still has it, by the way, and it runs from noon to 3. He’s good -– knowledgeable, opinionated, entertaining.

That got him a job with the Big Ten Network. His efforts there set up the ESPN opportunity.

Now, Dakich gets to handle color commentary for the network that brought us Sportscenter (a good thing) and LeBron James’ The Decision (a REALLY bad thing).

Does this mean the former Indiana basketball player’s coaching days are over? Not necessarily. Steve Lavin spent eight years as an analyst at ESPN before taking the job at St. John’s last spring.

It’s funny the way a guy’s career can change. A few years ago, Dakich was running the show at Bowling Green. He went 156-140 there with two NIT appearances. That included a 24-9 season. At one point he got the West Virginia job, then discovered some potential NCAA issues and wound up back at Bowling Green. It wasn’t the same. The last couple of seasons were rough and he moved on.

That led him to Indiana and Kelvin Sampson’s reign of error. He started as the director of basketball operations, then became an assistant coach when NCAA violations started cutting into Sampson’s staff. He became the interim head coach when Sampson resigned under pressure. He led the VERY dysfunctional Hoosiers to a 3-4 record. He did everything he could to restore pride and discipline into the program -– making players accountable for going to class, kicking players off the team, trying to get them to understand the tradition that made IU one of the elite programs in the country.

Many of these guys never figured it out. Yes, that’s a shame.

Dakich applied for the permanent IU job and didn’t get it, thus setting the stage for his broadcasting career.

So now Dakich will get the kind of national exposure he hasn’t seen since the legendary Shutting Down Michael Jordan Game. As all Cream ‘n Crimson fans know, IU was a huge underdog against No. 1 North Carolina in that 1984 NCAA tourney Sweet Sixteen contest. Dakich was assigned to guard Jordan, college basketball’s player of the year. When Dakich found out, so the story goes, he threw up. Jordan was a stud. Dakich was, well, not a stud. It was a huge mismatch. And yet, by the end of the game, Jordan was a non-factor, IU had the upset and Dakich had fame everlasting.

Legend has it that Dakich’s inspired man defense shut down Jordan. Facts suggest that foul trouble and some early poor shooting did in Jordan. Doesn’t matter. If Dakich lives to be 800 years old and wins a hundred Emmys at ESPN, that game will continue to define him.

There are worse fates, of course. Just ask Jim Gray (Did he REALLY ask LeBron James if he was a nail biter?).

Yes, he did.

Anyway, maybe the best thing to happen to Dakich was to NOT get the IU job. In fact, Dakich will make it so. We’ll get to see it starting next basketball season.

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