Tuesday, February 06, 2007

Should He Stay or Should He Go?

The Dakich Debate

Dan Dakich has been the head coach for BGSU's men's basketball team for ten years. That's a very long time for anyone to still be on the fence over whether or not he should continue in his position, but it seems that many people still are.

Anyone can see that Dakich is in a precarious position. New BGSU Athletic Director Greg Christopher is in the first year of his tenure, and Dakich's contract expires at the end of this season. If Christopher wants to replace him, now is the time to do it, with no expensive buyout to worry about. The team is currently 11-11 after last year's 9-21 debacle. The kindest thing an impartial observer could probably say about the program is that it's in a holding pattern, and they could say a lot of worse things.

Dakich's first year as coach at BGSU was my first year as a student there. I've only missed two home games in all that time, I've been to numerous away and neutral-court games, I catch them on TV or Internet video feed whenever they're on, and any game I can't attend or watch I listen to on the radio. In short, there aren't too many people in a better position than I am to comment on the state of the BGSU hoops program. As such, I feel qualified and compelled to comment on Coach Dakich and his contract situation.

It's difficult to argue too strenuously with those who feel that it's time for Dakich to move on. Since leaving to take the head coaching job at West Virginia University five years ago and then abruptly changing his mind and returning to BGSU, his teams haven't experienced anywhere near the same level of success they had before he left. The program since then has been plagued with player defections that have made it difficult for a team to come together and grow. On the court, Dakich's teams have historically had a number of issues: they frequently play poorly away from home, they commit too many fouls, they don't rebound well, they don't always take care of the basketball, and they go through periods of offensive futility. Moreover, it has been alleged that the brand of basketball they play is "boring," even when it works. While that claim is subjective, the system is predicated on good defense and a deliberate half-court offense, with very little opportunity for the players to show off their athleticism on fast breaks or drives to the basket. Whether it's boring or not, it certainly hasn't drawn very well unless the team is winning a lot. Attendance this year has been around 1,300 per game, nowhere close to filling the cozy 4,800-capacity Anderson Arena.

All that being said, the program is far from being in a complete shambles. While definitely not a foregone conclusion, it's reasonable to wonder if the on-court issues could be solved (or at least assuaged) with the landing of a competent point guard. Coach Dakich's best teams were the ones with Brandon Pardon running the show, and those were certainly not days of boring basketball. Granted, Pardon had quite a bit of talent around him, but consistent point guard play has been the one thing that has been missing in the lean years since then. There's talent on the team now, but it's mostly young talent. Most importantly, the team has finally been purged of any holdovers from the days of the departure and return, and, record this season notwithstanding, they seem poised to stay and grow together as no BG team has been able to in quite some time. If that happens, I think it's only a matter of time before the Falcons are competing for championships again, no matter who the coach is.

Off the court, I don't know that anyone can question that Dan Dakich is a good man to have in charge of a university's basketball program. He coached for years under Bob Knight, and his modus operandi is similar to Knight's in that he runs an undeniably clean program and he makes sure his players go to class and graduate. That part of the equation is very much in his favor. However, especially in the eyes of fans and boosters, a coach's primary job is to win games, and that's something the Falcons have been struggling with recently.

For myself, I'm in favor of BGSU re-signing Coach Dakich to a multi-year extension. I really feel like the program has reached the bottom of its pendulum swing and is on its way back up. There are plenty of talented young players on the roster who can help get the Falcons get back to the top. Coach Dakich brought them here, and I'd like to see what he can do with them over the course of their careers. Players develop well and get better from year to year under his leadership. I like the way he runs the program--he's tough, but you always know where he stands. Like Coach Knight, he'll occasionally flare up and rub someone the wrong way, but he's a straight shooter, and I like that. I would hate to have some schmucky, used-car salesman of a coach that you're not quite sure if you can trust.

Also, I really feel like the Anderson Arena crowd--when there is one--really feeds off his personality. When Coach gets fired up, sometimes it feels like the roof is going to blow right off the place. No one can question the way he feels about the fans who come to the games. He constantly thanks them in interviews, and is known to occasionally come across the court after the game to shake hands and give high-fives to the student section. He really reaches out. You can tell how much he cares.

That's probably the biggest thing. He cares. I can't imagine that BGSU could find another coach that cares as much as Coach Dakich does--not just about winning games, but about the players, the team, the program, the university, the community, the fans. I feel like he considers himself a part of the university as much as I do, as an alumnus, and I think that's incredibly rare. Sure, they could hire a new coach, catch lightning in a bottle, win the MAC, go to the NCAA tournament, maybe even win a game or two there. Then the next season that coach will be gone, having moved on to the next opportunity, leaving the program in limbo. There are those who would prefer that scenario; under different circumstances, I might even be one of them. In this case, though, I think the known quantity is the right one. I support Dan Dakich as the head coach of the BGSU men's basketball program, through this season and hopefully for many seasons to come.

No comments: