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Ben Smith

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IU football not job for elite coach

There is reality, and then there is what we wish were reality.

Just another way of saying Jon Gruden is not going to be the next football coach at Indiana.

(Nor at Miami, apparently. The U was all aflutter over the prospect this week, until everyone calmed down and realized that Gruden is about as Joe College as Moses Malone was).

Gruden is not coming, and neither is Nick Saban, Urban Meyer, Bob Stoops or any of the other luxury-class whistles out there. Oregon coach Chip Kelly ain’t forsakin’ Eugene for Bloomington. Stanford coach Jim Harbaugh isn’t gonna come running from Palo Alto, either. It says here he won’t even do that if the Michigan job opens up.

An Indiana simply is not going to get those guys. Ever. Just wanted to clear that up.

It’s a basketball school in a football conference that just got immeasurably tougher by adding a resurgent Nebraska, and its gridiron tradition consists largely of Harry Gonso, John Isenbarger and I.M. Hipp dinging it for 600 yards or whatever the last time Indiana played Nebraska. Consequently, no one who comes here will do so with the illusion that it’s the next Alabama or Florida or Texas.

It can, however, be the next Iowa. And so here’s the reality of it, as Indiana begins the search process to replace Bill Lynch: some hotshot assistant at one of the Alabamas or Floridas, or Brady Hoke.

Hoke’s name is on every tongue right now, and it should be, because of all the non-fairy tale names being bruited about, he makes the most sense. He’s a Midwest guy (Kettering, Ohio) who played at an Indiana school (Ball State) and returned there to coach it to the greatest season in its history (2008, when the Cardinals went 12-2 and were, for a time, ranked in the top 15). And in two years at San Diego State, he’s taken the Aztecs from 2-10 the year before he arrived to 8-4.

He’s also at the perfect point in his career arc to make this move, going from Michigan assistant to MAC head coach to head coach in the Mountain West. One of the power conferences is the next step – and the Big Ten makes the most sense, because he knows the recruiting territory there more intimately than any other.

You could go with the hotshot assistant, if you’re Indiana, and the advantages there would be energy and enthusiasm and, if the hotshot is truly a hotshot, more than a little personal ambition. Or you could go with an established major-conference coach, understanding that whoever it is won’t be luxury class, but a notch or two below.

The problem with the hotshot assistant is he won’t be there long, if he succeeds in turning Indiana into an Iowa. The problem with the established coach is Indiana already went that route with Gerry DiNardo, who quickly demonstrated there was a reason his previous school (LSU) let him go.

So it’s the hotshot assistant or it’s Hoke. And no guarantees either way, because, Indiana remains Indiana – stubbornly resistant to change where its football legacy is concerned – and, even with Hoke, you get a guy who was a dreary 15-31 his first four years in Muncie and was this close to being fired before going 7-6 in 2007.

Then again … this is college football, which remembers only what you did, like, five minutes ago. And so, if I’m athletic director Fred Glass, I go after Brady Hoke.

Today.

Ben Smith has been covering sports in Fort Wayne since 1986. His columns appear four times a week. He can be reached by e-mail at bensmith@jg.net; phone, 461-8736; or fax 461-8648 or at the “Ben Smith” topic of “The Board” at www.journalgazette.net.

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