Indiana sports have been a part of Scott Dolson's life since he was an 8-year-old in Michigan City watching the undefeated 1975 Indiana Hoosiers led by Bob Knight lose to Kentucky in the Elite Eight.
“I was hooked for life,” Dolson said in a teleconference Thursday. “I wanted to be the next Quinn Buckner or Scott May.”
Although he quickly realized his involvement with the program wouldn't be as a player – a trip to Knight's basketball camp in 1976 made that clear – he still became a part of the team when Indiana Mr. Basketball Delray Brooks, a Hoosiers recruit and Dolson's good friend from high school, convinced him to become a manager for the team when the pair arrived on campus in the fall of 1984.
“When Delray committed, he said, 'Hey, you really need to think about becoming a manager because you love IU more than anybody I know,'” Dolson said. “If it weren't for him, I would never have had that opportunity and here I am today.”
Today, more than 35 years later, Dolson is months away from being put in charge of everything related to IU athletics.
He was announced Tuesday as President Michael McRobbie's choice for Hoosiers athletic director when current AD Fred Glass retires this summer.
Dolson has been Glass' deputy athletic director since 2009 and was the main administrator overseeing the men's basketball program in that time.
The IU Board of Trustees will hold a vote in April on whether to formally name Dolson, a 1988 Indiana graduate, as Glass' replacement.
Although Dolson will be responsible for 24 Hoosiers athletic programs, many of which – football, women's basketball and baseball especially – have achieved unusual success in recent years – Dolson is aware of the passion Indiana fans have for the men's basketball team.
He relishes the challenge of being the athletic director charged with returning the program to its blue-blood status.
“I feel like I've grown up in the men's basketball program, completely understand the expectations, the high expectations that we all should have,” Dolson said. “It's not only important for the athletic department, the university, the state, it's important for Hoosier Nation.
“I want the same thing that everybody wants. That's critical.”
One of Dolson's criteria for evaluating coaches and how he will make hires going forward is whether the coach has what Dolson calls “a master plan,” a road map to help the program reach the level of success the athletic department expects over the long term.
Men's basketball coach Archie Miller has such a plan, a feature that impressed Dolson from the first time he met Miller.
“From day one I sat in the first (job) interview with Archie and Fred in San Francisco,” he said. “(Miller) has a master plan for the program, really everything from a recruiting standpoint, from a player development standpoint, from a winning strategy.
“To me I've been impressed with Archie with that because he doesn't get too high, he doesn't get too low. He really sticks to his plan.”
The Indiana football team managed its first eight-win campaign since 1993 last season and coach Tom Allen has brought in a series of highly ranked recruiting classes by Hoosiers standards. Dolson is committed to building on that success and continuing to help the program come out of the long shadow cast by the men's basketball team at Indiana.
His ideas for how to build the program have grown out of discussions not only with Glass but with former IU coach Bill Mallory, one of the most successful coaches in program history, whom Dolson has met for lunch several times during the latter's tenure at Indiana.
“To build the program, it's kind of two streets working together right next to each other going the same direction,” Dolson said of football. “One is building the program with Tom, what all the needs are to keep advancing the program (on the field).
“At the same time working on our fan experience and creating an environment that when we do get fans here, they have a great experience and they want to come back. Part of my plan is to continue to build on both.”
Dolson will be transitioning into the athletic department's top job during a time of nearly unprecedented turmoil at Indiana as athletics and in-person classes have canceled through the end of the academic year in an effort to mitigate the spread of COVID-19.
He emphasized that the biggest issue beyond the health and safety of athletes, coaches and staff is how to “stay connected at a time when everyone is disconnected.”
He added that IU's head of strength and conditioning, Thomas Morris, is working on ways to create virtual workouts for the athletes through video conferencing app Zoom.
The cancellations and chaos caused by the virus will certainly affect Dolson's transition from the deputy role into the athletic director's chair. Fortunately for him, he has spent more than a decade working closely with Glass, experience that has helped prepare him for the responsibility.
“To his credit, what a strong leader Fred is, he had me involved in everything side-by-side, sitting in meetings with him,” Dolson said. “Some of the things I think I'll miss the most when Fred leaves are the times where he and I were alone in his office, he had this thing where he would grab this baseball bat, just the two of us and he would walk around.
“I can't imagine a better situation to prepare someone to take over this type of position than I had with him.”