When Good Things Happen to Good People
By Steve Deace
All too often it seems that dishonesty, disloyalty, dishonor, and self-promotion are rewarded in our culture, which is why when someone gets ahead after paying their dues and doing things the right way it merits recognition.
Such is the case with Indiana State men’s basketball coach Greg Lansing. An Iowa boy through and through, over the weekend the former Hawkeye assistant coach guided the Sycamores to just their third NCAA Tournament appearance since the “hick from French Lick” was attending classes in Terre Haute.
And he did it without taking any shortcuts and sometimes unfairly receiving the short end of the stick.
I got the chance to know Lansing a few years ago when I was a full-time sports talk radio host while he was serving on Steve Alford’s staff at Iowa. In fact, I got the chance to know him quite well, and despite my at times frosty relationship with his boss the two of us became friends. Since then I moved on to WHO and he moved on to Indiana State, so we lost touch with the distance between us. However, on Sunday while he was on the sidelines coaching his team to the Missouri Valley Conference Tournament title I was in front of the TV at my house nervously cheering him on as if I were an Indiana State alum myself.
That’s because Lansing’s sudden rise to coaching prominence isn’t very sudden at all, but rather welcome proof that nice guys don’t have to finish last.
Back in the day Lansing and I enjoyed very friendly but very blunt conversations about several things off the record, including my at times less than complimentary take on his boss. Lansing trusted me enough to be honest with me about a lot of things back then, but despite that relationship the one thing Lansing never did was utter a single derogatory word about Alford.
No matter how many times Alford would step in it during his rocky tenure in Iowa City, Lansing never wavered in supporting his boss. In an industry replete with self-promoters who all too often aren’t bashful about leaking nasty things to guys like me, even if it’s about people on their own team, Lansing was a throwback to an era when assistants really believed their first duty was to make their head coach look good.
So how did Alford repay Lansing’s loyalty?
Following a crushing, last-second loss to lowly Northwestern State in the first round of the 2006 NCAA Tournament, rumors began to swirl that Alford was looking to make some moves on his coaching staff and perhaps make a move himself to Missouri.
When I asked Lansing about this privately he assured me that Alford had assured him he would be in Iowa City for a long time, as would Lansing if he wanted to be. Then, a few days later, I read a column by Gregg Doyel of CBS Sports that had mentioned a rumor that Alford was looking to shake up his coaching staff, with Lansing’s name specifically mentioned.
When I called Lansing and informed him of the piece it was clear he was caught off guard by it. He again went to Alford, who again assured him there was no truth to it and even responded by sending him to a national junior college tournament to do some scouting and recruiting.
While Lansing was there Alford and his bad lieutenant Craig Neal were plotting their potential next move to Missouri according to a highly respected college basketball insider from ESPN. Alford adamantly denied these reports. However, I know for a fact who the source of this ESPN insider’s speculation was, and let’s just say his source was a former high-ranking official within the university’s administration.
Still, Lansing supported his boss when he and I talked during this time despite the furor. So how did Alford repay his loyalty? By firing Lansing just days after assuring him he wasn’t going anywhere, and he did it following the national coaches’ convention when Lansing could’ve gone there and perhaps quickly lined up another gig. Lansing was in coaching limbo, although obviously things eventually worked out quite well for him.
The whole episode was yet another in a series of unfortunate events for Alford at Iowa, and yet another example of how just because someone talks the talk as a pitchman for a particular belief system doesn’t mean he walks the walk.
I don’t know if Alford and Lansing’s relationship has been repaired in the years since this all went down, and the success that Lansing is enjoying now also has a way of healing old wounds. Not to mention the fact that you probably have never heard any of this before from Lansing himself because he doesn’t roll that way. He takes the high road even when it’s the road less traveled.
Don’t get me wrong Lansing is a coach, not a saint, but the Lansing I know has also tried to be a man of honor—unlike his former boss in Iowa City who gave him his first big break.
The irony of the lifelong Hawkeye fan, who was once unceremoniously dumped as a Hawkeye assistant, getting an invite to the Big Dance while the Hawkeyes he loves languish through a fourth straight losing season is tough not to notice.
Perhaps one day Lansing will also also prove that sometimes you can go home again.