Cubs Insider’s Q&A with Dan Dakich, Pt 1: Hoosier, ESPN Commentator, Radio Host, and Jordan Stopper
Dan Dakich is a lot of things to a lot of people. Many remember his days as a player and assistant coach under the legendary Bob Knight, when he became the only man in history to “shut down” Michael Jordan. Others see him on ESPN, calling college basketball games alongside Mike Tirico.
And folks in the Indianapolis market, or those streaming around the country, know Coach Dakich from his radio show, which airs daily from 12-3p on 1070AM The Fan. Never one to hold back on the air, Dakich is just as likely to hang up on a caller or tell him he’s an idiot as he is to croon a little Tom Jones (particularly on Friday afternoons).
But whether you love him or loathe him, one thing’s for sure: the man is always entertaining. He wears his heart on his sleeve and isn’t afraid to share his thoughts and opinions with others. In fact, the lead-in to his radio show features several famous coaching rants, with that of Lee Elia prominently placed.
As a Indiana Hoosiers fan, I’ve known about Dan Dakich for a long time, so I have enjoyed seeing his radio show grow and seeing him rise to greater prominence at the Four-Letter. That said, it was a real treat to have the opportunity to pick his brain on a variety of topics. Truth be told, I felt a little like Chris Farley in that old SNL skit, the one where he’s interviewing Paul McCartney.
I’ve always felt that the best interviews are those that come across like a conversation and that give the reader/viewer/listener a little peek into the heart, mind and life of the subject; that’s been my aim when I sit down with someone. That said, I really enjoyed talking with Dan and I hope that comes across and that I accomplished at least a bit of my goal.
EA: A lot of our readers are Bulls fans and surely remember when the Knicks signed Gerald Wilkins to be a Jordan Stopper. But I think you and I know who the real Jordan Stopper is, right? I wanted to know if it’s true that Coach Knight’s advice to you was: “Just don’t let him dunk on you. That will embarrass you and me both.”
DD: He said three things. He said that as a throw-off, but he said if he get’s offensive rebound, if he gets you in the post, or back-cut, because they like to back-cut, then you’re coming out. By the way, don’t let him dunk on everybody here. That was a throw-away line, but the three things don’t post, if he gets jump shots he gets jump shots but don’t let him post you, don’t give up offense rebounds, and don’t let him back-cut you.
EA: Whether it’s on Twitter or on your radio show, you don’t suffer fools lightly. It reminds me a little of the way Coach Knight used to treat the media. Does your public persona reflect anything you learned from Coach, or is it something you developed independently?
DD: It’s kind of my neighborhood. This is why Indiana was a great fit for me. I grew up in Northwest Indiana, where if you were full of shit people told you you were full of shit. You had to deal with it. It’s always been my thing, and that’s why people always say Indiana, not for everybody, blah blah blah.
It was for me because it fit my persona perfectly. Part of that was Coach Knight. Coach Knight, his personality and my dad’s personality were similar, except my dad didn’t swear and my dad didn’t get as mad. They were very similar, taking the anger or taking the swearing out, they’re very similar in how they treated people on a daily basis. It always fit me.
EA: You’re also one of the most interactive personalities on social media; what drives that?
DD: I have a boring life, truthfully. I work three hours a day, what else do I do? My son’s now in college. I never understood sports people that were standoffish. I never understood, when I’d go to Cubs games, it used to be guys would sign autographs at the rail.
I never understood why everybody didn’t just do that. Even as a little kid, I’m like man, if I ever got in a position where people actually gave a rat’s about me, I’m gonna sign autographs, I’m gonna talk. That’s just the way I was at Indiana, it was the way I was as a coach. I’ve never understood why you have to be a jackass and shun people just because you’re in sports. It’s just sports for crying out loud.
Twitter is a part of it. You’ve got a blog. I’m sure every time you blog people call you an idiot, some people call you great. Twitter can become a little bit confrontational, but that’s alright. I don’t think it’s thin skin, I think it’s a part of… my makeup is if someone’s going to come at me, I’ll go back at ’em. Again, I don’t think it’s thin skin. It’s just how I was brought up.
EA: You’ve had the opportunity to travel the country as both a college basketball player and coach, and now as a commentator on ESPN’s national broadcasts. Where would you say has the greatest environment in college basketball?
DD: Of the ones I’ve done it’s really difficult to find a place better than Indiana or Michigan State. I think that those two places stand out. Wisconsin would be right in there as well. The thing about doing Big Ten games is, I think it’s every year, I could be wrong, but I think it’s every year the Big Ten leads the nation in attendance.
You’re talking about big buildings with student bodies, an active student body for basketball. Usually when we go in there on a Tuesday night it’s a really big game. So the crowd, ESPN’s there, Tirico’s there. It’s usually a hell of an environment; there’s really none that are bad. In the Big Ten, Indiana’s fantastic.
I think Crean’s doing a great job of maintaining that, if not enhancing that, particularly through some lean seasons. Michigan State and Wisconsin, they’ve always been great.
EA: Do you ever get the itch to get into coaching again?
DD: Yes. When I talk to the coach that won after a game. You know what I mean?
There’s nothing like playing. Nothing can replace playing, nothing. Coaching is the closest thing, but the only thing that I really miss about coaching (other than the players because I really like having players up to my house, being with them in a locker room), the only other thing, is winning.
The only thing that I miss is walking across that sideline, shaking hands with a guy after you’ve beaten his ass. That is exactly…that sums it up perfectly for me. In my world the losing is so horrible, and so awful, the winning was just relief. My dad knew that. My dad died a couple of months ago, but he always that with you the losing is going to make you insane. It almost did.
EA: So how exactly did you get into the radio gig in the first place? And the ESPN role?
DD: I got incredibly lucky. What happened was when they decided to hire Tom Crean I called a friend of mine who was a program director at WFNI. He’d always told me I’d be great in broadcasting. I got lucky. They had a slot open, this was in April, and I called him and they said we’re going to have a slot open, we’re going to go local in October, love to have you in.
I auditioned, I got the job. That’s how I got the radio gig. ESPN was completely luck. I interviewed with the Big Ten network, and didn’t get the job; they hired other guys. I did a game, Butler and Davidson. This was so incredibly lucky.
It was on the Kokomo station, WHMB I think it is. The guy there, I knew, he asked me if I would want to do it. Honest to God, Evan, I did the game, talking to Gordon Hayward’s dad after the game. I’m walking out of the gym, it’s a beautiful day.
My phone rings, a number I don’t know. I answer it, and it’s the head of talent for ESPN Dan Stier. He asked me what I did and he said: “I just watched your game, just happened to watch it. I thought you were great, and we want to hire you for next year.” I’ve been with them at the Final Four; lucky as hell.
EA: The program director, was that Kent Sterling?
DD: Yeah, that was Kent. Kent’s been a friend of mine a long time.
EA: Kent’s a good guy. I’m on on his show on Thursdays, I get the chance to talk with him every now and again.
DD: Yeah, that’s right, you are. I heard you. You’re good on his show.
EA: Thanks. You’ve been very supportive of this blog, for which we thank you, but what is your take on the proliferation of blogs in general, particularly in terms of sports?
DD: Personally I think they’re great. I do, I think they’re great. To say anybody could have a blog is not accurate. Obviously you can, but they won’t sustain unless you’re really good and you’re interesting and you bring unique content. Blogs kill me a lot, but that’s great. That’s cool with me. There are different groups of blogs that don’t like me and I know that, but that’s alright. I still go to them to find information.
I go everywhere before a game, I don’t care if someone’s written something bad about me, good about me, or doesn’t even know who I am. I think they’re great sources of information. Truthfully, I’ve got a lot of respect for guys that can do it and sustain a blog, because everybody thinks it’s easy, and I’m not telling you anything you don’t know, obviously, but everybody thinks I’ll write a blog, and I’ll be whatever.
Hell, that ain’t easy. There ain’t nothing easy about it. I enjoy ’em. I read them all the time, various ones.
That’s it for Part 1, but be sure to check back for Part 2 of my interview with Dan Dakich.