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Wednesday, October 13, 2010
New Faces, New Places: Greg Lansing


Greg Lansing was once fired as an assistant at a Big Ten school and is now in charge of a historic Missouri Valley institution.

The chain of events for Lansing to be in the position at Indiana State is hard to fathom. The dominoes that led to the opportunity stretched across the country.

Oregon pursued Mark Few of Gonzaga, Tubby Smith of Minnesota, Billy Donovan of Florida, Mike Anderson of Missouri and Tom Izzo of Michigan State -- all to no avail. The Ducks' job was finally accepted by Creighton's Dana Altman.

"Look at how many people had to turn down the job before Dana accepted it," Lansing said.

Lansing was at an Indiana high school basketball coaches clinic when Altman decided to take the Oregon job in late April. Lansing was there with his Indiana State boss, head coach Kevin McKenna, and Steve Alford, who fired Lansing when the two were at Iowa.

"When we heard about Dana, Kevin wanted the job bad, it was his alma mater and you can't blame him for that," said Lansing of McKenna's desire to go to Creighton after three seasons at ISU.

Creighton is one of the elite Valley programs, having one of the top arenas and one of the largest metropolitan cities in the league, as compared to the more remote Terre Haute, Ind.

If McKenna got the Creighton job, Lansing assumed he would get the Indiana State job. He had been an assistant twice at ISU, hired both times by Royce Waltman with a seven-year stint at Iowa in between.

"All of a sudden, Kevin doesn't get the [Creighton] job and he was crushed," said Lansing of McKenna losing out to Iowa State's Greg McDermott. "I got my hopes up, not to see Kevin leave but to get the head coaching job."

But then, just like that, McKenna did leave -- to work for Altman at Oregon.

"And then a few weeks later, he's going to Oregon to run the offense for Dana," Lansing said. "The chain of events that happened -- I'd hate to guess the odds."

Go back even further, and the likelihood that someone like Lansing would be a Division I head coach seems more remote. Head coaches can rebound much easier than assistants who have been fired, even if the terms of the firing weren't controversial. There was still a stigma for Lansing.

He had befriended Sam Alford, Steve's father, when the two Valley assistants were recruiting on the road for Indiana State and Southwest Missouri State. That allowed Lansing to get close to Steve Alford, who then eventually hired him to go to Iowa.

The staff dynamic changed when Alford hired former NBA assistant Craig Neal, who has since followed Alford to New Mexico as the associate head coach. Neal meant an overhaul at Iowa and Alford told Lansing and Rich Walker that he needed to change the staff.

"Things had gotten stagnant," Alford said. "For whatever reason, things weren't moving forward. We needed a freshness, and I had to let him and Rich Walker go. I brought in Tim Buckley and Billy Garrett. I needed freshness more than anything else in regards to recruiting. There was nothing there with Greg. We were on good terms, and we still talk a lot."

Still, getting fired is never a resume builder in a profession that loves to win a news conference.

Lansing said he received plenty of calls from fellow Big Ten coaches offering support, but there weren't any job offers.

"My reputation was good," Lansing said. "I wasn't worried about it."

Waltman eventually hired Lansing because he had a comfort level with Lansing earlier in his tenure at Indiana State.

"Royce Waltman saved me twice," Lansing said. "Five years after being let go, I'm a head coach. In today's climate, the odds are slim and none. This doesn't happen. I'm just really lucky."

Lansing said being the son of a coach and coming up as a Division 2 player and working hard for everything has made him even more palatable as a head coaching candidate. He worked his way up as a high school coach and as a restricted-earnings assistant, when that title was still viable.

"That's what's carried me, my ability to work with others and persevering," Lansing said. "I don't operate with the fear of failure."

As an assistant, Lansing was instrumental in making the Sycamores somewhat relevant again in the Valley. Indiana State finished 9-9 last season, tied with Bradley and three games ahead of Southern Illinois. The Sycamores were 17-15 overall and played in the CBI, losing to Saint Louis in the first round.

They did it without Iowa transfer Jake Kelly, who suffered an ACL injury in the conference opener against Southern Illinois. (He's expected to be 100 percent this season.)

The Sycamores did have some modest success under Waltman, reaching the NCAAs in consecutive seasons in 2000 and 2001, including winning a first-round game.

Make no mistake about it, the aura of Larry Bird still resonates. Lansing is well aware that if the Sycamores can take their rotational turn atop the Valley in the near future, the specter of Bird will only increase the value of the program.

"We can sell not just one of the greatest players ever in college but in the NBA," Lansing said. "We can sell that to recruits that this community has the passion for basketball. People here like to talk about those times, but it's only 10 years ago that Waltman took those teams to the NCAA. Our plan is to be right up there and be like Northern Iowa was in March."

But there is a disparity in the Valley. There are schools that have the first-rate facilities like Creighton, Wichita State and Southern Illinois and pay their coaches around $1 million, and there are those in the Valley who are making the most out of a limited budget.

Lansing fully understands the financial challenges at Indiana State because his wife, Angie, who was former cross country runner and an academic all-American at ISU, is the current Senior Women Administrator and business manager. Her brother, Michael, was the starting point guard on the Sycamores' team that won the NCAA game in 2001 over Oklahoma.

"We have our battles to fight that a lot of schools that don't have football don't worry about," Lansing said. "It doesn't hurt to have my wife as the business manager. I hope that means there is job security. But she makes sure I understand about the spending and what we have versus the other schools. We can still sell things and we have the history of the program here, and to do it here at Indiana State would mean a lot."

One major difference is the Sycamores can't afford to buy home games. That's why they have a brutal nonconference schedule with only three home contests before the league-opener against Bradley on Dec. 29.

Lansing will have plenty of challenges with the Sycamores, but based on the way he got the job, he isn't about to complain.

"It's a tremendous opportunity for him since he's been a longtime assistant under Royce, McKenna and myself," Alford said. "He's got good Midwest ties, and it's good to see assistants get jobs instead of recycling others."