City hoops hire has to be culture changing

March 29, 2019

If Mike Hackett wants to come home and coach Michigan City boys basketball, the job will be his.

Nobody’s told me that, but I’m willing to bet my salary, albeit modest, that is the school’s desired end scenario to fill its vacancy.

“A guy like Mike Hackett, a successful coach, a Michigan City native, he’d be a person to put on the list, from me down to the casual fan,” Athletics Director Craig Shaman said.

That being said, the Elston grad has built one of the Region’s top boys programs at Munster and there is no assurance he’s even looking to leave the affluent Lake County school, let alone take on the take of turning around the Wolves. Keep in mind, Merrillville, where he was once an assistant, is also open, and already has a track record of success.

Have no fear, folks, if the hometown hero story line is simply writer hyperbole and that script doesn’t unfold, Shaman will make a good hire. He knocked it out of the park with Phil Mason for football and basketball’s the sport in which he has over 20 years of background in at the prep, college and professional level.

“This goes for every sport. It’s all about the kids,” Shaman said. “There are situations where there is fan, community interest and I understand and appreciate that they all care, but the only thing I promise is I will do what’s best for the kids. That’s my only priority.”

City has been deemed a sleeping giant since the consolidation of Elston and Rogers, but no one’s ever been able to crack the code to wake up the alleged Goliath. While the program has been competitive, it has not been able to break through at the conference or sectional level. That doesn’t mean it can’t or won’t.

“In references to winning, somebody pointed out to me, and I know it’s true, that a lot of it has to do with the lay of the land,” Shaman said. “Michigan City used to be the dominant town in the area. There are less people here than ever before, and Chesterton, Valpo and Portage are all thriving towns. A lot of times, the same teams win and the same teams lose, year in and year out.”

While it might sound like Shaman’s not setting the bar high with those remarks, he’s not saying Michigan City can’t nor won’t win, under the right circumstances.

“The kids are there, the facilities, the support, we’ve just got to coach ’em up, as we all do in any sport,” he said. “Look at our (state runner-up) boys track team a couple years ago. I believe we have here what we need in Michigan City. We don’t need to battle Marquette. We don’t need to recruit kids. What walks through these doors is enough. There isn’t anything we need to change.”

Without over-simplifying the search, Shaman described a basic two-item check list for the process.

“A quality candidate, and football is a good example of this, is somebody who’s going to walk into a room and have instant credibility,” he said. “It’s also somebody who’s going to go the extra mile for the kids. That’s it. That’s what I want for the basketball program. Obviously, there’s a lot more to it. All that entails doing it the right way, getting the community involved, building a feeder program at the lower levels.”

Culture was a word Mason used from the night he was formally hired and continues to use it to this day. That is also a buzz term for the future of boys basketball. This hire will be a person who changes the culture. If not, it’s a fail and a waste of time.

“I’m not going to tell them I want to win more games, I want to see more fans in the seats,” Shaman said. “I’m sure people would enjoy that, but that’s not a high priority on my list. As AD, that’s how I look at them all. You’d like to experience more winning, but you’re going to win some and you’re going to lose some.”

The school must make an internal posting of the position for 10 days, not including next week’s spring break, and the normal process of applications, forming a committee and conducting interviews will follow. Shaman is confident in the end result, even if he doesn’t know who it is.

“I’ve only been here five years, coming from Chicago, but looking at the job, it’s a good job,” he said. “It’s a 4A school. There’s talent every year. It’s a basketball school, a basketball region, a basketball state. I was asked the same thing about the football job. There are going to be a ton of quality candidates.”