TERRE HAUTE —
Its mainly used in the context of the Indianapolis 500 in Indiana, but in sports, you often hear about the concept of a “popular victor”. The person or two in a field of peers who is going to get a louder reception than some other victors because the fans have made an emotional connection with him or her.
When you looked around the Varsity Club at Hulman Center on Tuesday when Greg Lansing was introduced as Indiana State’s men’s basketball coach, you got a feeling for just how popular a victory this was among many in the ISU fanbase.
Chairs had to be added just before Lansing’s introductory press conference started to accommodate a turnout of well-wishers that was well into triple-figures.
My nearly all accounts, it was the largest turnout ISU has had since it started inviting the public to news conferences.
The depth of support Lansing has had among ISU fans has been built in his nine years and has rarely wavered. Lansing bridges an ISU gap from Sherman Dillard to Royce Waltman to Kevin McKenna, so as far as the fans are concerned, he’s put the time in.
It made his supporters — former ISU great and 2000 MVC Player of the Year Nate Green — gratified that he finally got his shot.
“No one person is above the program. [The turnout] says that people are still excited about the program. It also that he’s well liked and people are excited he’s behind the reins of the program,” Green said.
Lansing has waited patiently for his opportunity. He’s had opportunities to move on — he was a candidate for the head coach position at Western Illinois two years ago — and he could’ve jumped from ISU’s staff this spring.
But Lansing decided to stay. Part of it was pragmatic tea-leave reading … McKenna’s departure was a possibility when the Creighton job opened up in late April.
But a lot of it was loyalty. He put the time in. His wife Angie is a former ISU runner and is the Senior Women’s Administrator.
“Anybody who gets into coaching and who isn’t a great player or name, you have to work your way up. I think that’s what’s made me what I am. I was a Division II player and a coach’s kid. I was a volunteer assistant, a graduate assistant, a restricted earnings assistant,” Lansing said.
“I’ve been so lucky to have my dad, my college coach, coach [Royce] Waltman, coach [Steve] Alford and coach [Kevin] McKenna. They prepared me and I fully feel ready. It may have taken a little longer than I like, but this is when it was meant to happen,” Lansing added.
Because Lansing was so familiar to the fans, the press conference was more like a roast than an introduction. However, the one difference Lansing wanted to get across from previous seasons is to get the community engaged with the basketball program and vice versa.
McKenna participated in community events too, but because he had a quieter manner, it made it hard for some fans to want to embrace the program. Lansing has never been shy about being visible in the community. He is a fixture at other ISU athletics events as well as other local functions.
“You have to give the community ownership. Terre Haute and the whole Wabash Valley need to feel a part of this. We ask them for support, but to get it back, that’s on us,” Lansing said.
“We need to get out in the community all the time. Coaches says that stuff all the time, but we have to do it. If we’re asking the community to support us, we certainly have to support and do things for them. And we have to continue to put teams on the floor as we did last year and continue to improve on that,” he added.
Based on the amount of well-wishers on hand to give Lansing a popular send-off, it appears that the loyalty Lansing had to ISU is being repaid by the faith of ISU supporters.
Todd Golden is sports editor of the Tribune-Star. He can be reached at (812) 231-4272 or firstname.lastname@example.org. Check out Golden’s blog at blogs.tribstar.com/downinthevalley/.