INDIANAPOLIS — He’s disappearing right before our eyes, diminishing himself one cruel rant or offensive tweet or outright lie at a time. He is best now at the wrong kind of self-promotion, creating a controversy of his own making, then another, then another.
When he’s gone from the public eye, we’ll remember Dan Dakich as one of the strangest, saddest stories in Indianapolis’ sports history. And we’ll remember him that way for two reasons:
One, yes, he has been an outsized Indiana presence for 31 years; this story won’t do what Dakich does and deny uncomfortable truths. He played and then worked 12 years for legendary Indiana basketball coach Bob Knight. He left for Bowling Green in 1997, returned in 2007 under Kelvin Sampson, and replaced Sampson as interim coach for the final seven games. He once had the most popular sports-talk radio show in town, and has been on air at Emmis Communications since 2008.
Oh yes, we’ll remember Dan Dakich.
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But, two, we will remember most his unraveling, the most spectacular part of his story. And his basketball story is spectacular, perhaps deserving a spot in the Indiana Basketball Hall of Fame, though his HOF absence is no mystery. Candidates must be nominated and then presented to the IBHOF board, and apparently nobody wants to nominate Dakich, much less argue on his behalf.
A few years ago I told Dakich I’d nominate him for the IBHOF and present his case. We were friends then. Like, close. I told Dan some of my deepest secrets, and he told me some of his. For years I defended Dakich to IndyStar colleagues he’d ripped, to IndyStar readers he’d disillusioned, to mutual friends in basketball he’d disgusted.
That’s just his radio persona, I’d tell folks. You don’t know him like I do. “Heart of gold,” I used to say about Dan Dakich.
Was I wrong? Perhaps. But also, he has changed. We’ve all seen it. ESPN dropped him last year as a national basketball analyst for a reason. His local ratings have plummeted for a reason. He felt the need to delete his Twitter account last year for a reason.
The reason: He’s disintegrating, right before our eyes.
This is the story I never wanted to write, because once upon a time I saw the best in Dakich. I don’t see it anymore. His best is gone, replaced by the caricature he created and has become, though he’s in the process of erasing it, and himself, one appalling act at a time.
So, our background.
It was organic, the way I fell for Dakich about 15 years ago. I was at CBSSports.com, a hothead ripping college basketball coaches left and right, and Dakich was the coach at Bowling Green. I still remember meeting him at the Nike recruiting camp in Indianapolis, where coaches from around the country congregated and acted important. I disliked many of them, on sight.
Dakich brought his son, Andrew, a little kid with a big smile. Dan didn’t act important. I liked him, on sight.
A few months later I drove from my home near Cincinnati to Bowling Green to play golf with him, and write about it. We played together in a best-ball match against a two-man team featuring BGSU golf coach Garry Winger, and we won without counting any of my shots. Dakich shot 1-under that day to win the match by himself. Winger, who’d played two years on the Canadian Tour, handed me a $20 bill. Not sure who was more mortified, Winger or me.
Dakich and I stayed in touch, by text mostly. He went from BGSU to Sampson’s staff at Indiana, then into local radio. I was a regular guest, unpaid, because I liked talking with him. Came here in 2014, didn’t have a place to stay, and Dakich offered me a temporary spot in one of his spare rooms in Zionsville, Indiana. I didn’t take him up on it, but seriously, he did that. By then Dakich had become a radio blowtorch, but when people told me they couldn’t understand why I liked him, I’d say: You don’t know him like I do.
Several years ago Dakich was offered a one-time speaking gig at Crooked Stick Golf Club in Carmel, Indiana. He told those folks he’d do it, but only if they brought me as well and paid me $500. Crooked Stick agreed, and afterward Dakich suggested we form a speaking team. It never materialized, but I loved the idea.
We had deep conversations. He agonized over an offer from a radio station in Chicago. I agonized, in the throes of divorce and depression, about being a bad spouse, unfaithful 20 years earlier in North Carolina with a woman from the neighborhood.
We compared notes on anxiety. I told him I’d been taking Lexapro, and that I saw much of my CBSSports.com persona in him — emotional, borderline out of control, playing to the lowest common denominator — and suggested he find a way to calm down, to soften just enough of his edge to guard against self-immolation.
No need, he told me. He had it under control.
That was before he was suspended locally for a failure “to adhere to the journalistic principles valued by Emmis,” and later let go nationally by ESPN after a separate controversy. That was before he mocked the appearance of a young Iowa State fan — an amputee who had recently died — on Twitter. And before he briefly deleted his Twitter account after another controversial tweet: belittling a college professor in Pennsylvania for her stance on paying college athletes, then suggesting she wanted to sleep with him.
That was before his self-immolation began raging out of control, a fire still burning today.
Now I tell people: I don’t know Dan Dakich at all.
We’ve done a fine job reporting Dakich’s controversies over the years. No need to write more here, beyond the references above. Dakich doesn’t think the attention from the IndyStar is fair, but bullies never do. They throw sucker punches, and whine when someone fires back. His followers eat it up, but followers do as they’re told.
Dakich constantly brags about his stature, his omnipotence, his show’s popularity — some of the gross exaggerations he tends to make — but claims not to understand the news value locally when a former Indiana coach/prominent radio host does something that makes headlines nationally.
Somewhere along the way Dakich, a humble and charming rascal when he coached little Bowling Green, fell in love with the sound of his voice on air. He loves his Twitter sycophants, retweeting the small handful of people who praise him — not seeing how transparently pathetic that is — and mistaking the enormous hatred he attracts as relevance. Is a cockroach on the countertop relevant? No, it’s disgusting and people react strongly.
Some insight into local radio: Stations receive the ratings of every show in the market, and employees are discouraged strongly from sharing that data with outsiders. In eight years here I’ve been told the ratings of just one local host, Dakich, but I hear them all the time because competitors and even Emmis colleagues over the years have enjoyed his shrinking reach. They understand, as do most of us, that Dan Dakich is bad for the image of Indianapolis.
Ratings are divided into micro-categories, and a skilled talker like Dakich can pick and choose numbers to suggest otherwise, but his popularity is collapsing and insiders know it.
Everything about Dakich is collapsing. Emmis Communications, in the process of selling its Indianapolis stations to Urban One, hosted “A Night in the Fan Cave” last month at the Indiana Historical Society, with sports-talk hosts Dakich, JMV, Kevin Bowen and Jake Query on stage in a relaxed setting. Not sure how, but Emmis has kept this quiet until today: With Urban One officials in attendance, Dakich told two tasteless jokes I can’t even begin to clean up here, jokes that mortified his new bosses.
For months Dakich has been revealing his true character, one episode at a time. So insightful about basketball and the inner workings of a team, he now fancies himself a political talking head, adding a second daily show on a right-wing radio station that specializes in conspiracy theories, half-truths, outright lies and hate. His handful of supporters tell Dakich he’s wise, and he believes it.
It can be intoxicating, crossing a line and being cheered by strangers to keep going, and I say that from my CBSSports.com experience. While I’m being personal again, let me answer your question:
For years I’ve needed, but not wanted, to write about Dakich. Many reasons for that, but mainly compassion as he publicly circles the drain. His collapse has been shocking and troubling, including the way he uses his charitable acts for kids, and even the kids themselves, as human shields. I’ve not wanted to pile on.
Also, there’s no upside to hopping into the slop with a pig. The biggest bully in town uses his radio show as the ultimate bully pulpit, swinging down at everyday listeners who critique him on Twitter – unleashing his supporters to attack on his behalf – or airing his years-long insecurity that Jay Bilas is ESPN’s most popular analyst.
“Why am I getting bumped by (Dick) Vitale and Bilas to do the Indiana-Purdue game?” Dakich lamented on air in September.
Dakich is comfortable in the mud and will respond to this story on his show. That’s his right, but it’s disconcerting given his documented history of distorting the truth or simply lying. He uses the greatness of former Colts quarterback Andrew Luck, for example, to prop up his hapless buddy, former Colts general manager Ryan Grigson. After his tweets about that college professor drew the wrath of ESPN in April 2021, Dakich told listeners: “I don’t know if ESPN is going to have me back. I assume they won’t.”
Five months later, out of that job, Dakich spun the split-up like so: “That was as much my choice as their choice.”
Last week Dakich told listeners he never called a kid in Scottsburg, Indiana, “a meth head,” perhaps assuming his version of events would hold up because the station has deleted that clip from March 2020. That wasn’t the first time Emmis had deleted some of his audio. In October 2018, when his commentary on Indiana’s recruiting of Romeo Langford brought the threat of a lawsuit, Emmis deleted the audio, suspended him for five days and issued the comment about his failure “to adhere to (our) journalistic principles.”
Back to that Scottsburg rant, when Dakich said the Indiana town was full of “meth and AIDS and needles” and urged listeners to “take a dump” in Scottsburg. Dakich denied calling a kid “a meth head” last week, but an IndyStar reporter has a copy of the March 2020 audio and shared it on Twitter to set the record straight.
So is that why I’m writing this story, now? Honestly, yes. Because enough’s enough. Check that tweet from my colleague. See the replies, see how many local residents Dakich has gone after from his perch as an Indiana basketball coach-turned-radio host with 150,000 Twitter followers. That’s a fraction of the fights this spiteful bully has picked over the years. Enough.
As for me, well, mine is a unique job in a unique market – celebrating locals for their successes, holding accountable our prominent sports figures for their failures – and for years it has embarrassed me, frankly, to have ignored Dakich’s mean-spirited public deterioration.
Like it or not, Dakich remains one of our most prominent sports figures. He keeps failing, plumbing new depths, preaching to a shrinking choir and hearing their hosannahs and confusing himself with a maverick or a man of courage.
This is not a brave man, but a small one getting smaller. And as Dan Dakich chips away at himself, he chips away at the number of people who will miss him when he’s gone.
Find IndyStar columnist Gregg Doyel on Twitter at @GreggDoyelStar or at www.facebook.com/greggdoyelstar.