I thought for sure Tom Crean would find a way to wangle another year out of Indiana University, but the Hoosiers mercifully cut the cord on this underachieving era, firing Crean after an NIT loss at Georgia Tech. A season that started with legitimate NCAA title hopes and even allowing for a key injury, should have still been top four in the Big Ten, ended in misery.
Crean has been the classic employee who usually does just enough to save his job. He had one big year in 2013, when his recruitment of Cody Zeller and Victor Oladipo paid dividends in a Big Ten title and #1 seed in the NCAA Tournament. After a couple underperforming years, Crean again found himself on the hot seat in 2016 and he again delivered a Big Ten title.
At a lot of power conference programs this is enough. Have a couple good teams in a 4-5 year cycle, and who knows, maybe you can sneak into one Final Four as a 3-seed, the way Crean’s 2003 Marquette team did. When you can recruit players like Dwayne Wade, Zeller and Oladipo, those things are possible.
But Indiana isn’t one of those places where this is good enough. And it shouldn’t be.
Crean survived this long—he coached from 2009-17—because he had the media in his back pocket perpetually blaming his predecessor for everything that went wrong. To hear Crean’s apologists tell it, the coach took over a program at the level of IU-Fort Wayne and ascended to the top of the Big Ten.
That was never the case. Indiana made the NCAA Tournament in 2008 under Kelvin Sampson and also contended for the conference championship deep into that season. The so-called “sanctions” the school was hit with for Sampson’s excessive phone calls in recruiting did not include any sort of postseason ban, or even the loss of a single scholarship.
Face it, if Sampson would have committed his violations at Kentucky or UCLA, he’d probably be complimented for good behavior. Indiana has long held itself to a higher standard and wanted more.
Crean was hired and immediately tore the program down, dismissing players and starting from scratch. Set aside for a moment, whether it’s appropriate for a college head coach to do the sort of hard-nosed business-like rebuilding that’s usually reserved for the pros. Instead just ask yourself this—why does Crean get extra credit for bringing the program back from the ashes, when he’s the one who voluntarily started the fire to begin with?
The media never asked those questions. They ignored the fact that Crean took the flagship program of a basketball-crazy state and has managed to consistently be inferior to Purdue, Notre Dame and Butler in the course of his tenure. And that IU-Fort Wayne reference I made above—Crean lost to them this year too.
At least the fans never stopped asking the questions Crean’s courtier press refused to delve into. And at least the school finally responded to public demand. Purdue and Butler may be on their way to the Sweet 16. Notre Dame may have won another NCAA Tournament game this past weekend. But Indiana University basketball fans have as much reason as any to be happy this March.