by Kent Sterling
This is baffling to me. What do fans want as Crean rebuilds the program from the rubble to which Kelvin Sampson reduced it? The guys left in the program (Bassett, Holman, etc…) were selfish slugs who Crean was fortunate to have leave the program. Eric Gordon was going to the NBA regardless of who the coach was. That left two hardworking kids who were not on scholarship, and NCAA sanctions that limited recruiting and scholarships.
it was clear that the short-term prospects sucked, so Crean went to work doing what he could to build for the future. The first order of business was to build relationships with the summer and high school coaches who matter in Indiana. At the Eric Gordon NBA announcement at the Jewish Community Center, Crean went to work grabbing everyone one-at-a-time that could help and spoke with them for five or ten minutes.
He’s made inroads in three years with coaches that Mike Davis never met, and the result has been the verbal commitment of eight solid (at the minimum) recruits, and the signing of two outstanding players who will be freshmen next year.
During his three seasons of work in building for the future, Indiana has posted 28 win – eight in Big Ten play. That’s not what Indiana fans want. I get that.
What I fail to grasp is the angst and bitterness supposed fans have shown Crean. I’m not above being critical or even hypercritical of Indiana coaches. Mike Davis was ill-equiped for the job, and in my mind he proved that in one way or another every day he was in Bloomington. Kelvin Sampson was a cheat before he showed up, and never changed. The only smart thing he did was hire Dan Dakich as an assistant.
I disliked both coaches every bit as much as many on this site and elsewhere hate Crean. The only difference is that I had a reason – in fact several reasons.
The loathing of Crean seems either arbitrary or founded in some psychotic immersion in nostalgia. Crean isn’t Knight, but that isn’t all bad. The ambivalence Knight showed toward recruiting during his last decade in Bloomington is the negaite image of what Crean does. That guy is a recruiting machine. Crean and his staff are out watching kids and talking to them as often as the rules allow.
His behavior on the sidelines is a little on the manic side – okay, completely on the manic side. His posing at the baseline is an annoyance, that’s true. Knight sat and watched the game most of the time. When he didn’t, Knight was chewing someone’s ass – players, refs, fans, concession workers, and anyone else who made a misstep at the wrong time.
There were two sets of rules for Knight, those he expected others to live by, and those he agreed to live by. I don’t know that extent of Crean’s hypocrisy. It’s possible he isn’t a hypocrite at all.
Every year, Indiana’s improvement ebbs forward. Not quick enough for anyone. There are kids lining up to join this program, and they are ranked, from Indiana, and preparing to win. Look at Ohio State’s roster – filled with Ohio kids. Michigan State has a bunch of Michigan kids. Illinois and Wisconsin? Same deal. The successful teams own their territories, and Indiana is staking its claim under Crean’s direction.
And that is wrong exactly why? Nothing there angers me.
Wins would be great right away, but the only road there is through boosters carrying bags of cash, and setting unemployed parents up with high-paying jobs. Indiana doesn’t play that way anymore, and every time I talk to IU athletic director Fred Glass, that’s the first thing he mentions as a mission for his programs.
And that makes people angry?
Crean is getting this right, and it’s taking time. If there was any rationale for skepticism, I would lead that parade. I am passionate about being critical when it’s called for, but I don’t see it, and can’t understand why anyone would.
Fans can wait two years for the excellence they crave, or they can continue to beat this tired and skinless drum for yet another change. The manner in which Knight was fired was bathed in headstrong arrogance. There were plenty of reasons available for beginning the evolution of the program into the hands of a more energetic recruiter who might have come from the Knight tree.
That was a reason to be angry in 2000, and maybe a couple of years beyond. With no one left on campus who had anything to do with the wrongheaded zero-tolerance policy, the time has long since passed to let that rancid gas escape.
Tom Crean is the coach, and the day is coming when Indiana will be fully back. It’s exactly two years away.
But that makes people angry, and I can’t figure out why.
Follow Kent on Twitter @kentsterling