by Kent Sterling
I saw a TV spot for the Big Ten Network this morning that listed “elite coaches” as part of the magic of its basketball coverage. Wisconsin’s Bo Ryan, Michigan’s Jim Beilein, Michigan State’s Tom Izzo, and Ohio State’s Thad Matta made the cut. Tom Crean, Matt Painter, Fran McCaffery, John Groce, Chris Collins, Rich Pitino, Pat Chambers, and Tim Miles did not.
My guess is that if Crean sees that spot, he’ll feel slighted. I can’t blame him. He earns more than Ryan and Beilein, and the Hoosiers were ranked #1 longer than anyone else last season. They won the regular season Big Ten crown outright before a series of late season hiccups brought a premature end to a Big Ten Tournament and a Sweet Sixteen failure at the hands of Jim Boeheim’s 2-3 zone.
Indiana has taken leaps forward from where the program was after the residue of the Kelvin Sampson regime finally left Bloomington a few weeks after Crean was hired by former athletic director Rick Greenspan, but fans are hungry for more.
They will tell you that they are appreciative of the heavy lifting Crean did almost six years ago to resume the dormant process of effectively recruiting Indiana high schools, and attracting players like Jordan Hulls, Cody Zeller, and Victor Oladipo, but are tired of watching Michigan and Michigan State succeed with Indiana kids like Mitch McGary, Glenn Robinson III, and Gary Harris.
There is also praise for the way that Crean and his staff help players ready their bodies to compete in the Big Ten and beyond, but the love and respect it appears Crean craves from the Indiana media and some growing pockets of fans is lacking.
On a daily basis, I get comments on kentsterling.com relating frustration with Crean that isn’t the typical message board idiocy. They are well-written legitimate expressions of frustration like this one:
Mark my words, Iowa and Minnesota have passed Indiana in terms of success in the Bug 10. I don’t just mean for this year, I mean for as long as the respective coaches stay in place. I can honestly say that IU basketball is borderline unwatchable. They have too much talent to be this bad. I only watch with friends now so we can laugh at how poorly coached they are. Use your DVR to run back over poor play that occurs, most notably the fact that for as long as Crean has been there nobody ever blocks out in the defensive boards. They rebound by sheer athleticism, which thank God they have lots of. Has there ever been a team so inept at feeding the post? We could have Lou Alicendor in his prime and he would be rendered useless by his own team!!! I honestly could go on and on. All of this basic stuff has gone on since he came to Bloomington. It’s not going to change because it is obvious that either he doesn’t get it, or perhaps he gets it he just is a bad teacher. I do appreciate your blog it saves me money on therapy!!!”
I use that comment because it was posted as I was writing. Most echo the same sentiments about what longtime Indiana fans view as fundamentally poor play.
Some view these comments as being from those who still lament the passing of the Bob Knight Era in Bloomington, but I don’t. They are the expression of annoyance for not seeing Indiana play the style of basketball that became so intertwined with its brand. The frustration is about execution of principles etched in the DNA of Indiana Basketball, not about the former coach or his polarizing personality.
Of these things, fans can be sure – Crean works as hard every day as any coach in the country, Indiana players are bonafide student athletes studying to earn degrees, and work is being done every day to help players build strength and explosiveness. Indiana recruits hard and wins battles where the playing field is level.
If you want a coach who is going to reveal himself to fans of the media in a likable way, that isn’t going to happen. It isn’t that Crean doesn’t have likable traits – it’s that for whatever reason, he is not interested in being an open book.
If you are waiting for Crean to install an offense that will be linked to IU in the way motion was under Knight, that appears very unlikely. Recruits will be gathered because of their length and ability to defend multiple spots, not because they fit a style of play or because he is “an Indiana kid.”
Until an Indiana coach wins a national championship, there will be dissent for the direction of the program. That’s an unavoidable, if difficult to attain standard of success. He must do it while adhering to rules, and the players need to go to class. That’s Indiana.
The 2013-2014 Hoosiers do not seem to be a threat to run the table in March. This season could bend in one of two directions – head north as the young team learns to function together, or unravel completely as the young team faces adversity and splinters further into smaller cliques.
If the Hoosiers put together enough wins to qualify for the NCAA Tournament, 2013-2014 will be viewed as a success. If they go to the NIT, that isn’t unprecedented for program that views itself as “elite,” but it will be used to make 2014-2015 a lasting referendum on Crean the coach, not the man.
Whatever happens from this point forward, the Big Ten’s marketing department has decided that Tom Crean is not worthy of inclusion in the “elite” club of Big Ten coaches. A picture of him next to Izzo, Matta, Beilein, and Ryan plus $1.50 would buy Crean a Diet Pepsi, but for a guy who could sure use a pat on the backside right now, it would have been nice.