by Kent Sterling
Indiana has six games left to try to find some redemption for this lost season. After losing 82-64 to Purdue yesterday, the chances of a late turnaround appear remote. The easily rankled Hoosiers fan base sped past the exit for agitated and judgmental, and are headed for vituperative and vengeful, the final outposts of a coach’s trek out of town.
Gakking up a nine-point lead without being fouled in the last 2:09 at home against Penn State is one thing, but losing by 18 to their rivals yesterday to run their Big Ten record to 4-8 has even formerly reasonable fans calling for change.
Successful basketball is played by talented men who operate as one. Many coaches talk about the need for a team to come together as five fingers clasped into a fist. Indiana’s players have spent much of the season as five fingers attached to different hands belonging to people on separate continents.
What exactly has caused Indiana to spiral from the top of college basketball’s best conference to within a game-and-a-half of the bottom is hard to pinpoint – youth, poor priorities and immaturity exemplified by the Friday morning booking of Hanner Mosquiera-Perea for OWI, lack of floor leadership, poor bench leadership, global warming, and Obama Care are possibilities – but fans are more interested in action from athletic director Fred Glass than well-reasoned answers.
In the absence of informed perspective, fans are pointing a collective finger – as they always do – at the coach.
If you had told me I would spend the better part of an evening out with my wife defending Tom Crean on Twitter to Indiana fans blinded by rage caused by a team that has failed to live up to expectations, I would have thought you were crazy. I’ve never been confused with the rabble who blindly pledged their love and adoration to Crean, so this is new to me.
It’s been a long time since I was a fan of an Indiana basketball coach. Knight in the end was disinterested and erratic, Davis was incompetent and miscast, and Sampson an amoral and arrogant grifter. I was initially distrustful of Crean for two reasons – he was hired by a buffoon of an athletic director, and he seemed to be more flash than substance.
But something happened as I longed for a coach I respected to lead Indiana. I began to believe that coach might just be the guy who already had the job. Indiana won a Big Ten Championship outright for the first time since 1993, and was ranked #1 in America for longer than any other program. He recruited the best players in Indiana, and got a nice percentage of them to commit to IU.
The same fans who were thrilled with the five-year climb back to relevance and winning basketball in 2013 are now dyspeptic at the 14-11/4-8 records and hard to stomach basketball being played in Bloomington. The wins against Michigan and Wisconsin notwithstanding, they believe last season’s success was the result of players overcoming a coach, not responding to him. And they see the mounting losses this season as evidence that a change at the top is required.
They say I am an apologist for Crean because I believe a coach should be credited for the good as well as blamed for the bad. Fans jump on skewed statistics that show Crean has had a tough time winning without Cody Zeller. They say Crean had nothing to do with the development of top four NBA draft picks Victor Oladipo and Zeller, but blame Crean for the lack of development of others. They say Bo Ryan and Tom Izzo have never had a losing Big Ten season, but fail to mention that Michigan State has finished at exactly .500 five times under Izzo (1996, 1997, 2006, 2007, and 2011).
One fan tweeted that the last supporters of Crean are his boss and me.
We all agree that Indiana has not played consistently well this season, but because I would like to be able to review the complete body of work by the 2013-2014 Hoosiers before casting blame, I’m an idiot. Because I’m not jumping on the bandwagon to march on Assembly Hall to demand Crean’s immediate removal as though he’s the chief potentate of a small middle eastern fiefdom being burned in effigy in the palace courtyard, I’m a bootlicker.
To hell with trying to figure out what is actually going on, or watching the final six regular games of the regular season and whatever tourney games Indiana earns. The Hoosiers need a new coach because fans don’t like to watch a losing team that turns the ball over.
Who could Glass hire as the next coach? It doesn’t matter because anger demands change. That a new coach might not be as good as Crean is nothing but a confusing detail that derails outraged bleating.
APR score of 1,000 is par for the course. Banners aren’t raised for graduation rates. The 2013 Big Ten Championship is ancient history. Logic be damned. The snowball that is the passion for Crean’s removal is rolling downhill being pushed by the uber-passionate rabble, and the only thing that can stop it is winning.
The din of boos that ushered the Hoosiers off the Floor at Assembly Hall and all the message board posts calling for Glass to spike Crean won’t cause any action, but another year like this one and the wrong brows are going to start furrowing. Glass is way too smart to overreact to the passion of the kook lobby, but the softening pro-Crean lobby can’t be ignored forever.
As for me, I will believe Crean is the guy until it’s obvious he isn’t, and that day may never come.