Indiana Basketball – ESPN ranks Tom Crean and Matt Painter outside top 50 coaches

by Kent Sterling

Tom Crean - not among the best 50 coaches in college basketball?

Tom Crean – not among the best 50 coaches in college basketball?

There are some Indiana fans who remain unsold on the coaching acumen of Tom Crean, and after last season’s woes Purdue fans are losing a little patience with Matt Painter.  But very few could name 50 coaches better than both.

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Yesterday, ESPN released coaches #25-#50, and it will continue to reveal one per day for the next five weeks.  The rankings were generated through surveying nearly 100 ESPN college basketball experts (writers, editors, broadcasters and researchers).  They were asked to rate college basketball coaches on all aspects of running a program on a scale of 1-10.  The points were tabulated, and Indiana’s Tom Crean and Purdue’s Matt Painter were on the outside looking in.

Ahead of them were seven Big Ten coaches, including Minnesota’s Richard Pitino (#49) – who has been a head basketball coach for all of one season, Bob Hoffman (#47) of Mercer – with one signature win over Duke in his career, and the perpetually addled Bruce Webber (#40) of Kansas State.

Fran McCaffery at Iowa and Tim Miles at Nebraska rank #33 and #32 respectively.  Because the top 24 will be shown one per day, we are left to speculate that Tom Izzo, Thad Matta, John Beilein, and Bo Ryan will round out the other Big Ten coaches included in this list that ESPN purports to celebrate the present and ignores legacy.

Legacy is one thing, but to omit Crean who 16 months ago was the coach of the #1 team in the country with two players that would be top four selections in the 2013 NBA Draft says something about ability to recruit a kid like Cody Zeller, and develop another like Victor Oladipo.

Matt Painter resuscitated a moribund Purdue program to lead it back to relevance through 2012.  The recruitment and development of JaJuan Johnson, Robbie Hummel, and E’Twaun Moore displayed exactly the capabilities of Painter as a coach and leader.

And somehow, Richard Pitino ranks ahead of both with a team that won the 2014 NIT and has one recruiting class under his belt.  What the hell kind of craziness is this?

This list represents the silliest of all journalistic contrivances.  I would expect this level of boobery from the occasionally insipid musings of Bleacher Report-esque flash card lists of top 15 this and top 20 that.  ESPN owes users more than that.

Whether Crean and Painter are entering the twilight of their careers at Indiana and Purdue is a question to be answered in 2014-2015, but to seed them outside the top 50 of current coaches is insanity regardless of the methodology.

Both have flaws.  Since that great 2007 recruiting class, talent has dwindled in West Lafayette, and the enormous expectations in Bloomington have rarely been satisfied.  Sure, there have been moments of grace with wins over outstanding teams, but two Sweet Sixteens each did not measure up to dreams of the fans.

But when have exceeding expectations or accumulating great talent been a consistent part of the Mike Brey era at Notre Dame?  He ranked #45 – a minimum of five slots ahead of Crean and Painter.

If anything, this list shows the very tenuous status of every college coach.  Win, and respect washes over them.  Lose, and the fall down a slippery slope begins and the bottom comes in a hurry, and the media loves nothing more than a fall from grace – except the redemption that follows for the lucky ones.

Speaking of redemption, how about Jim Crews from Saint Louis University?  He’s ranked #29, one slot ahead of coaching icon Bob Huggins.  When at Army, Crews teams were 59-140.  It’s virtually impossible to win at Army, but the losing made Crews almost unemployable.  He went to work for Rick Majerus and took over the Bilikens after Majerus passed away.  Five years after being in the bottom 50, he’s #29.  No smarter today, but the “experts” now love him.

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Coaching is not a job for the feint of heart.  Many coaches are dads, and their kids need food and a house and a college education and Christmas presents.  There are message boards filled with the rants of deranged and troubled fans, and college towns are packed with passionate fans who expect wins and take losing far too personally.

Whatever the “experts” say about coaches, and however the fans rant, the joy of coaching is in the behavior and accomplishments of those players they have mentored.

ESPN can’t rank that.

4 thoughts on “Indiana Basketball – ESPN ranks Tom Crean and Matt Painter outside top 50 coaches

  1. Jeff Gregory

    I hope you get a lot of comments on this one because I can’t wait to see the ensuing battle. I will just say that it would be difficult for me to rank Crean in the top 50 right now. Once Vonleh declared for the draft, I was ready for Crean to go with him (so it would be hard for me to rank him when I already established that position).

    However, if they had a ranking for coaches who can turn around a program, he would be there. He has shown the ability to do that. He just hasn’t shown the ability to actually make consistent coaching and program sustaining decisions.

    You mention Zeller and Oladipo. They are double edged swords for Crean. Sure, he recruited and perhaps developed them (respectively). However, he also couldn’t get out of the Sweet 16 with two of the top 4 draft picks on his team (with a pretty good supporting cast to go along with them). That shows underachievement and that doesn’t get into the stupid ESPN coach rankings, I’m guessing.

  2. For the Love of Gawd

    It is strange to me is that Crean is lauded as an outstanding recruiter and a mediocre coach, because I swear its the opposite. I think he is a pretty good coach, but doesn’t have the first clue on how to build a balanced roster, and can only seem to land a small fraction of the talent that surrounds him in Indiana. Sure he has happened to find a few diamonds in the rough, but it doesn’t make sense that is constantly in a position where he has to search for diamonds in the rough. I mean, he’s the head coach of one of the top programs in history, and he is competing with LOW MAJORS to sign recruits nobody has ever heard of. One of our recruits for next year chose Indiana over offers from Tulsa, Drexel, Albany and Illinois-Chicago). Are. You. Kidding. Me?


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