by Kent Sterling
It goes without saying that one more lapse in judgment from a player that results in media scrutiny of Tom Crean’s stomach for assessing the kind of consequences that results in a change of behavior will cost him the job he so desperately wants to keep.
But the job isn’t limited to keeping his roster from smoking pot, underage drinking, and driving while intoxicated. The longterm effects of the recent issues in Bloomington will be far more difficult to overcome.
Five things have to go very right for Indiana University to continue to support Tom Crean as the leader for the most important branding vehicle of the school.
1 – The first is winning recruiting battles that have become much more difficult at a school where cheating on any level is unacceptable. When evaluated as a launching pad for professional basketball careers, Indiana can stay in the game. While other schools have become very clever about circumventing NCAA rules, Indiana is staunchly against those tactics. That makes winning tough, but the fact that coaches competing for the talents of high school kids are now trumpeting the news of six out of 13 players either being arrested, suspended, or hospitalized due to alcohol and drug use will make the terrain even tougher.
2 – It’s not just a matter of recruiting, but recruiting math that will be troubling for many parents. There are 13 players on scholarship for both this season and next, and yet Indiana has received two commitments for next year. No doubt that Crean is tired of scouring the country for the best of the uncommitted during the spring and summer as players either transfer or declare their early eligibility for the NBA Draft. Who can blame him? So he is overstocked like a Costco on Black Friday. Indiana is now guaranteeing scholarships for four years, and that makes this practice especially murky. He needs to recruit well without appearing to shove kids out the door. When asked about clouded math of recruiting, coaches generally respond, “It all seems to work itself out.” Nobody buys that, but whatever happens to allow the two incoming freshmen from Missouri to report for duty had better be above board and righteous.
3 – This year’s team need to win. The 17-15 of last year without a postseason tournament was one thing as an aberration, but a similar record this season with the promise of the entire roster returning would turn the Hoosier fancies surly. Indiana fans, despite many reports and posts to the contrary, demand winning the right way as the program’s core value. Winning is not the only thing, but it is definitely a thing. At minimum, some success in the NIT is the bare minimum that will be deemed acceptable.
4 – Crean needs to moderate his behavior in the halls. The number of stories that have wandered from Assembly Hall and Marquette University about callous arrogance from Crean out number the stories of good deeds done for fans, and that has to stop. There is no way to unring the bell of the past, but adding to it by treating people with indifference cannot continue to mount. On the plus side, I heard a story from a friend about an episode of great generosity toward she and her fiancee from Crean. Those need to continue. Managers and office personnel coming out of the woodwork to share negative experiences are weighing heavy on Crean’s image.
5 – Current players need to understand they don’t have the power. I interviewed CBS Sports college basketball analyst Chris Spatola on CBS Sports 1430 yesterday, and he made an interesting point. Players sense weakness, and the fact that Crean is one folly away from a pink slip will be seen as a sign of frailty that gives them the advantage. Crean may decide to look the other way knowing that he is in a precarious spot where one more transgression is lethal. If that happens, the inmates will have control of the asylum and the game will be over. Crean needs to assert whatever authority the players will grant him. Right now, he’s Glenn Ford in “Blackboard Jungle,” praying Vic Morrow doesn’t stab him.
Overcoming all of those obstacles is going to be exceptionally difficult. I can’t recall a coach getting all those thing right simultaneously. It would require virtual perfection.
This March or April, athletic director Fred Glass will sit down and decide what he believe should happen. IU president Michael McRobbie and the trustees will ponder Glass’s thoughts and decide whether Indiana can afford to keep Crean as donations and season ticket sales continue to suffer – unless the team goes on a run and shuts up the naysayers themselves.
It’s going to be an interesting season with the kind of strange metrics for success that only seem to exist at programs like Indiana with fans who insist on classing it as “elite.” And that brings us to the sixth and final question Crean needs to answer in the affirmative. Is he the coach to return the Hoosiers to elite status.