by Kent Sterling
Tom Crean and his Indiana Hoosiers team deserve the opportunity to complete the full season before anyone, including athletic director Fred Grass, define the team’s body of work as a failure – or a success.
Strange things happen in college basketball. The Hoosiers can shoot it, and when you can shoot it, a chance exists. That’s all Indiana might need to win a couple of games at the Big Ten Tournament and save its candidacy for an invitation to the NCAA Tournament. And then, two wins take the Hoosiers to the Sweet Sixteen – as far as they have gone in the NCAA’s since 2002.
At that point, the season would have to be evaluated as a success, and how can firing Tom Crean even be considered? Many in Indiana have tired of Crean, and have no inclination to view Crean positively regardless of the final chapters of this odd season, but Glass is not among them I assure you.
Let’s take off crimson colored glasses for a minute and pinpoint the criteria that should be used to assess the effectiveness of any coach of Indiana’s marquee athletic program, and the highest paid public employee in the state of Indiana.
1 – Comparison with other coaches in the Big Ten – In a head-to-head battle between IU’s coach and every other coach in the Big Ten, who’s better? In a conference with Bo Ryan, Mark Turgeon, Tom Izzo, Thad Matta, Matt Painter, John Beilein, and seven others, lodging near the top of the list is tough but necessary or Indiana is doomed to mediocrity.
2 – Ability to recruit Indiana – I’m sorry to those who see Indiana as a national program who should be able to recruit the finest talent in the country, that’s not who IU has shown itself to be – not today, not ever. When Indiana is best, it chooses players from among the best in its home state, and augments with those from neighboring states (illinois and Ohio). If kids from Indiana choose to leave the state to play, why would a rational kid from California, Texas, Florida, or Massachusetts choose to come to Bloomington. This isn’t Kentucky, and it shouldn’t be. During eras when Indiana kids excel, there is plenty of talent to stock a potential champion.
3 – Ability to out-coach fans – In Indiana, this is harder than in most places. One of the cruelest legacies of Bob Knight’s 29 years in Bloomington was his generosity with a vast curriculum of basketball knowledge. Indiana fans know more about defense than the majority of high school coaches outside Indiana, and a desire to see fundamentals executed properly is strong. If a coach can’t strategize and teach basketball well enough to satisfy fans, he is doomed.
4 – Academics & graduation – Many from outside Indiana believe the blather from IU fans about grades and degrees to be hubristic claptrap that is waived as long as Indiana wins. Not for those who enjoyed the years when banners were hung while classes were attended. College basketball cannot be a minor league feeder system for the NBA regardless of banners, not at Indiana. Indiana University is a school first, a basketball program second, and players need to reflect that standard. Winning without a culture it validates is hollow, and Indiana fans won’t tolerate it.
5 – Winning – Amassing victories is a result, not a trait. If the first four criteria are met, winning should be a given. There are fans who work backwards though. They want the wins, and have no interest in the methodology behind them. These are the people who still believe Kelvin Sampson was a good hire. Without winning, all the magnificent culture in the world is meaningless. Sad, but true. If a coach can manage to fulfill #2 and #3, he is going to win at Indiana, and he will be evaluated as a winner in #1. The kids earn #4 as compensation for their effort, even though they might see it as a penance while at IU.
As you ponder the future of the Indiana program, and the reasonability of retaining Crean as it’s leader, do what Glass does and pragmatically assess his work through whatever criteria you feel are appropriate. Mine are above. Share yours via a comment, and after Indiana’s season ends, let’s run our own system of checks and balances to see if Indiana has the right leader.