Indiana Basketball – Tom Crean a bad fit from the beginning, death spiral has started

by Kent Sterling

One thing is certain about the lifespan of a college basketball coach.  The first day is the happiest - especially for a "bad fit", as CBS Sports Chris Spatola called Tom Crean.

One thing is certain about the lifespan of a college basketball coach. The first day is the happiest – especially for a “bad fit”, as CBS Sports Chris Spatola called Tom Crean.

As Indiana prepares to play Wichita State in the opening round of the 2015 NCAA Tournament, conversations among Hoosiers fans have little to do with that intriguing matchup between two outstanding sets of guards.

Will Tom Crean be fired?  Did what Tom Crean said Monday night during his radio show mean he’s going to quit once the season ends?  Those are the two questions that begin every conversation about Indiana Basketball.

Whether or not Indiana is still a top five program in college basketball, Indiana is still among the most discussed.

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When I spoke to CBS Sports Chris Spatola yesterday on my show on CBS Sports 1430 in Indianapolis, the conversation started and ended with the bracket, but the middle was all IU, and Chris brought great insight.  Chris played basketball at Army, served on Mike Krzyzewski’s staff at Duke, and now works as an college basketball analyst for CBS.

He said this about the Tom Crean hire, “I don’t think Tom Crean was the right guy to begin with.  The Tom Crean hire was just a bad hire.”

“You’re basically bringing a guy that had Dwyane Wade at Marquette, had mild success.  I think his success at Marquette was inflated.  And then they get him at Indiana, and I think it was flawed to begin with.”

Then we talked about the value of the job and Indiana brand as a basketball program, “The brand is degraded.  It get it.  It may not look like the job it was a few years ago, but the structure is still in place.  I put it up there with a Kansas, a North Carolina, with a Kentucky.”

I asked him whether Indiana could change the hope quotient for its fan base without changing coaches, “I don’t think so, Kent, because I think what’s happened is that program is reflecting the personality of the coach.  Without getting into too much about Tom Crean, I think what’s going on there is starting to reflect his personality, and it’s too far gone with Tom Crean….We’re in the death spiral.  That’s the best way to put it.  I don’t think he can climb out of that.

“And then I’m reading this morning about the comments he makes (on his radio show), and it sounds like he’s feeling the death spiral.”

Chris then spoke about the level of coach needed to bring Indiana back to prominence, “If you get the right guy, like Calipari is the right guy at Kentucky, if you get a Billy Donovan (Chris brought up Donovan because of rumors, not as an endorsement – Chris believes that if Donovan bounces from Florida, it will be for the NBA) at Indiana, that all of a sudden enhances that brand to where it is.  I think that’s a top five job.”

While Indiana fans are still split regarding Crean, and have plenty of opinions about the future of the program, there is unanimity about the need for change if only to provide a reason for hope – the fuel that has powered Indiana Basketball fandom for a generation.

The immediate question is whether Indiana can beat Wichita State and Kansas to advance to a third Sweet 16 in four years.  If that happens, the Crean leaving narrative is shelved for the immediate future.  If Indiana loses tomorrow, the interest in what Crean and athletic director Fred Glass will do next will launch into hyperdrive.

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And then the list of potential candidates for one of the most coveted jobs in sports will be open for the fourth time in nine years.  Getting it right will be the biggest challenge of Glass’s career, and will be his defining moment.

Fascinating days for Hoosier Nation.

(Kent Sterling hosts a radio show afternoons from 3p-6p on CBS Sports 1430 in Indianapolis.)

[to listen to the entire interview, click below]

16 thoughts on “Indiana Basketball – Tom Crean a bad fit from the beginning, death spiral has started

  1. Matterhorn

    Chris just confirms what everyone knows. IU IS a top 5 or 10 program, but the clueless board has hired 3 really bad coaches, not unlike what happened at Alabama Football in the 80’s and 90’s. The program is critical but stable right now. Fred Glass has the chance to leave his legacy as the man that brought IU it’s 6th and 7th National Championships. Will he make the right move?

    1. kentsterling Post author

      I think IU is a top five or ten job because it will pay to that level and has the facilities necessary to win. Like Chris said, IU checks all the boxes. But to say it’s a top five program is a different thing fails to consider the entrenched mediocrity and the disinterest in-state recruits have for playing in Bloomington. Is it a diamond in the rough? Can it be great again? Can the right guy get the program to the level fans crave? Yes, yes, and yes. Is Indiana a top five program right now? Not close.

    2. Harlow8150

      I don’t see how IU is a top 5 or 10 program. Not since Knight left. Davis went on a run with Knight’s players and then nothing since. Kansas, Zona, UK, Duke UNC, Cuse, MSU are all better programs. That is 7 I named just real quick. Indiana is not in that upper echelon, they are at the top of the second rung unfortunately.

    1. kentsterling Post author

      Trying not to get predictive until the season is over, but recruiting against the torrent of rumors of leaving and doubt about the future makes staying very difficult. Hard to imagine Fred Glass locking arms with Tom as the bastille is stormed. But I have heard nothing concrete from anyone who would know.

      1. j

        if the rumors are true about mrs crean not being happy in Bloomington that in itself may be enough to send crean packing. I know it would have a big impact on my decision making. aside from the obvious with the south jacklegs heckling his son are those rumors true?

        1. kentsterling Post author

          The relevant part of the answer is something that Tom shared in his radio show. He said that his wife feels “anguish” when she watches basketball in Bloomington. Nothing wrong with asking the question given Tom’s response.

  2. Philboyd Studge

    According to Greg Doyel he witnessed Crean immediately after the game get in the face of one of the referees and tell him, “You Suck!” How could Fred Glass consider getting rid of a guy like that, whose spirit and passion epitomizes the style, class and grace of generations of the Indiana basketball family? The self-control of Bob Knight, the mental stability of Mike Davis, the ethics of Kelvin Sampson (a round of Creaning coming); the Clapper has it all.

    1. kentsterling Post author

      As always, your input is valued. May your Wildcats be vanquished tomorrow by your neighbors to the north.

  3. Patrick

    I believe Hoosier nation would be more patient if we were playing a better brand of ball, if we had a consistent defensive scheme, If the substitutions made sense, if turnovers and lack of effort on the defensive end had consequences to your PT, etc… I haven’t been to a game in Bloomingting for a year but I can only imagine that it is getting tough for the Crean family. As for the fans, we are also anguished.

    I had plans to take off early and watch the game. Then I listened to an interview with coach around 1pm. As the interviewer explained to coach that this team has hit the most three point shots in school history, are 8th in the nation from behind the arch… He front loaded the question and the answer he got from coach was dismissive to our shooting ability… Apparently despite losing Zeller and Vonley we still have to win it in the paint. I chose not to watch. I’d already seen that game played for the last 5 weeks.

  4. Harlow8150

    What worries me is if the Alumni do some how buyout Crean’s contract. Why would any big name coach want to come to IU. IU will never be there program it will always be Bob Knight. If I was a big name coach I would like to do what Coach K did. Go to a school with little historical success and turn that around. Become the man at that college. No coach will ever come and be the man, not for decades. So this program will NEVER be the coaches program. It will always be the alumni’s and Bob Knight’s. So that is why I don’t find it acceptable for alumni to be able to buyout a coaches contract. If alumni have that much pull why would any good name coach want to take the risk? Most IU fans and alumni tell me because it is IU. They say it like IU is still a top program. MSU, Duke, UNC, Cuse, Zona, Kentucky, Lville, Kansas are the blue bloods. There are others that are def. better programs as well than IU. IU is not up there anymore and I truly believe we put to much pressure on IU players and coaches to perform. Here is the double edged sword I keep hearing from IU fans. Crean needs to go but man he can recruit. Guys, if IU is this top program like you all say it is then the coach doesn’t matter. All good coaches can recruit and if IU is a top program then recruits should come no matter the coach. But IU fans don’t think that is the case. So IU fans (and I am one of em) are scatter brained right now.

    1. kentsterling Post author

      Good points, but Knight’s shadow is becoming very faint except for the kooks who treasure the General’s memory. Duke had a reasonable history prior to Coach K. Bill Foster was a good coach who led Duke to an NCAA Final in 1978. The parallel with Louisville is apt. Denny Crum was an icon until a few years prior to the end, just as was the case for Knight. Still, Pitino was able to get things square there.

      It can be done. IU just needs the right guy.


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