by Kent Sterling
Fred Glass runs a great athletic department at Indiana University. The student-athletes (Indiana is one of the places where that term can still be used without smirking) are provided with the resources needed to succeed in both athletic and academic disciplines, facilities are in a constant state of upgrade, and most of the 24 teams under the IU sports umbrella win.
The two places where upgrades are needed are in football and men’s basketball. Football is a longterm project requiring slow growth, and that improvement keeps coming with each recruiting class and season. Last season’s injury to quarterback Nate Sudfeld eviscerated the team, and ended its chances to go to a bowl. Another year of development has the Hoosiers nearing an era when going to bowl should be a more regular occurrence than the 2007 Insight Bowl Indiana has enjoyed since 1993.
But basketball is where the Indiana brand is strongest, and where the fan passion is deepest. A lack of new laundry hanging from the south end zone (the last national championship was earned nearly 30 years ago), and one outright Big Ten regular season championship over the last 20 years has fans impatiently asking when the long promised return to routine prominence among the elite programs in the game will take root.
The last two years for Indiana Basketball have been bleak. This just concluded 2014-2015 schedule teased fans with a national ranking that accompanied a 5-1 conference start. The 5-10 collapse has left those who care about IU hoops with intrenched and rational concerns about the direction of the program.
Tom Crean is the coach, and with an $11+ million check to cut to Crean if he is dispatched as many would like, his removal is unlikely. Glass has said that the buyout will not stop him from making a change, but what the hell was he supposed to say, “Yeah, I boogered this one. Painted myself right into this corner with an unnecessary buyout for a coach no one was ever sold on in the first place.” Even an athletic director as candid as Glass doesn’t say things like that.
Indiana fans need reasons for hope, and two incoming freshmen from Missouri are not moving the feel-good meter, not after a 44-46 Big Ten record (including the championship season) over the last five years.
Yesterday, I wrote that Indiana needs to thank Crean and then say goodbye to him because the death spiral has started, and when that happens, a reversal is impossible. Competing coaches poison the program in the minds of recruits because of the doubts about the current coach’s status. There is also the question of where scholarships will come from to accommodate the two Missouians and anyone else who strikes Crean’s fancy.
Fans are tired of “Creaning” and feel a little bit dirty about a coach who forces kids off scholarship, and with him being on thin ice already, departures by current players will force another series of negative news cycles upon a program that needs smooth sailing for a few months.. The arrests and suspensions also burned through a good deal of equity, leaving Crean exposed to the whims of teens prone to stupidity.
There are also good questions being asked about the defensive inadequacies that included a bizarre and confusing strategy that left some Indiana players in a zone and others in man-to-man during multiple possessions each game that have weakened the Crean brand in the minds of fans.
The key to saying goodbye to one coach and hello to a new one is making damn sure that the new guy can get the job done in a way that the previous coach could not, and while it’s easy for media types to say that Crean must go, the timing of the departure is critical because it will determine the ability to hire the right guy.
My trust is with Glass and his ability to find THE RIGHT GUY for this ultra important job. That may mean not making a change until the moment is right. That could coincide with the date the buyout drops to $7+ million (July 1), or a year from now when that perfect guy becomes available.
At some point, a change will be needed because Glass has a seven-year body of work to assess. He knows the best Crean is capable of, and it simply is not enough. If Indiana is going to be considered an elite program, the results of their on-court work need to back that up. Right now, Indiana is a middle of the pack Big Ten team who slipped in the backdoor of the 2015 NCAA Tournament. More of the same can be expected, but not tolerated.
Glass knows that and will provide change that brings reason for hope, but it needs to be done at the right time. I trust Glass to get it right.
(Kent hosts the Kent Sterling show afternoons from 3p-6p on CBS Sports 1430 in Indianapolis.)