by Kent Sterling
The future of beleaguered Indiana Basketball coach Tom Crean is being weighed in Bloomington based on a number of factors. The most meaningful is money. And make no mistake, when decisions are made by adults, money is always the determining factor.
There are other components, but plugging in the dollars usually leads those in power to pull the trigger or take the bullet out of the chamber. Good people who don’t represent an efficient expense are jettisoned while idiots and the corrupt are retained because their numbers fit.
Crean is not leading the Indiana program to the level of success necessary to ensure profitability, but paying the ticket to pry him from the sidelines of Assembly Hall is huge, so it keeping him around for a few months or years might be a necessity for a school who otherwise would rather invest in a new coach.
The contract extension Crean signed in November, 2012, pays him $3.16 million per year. If Indiana made the decision to punt prior to the end of June, 2015, the buyout would be approximately $11 million. Waiting until July 1, lowers the price to $7.5 million. The following July 1, it drops to $4 million, and then to $1 million.
Let’s save the harangue about the wisdom of a buyout that large for a coach paid at the absolute high end of his capability to earn – as in who would hire Crean at the number Indiana pays, so why include such a stupendous amount for a buyout? That’s a topic for another day.
Instead, let’s talk about the five reasons Indiana may or should consider replacing Crean immediately and bite the bullet on the lotto-winner-size check he would receive for packing:
Athletic programs are sustained through the very significant donations of donors, and the malaise in which the program is currently held is bad for ticket sales, ticket buyers choosing to attend games, and donors being compelled to write big checks.
- The question may not come down to whether Indiana can afford to buyout Crean’s contract, but whether they can afford to retain him. Indiana Athletics goes as Indiana Basketball goes. In the last 20 seasons, Indiana’s football team has notched a grand total of 71 wins – a hard to fathom 3.5 wins per season. With football mired in such deeply entrenched mediocrity (who says I can’t be kind in my characterizations?), basketball cannot afford to recede to the mediocrity it has seen over the last two seasons (16-20 in the Big Ten) or even the last five (44-46 in the Big Ten).
- Hope requires current players improve enough to contend. With two three-star recruits from Missouri headed to Bloomington for next season, the improvement needed to compete with Michigan State, Ohio State, and Wisconsin needs to come from within. That isn’t just a matter of strength and conditioning, but through learning the game more thoroughly. Indiana’s defense was deficient on many levels – but particularly in court awareness. Is the ceiling high enough to predict better than another middling season.
- Crean and administrators at IU would like fans and media to forget about the spate of behavioral issues that plagued the program. Arrests, suspensions, and the brain injury to Devin Davis caused doubt that Crean had the rapt attention of those on his roster when they were not in Assembly Hall. Kids are going to screw up, and the police blotter has been clean since Halloween, but questions remain as to the ability of players to steer clear of trouble.
- “Creaning” is a common practice at Indiana where athletes on scholarship are asked to transfer to make room for others. It happens at many schools, but given that the practice is named after Crean himself, you can guess who does it regularly. It shows an inability to correctly assess and tap the potential of players, and each player “Creaned” reflects poorly on Crean and his culture.
- Recruiting in Indiana is necessary for IU to be successful. Kids being recruited today were 10 years from being born the last time the Hoosiers won a National Championship, and if a heavy dose of malaise has spread throughout the alumni chapter of Hoosier Nation, imagine what kids in California, Florida, New York, and Texas think about IU. In Indiana, IU still means something, and Indiana can recruit successfully against North Carolina and Kentucky for Indiana kids. Crean has not been able to get Trey Lyles, Gary Harris, Zak Irvin, Kellen Dunham, A.J. Hammons, Ryan Cline, Kyle Guy, and on and on. He did get James Blackmon Jr., and that’s a positive. Relying on east coast recruits to lead Indiana to longterm success is not smart in the short term nor sustainable in the long term.
The reason to keep Crean appears to be limited to gratitude for the digging Indiana out of the mire in which Kelvin Sampson submerged it 7+ years ago, academic success (an accomplishment that should be celebrated), and the giant ticket his buyout represents. That last one might be enough to keep Crean here long enough to drain additional and significant life force from the brand.
$11 million is a hell of a trump card in this game to determine the future of a treasured and iconic brand.
(Kent hosts the Kent Sterling show afternoons from 3p-6p on CBS Sports 1430 in Indianapolis.)