Indiana Basketball – Five reasons Tom Crean should stay and another five he should go

Indiana coach Tom Crean has three years left on his contract.

Indiana Athletic Director Fred Glass will wait until the season ends and then evaluate the basketball program.  The decision will be made to either retain Tom Crean as the basketball coach or relieve him of his responsibilities.

There are two sects of Indiana Basketball fans – those who view Crean as the hero of IU hoops who rode in on a white horse to save the program during its darkest moment with diligence and excellent recruiting, and those who see him as an overmatched schemer whose hyperactivity and inability to teach defense has frustrated players and fans.

Somewhere in the middle lies the truth.

Indiana will play the final home game of a very disappointing season tonight against Northwestern, a team enjoying its finest year.  Indiana is 5-10, in 13th place among 14 teams in the Big 10.

For many fans who spend the majority of their idle time ruminating about Indiana Basketball, the result of a season that began with such promise is unacceptable.

Let’s take a quick look at the pros and cons or firing and retaining Crean to see if we can find a little clarity or common ground.  Here are five reasons – in no particular order – to hold on to Crean:

  1. Who is a better replacement?  The names being thrown around as the next coach are either pie in the sky pipe dreams or uninspiring.  Brad Stevens (Celtics), Steve Alford (UCLA), Archie Miller (Dayton), Tony Bennett (Virginia), Chris Mack (Xavier), Dane Fife (assistant at Michigan State), Will Wade (VCU), and Kevin Keatts (UNC Wilmington) are among the names that come to mind as potential leaders, but do any give you the notion that a sixth banner is right around the corner?  Maybe one of them would either agree to come or provide IU with its next great coach.
  2. Injuries robbed this Indiana team of chance to succeed.  Collin Hartman would have brought steady delivery of fundamentals and leadership, and O.G. Anunoby can defend all five spots as an athletic freak.  James Blackmon Jr. was gone for a few games too.  With a healthy roster, Indiana might have been good enough.  With Hartman healthy, it can be assumed that IU would have been one point better @ IPFW – a game lost in overtime).  With Hartman and Anunoby playing, they likely would have been a bucket better against Minnesota and a point better than Iowa.  By being four points better, Indiana would be 18-10 and 7-8 in the Big 10, and inside the bubble for the NCAA Tournament.  It’s likely IU might have found a way to be a bit better than that.
  3. Indiana has won two Big 10 championships in last five seasons.  The NCAA Tournament is a crapshoot, and winning four straight games in March to advance to the Final Four is tough.  Winning more Big 10 games than anyone else in the conference is a test of basketball and intestinal fortitude.
  4. Hoosiers program better today than 10, 15, or 20 years ago.  After Damon Bailey’s graduation, Indiana under Bob Knight started recruiting all over the place, and the result was an uneven mess.  Mike Davis was unready to lead IU by his own admission.  Kelvin Sampson was an amoral and corrupt leader (according to NCAA rules at the time) of a previously pious and chaste program.  Crean inherited a mess, and cobbled together rosters that became very competitive in his fourth season.  From 1995-2012, Indiana advanced to one Sweet 16 and shared one Big 10 regular season championship.  From 2013-2016, Indiana won two Big 10 titles outright, and has advanced to three Sweet 16s.
  5. Maybe this is as good as it gets for IU.  Indiana is not Louisville, Kentucky, North Carolina, or Duke.  It’s also not the consistent winner that Wisconsin, Michigan State, and Michigan are.  A close comp over the past six years is West Virginia.  Is there a coach out there like John Calipari was after the grim and brief Billy Gillespie era at Kentucky, or a Roy Williams following Matt Doherty and Bill Guthridge at UNC who can resurrect Indiana to it’s former greatness?

Okay, let’s compare the reasons to keep Crean with some that call for a regime change:

  1. Style does not sync with Indiana heritage.  Even when winning, Indiana fans are baffled by the Hoosiers inability to defend and take care of the ball.  For generations Indiana players appeared smarter and better prepared to compete than their opponents.  Today’s Hoosiers either out-talent opponents or lose.
  2. Crean can no longer recruit Indiana.  Four high school seniors from Indiana are ranked in the top 30 nationally, and none will play for Indiana.  IU continues to offer Indiana kids, but none seems as keen on playing in Bloomington as Cody Zeller or Yogi Ferrell were.  If Crean can’t recruit the home state hot bed, how can they compete with the programs that can.  Gary Harris, Trey Lyles, Zak Irvin, Caleb Swanigan, and Kyle Guy would have helped Indiana win games if not championships.
  3. Incoming class not a game changer.  Clifton Moore, Al Durham, and Justin Smith are doubtless nice young men who have a great talent to play basketball, but they comprise a recruiting class not ranked in the top 40 in the country.  Their arrival will coincide with the almost certain departure of Anunoby, Blackmon, and Thomas Bryant.  Fans are not bullish that brighter days are ahead based upon the current state of Crean’s recruiting.
  4. Alternative to firing is an extension.  If Crean is invited to return to Bloomington by not being asked to leave, he will have three years remaining on his contract, and as his buyout drops to $1-million on July 1st, he will ask for an extension that rewards him for the success that had been lacking for 15 years prior to his arrival.  Can Indiana justify extending the contract of a coach whose presence in Bloomington has motivated thousands of empty seats in Assembly Hall over the last month.
  5. Failed to post winning Big 10 record three of last four seasons.  Indiana’s record over the last four Big 10 seasons is 36-33 with three non-winning seasons.  That is a mediocre result that includes one very nice 15-3 season.  Taking the unfair step of removing the 2016 campaign, Indiana is 21-30 in conference play in 2014, 2015, and 2017.  If past is prologue, the future looks dim indeed.

The distilled result of the five reasons to replace Crean is an apathy among longtime fans and donors that might compel action.

27 thoughts on “Indiana Basketball – Five reasons Tom Crean should stay and another five he should go

  1. Dayton Dave

    Thanks again, Kent, for a good article on the pros and cons of keeping Tom Crean or negotiating him out. I see both sides of the equation, most likely lots of fans do. I know what I would do. I would be sending out my people (consultants) and asking a short list of potential replacement coaches the big question. And I would have done than a couple of years ago.

    I strongly believe that AD Glass had a method and a plan. Part of it was to stabilize the turnover at the head coaching position. That would make the job more attractive in my opinion. He also was letting the football head Coach Wilson, at the time, settle in. Of course, that went sideways. But, football is looking up at IU.

    Now to basketball, again. A great basketball head coach hire at the D1 highest levels matters greatly. I believe AD Glass when he states that IU should be competitive in the upper levels of the B1G every year. IU should make runs into the NCAAT every year. AD Glass goes on to say that he doesn’t look back, he looks forward…to the potential to meet these stated goals.

    Crean has done a fair job of getting IU basketball out of the doldrums but his potential to take IU to the stated goals of Department is lacking. That and the fact that AD Glass didn’t grant the extension to Crean’s contract last year and can’t this year.

    The one and only wild card it what top notch head basketball coach replacement prospect has the potential that the AD seeks? Buh bye, Coach Crean. Hello new coach.

    It’s Indiana after all!

  2. Gilford

    A top fanbase in the country (currently divided) and the most fertile recruiting grounds anywhere. Despite three rotten coaches in 20 years we STILL are consistently top ten in hoops revenues in the country. We have 15% higher hoops revenues than Kansas or Michigan State. Think about that.

    It’s a race car waiting for a real race car driver instead of letting someone on the pit crew handle the wheel. Izzo is 58. Pitino is mid 60s. Coach K is pushing 70. It’s the perfect time to get a reasonably young dynamic coach who can swipe recruits who don’t want to play for the old guys on their way out. Success begets success. Once we start winning, home state studs will start dreaming of playing for IU again.

  3. Maximum Derp

    Put the record, etc aside. What is the energy like around that program? There are expectations that their remaining home game against NU will have more empty seats than Bloomington has seen in a long time.

    We’re starting to get into this kind of territory as well…is IU becoming a coach’s graveyard? I’m not saying I believe that but I have to think coaches will be thinking about all that comes with that job before taking it.

    1. Kent Sterling Post author

      I don’t believe that at all. Indiana might not be the kind of destination job it would have been in the mid-1990s, but Davis was overmatched and a bad hire, Sampson was an ill-fitting cheat, and Crean actually succeeded on many levels. With the right coach, Indiana should be able to routinely excel at or beyond the level of a Butler.

  4. Steve Turner

    I haven’t seen Greg Marshall of Wichita State suggested as a possible replacement for Crean. Frankly he’d be my first choice if he’d come. It seems to me that any up-and-coming coach should salivate over the recruiting prospects in Indiana. I was around when Bobby Knight was recruited from Army. Trust me when I say that for many years he had no difficulty whatsoever getting home state boys to play for him, even before he won his first championship.

  5. Neal Pelsor

    Of the Five contenders the only logical choice to accept and lead is Dane Fife. No way Stevens is leaving the Celtics and NONE of the other are better that Crean. Dane has the advantage of youth and shown determination. I have to say while I like all the playing time younger players have been afforded by the injuries and seeming non-commitment of elder players, there was a definite point this season where practice time should have been devoted to fundamentals and defense. The turnovers are worse, by far, than when Crean inherited walk-ons.

  6. Jim Shelton

    I agree a young Brad Stevens with enthusiastic attitude towards recruiting in Indiana & how to coach great defense & ball handling eliminating mistakes creating point opportunities for other team ( Butler way) all Indiana kids can shoot ask teams from out of state , Butler picks student athletes that fit their school & Basketball program & their success has been fantastic . But this IU a tradition of winning NCAA Championships with students that are there on senior night . the Last Undefeated National Champs & still holds record . can’t put all the blame on Glass he’s trying & succeeding in other sports it’s his job to do that . but let’s shake Crean’s hand & wish him well . a young coach good staff & mind for using good judgement all around game of basketball like Kinight before his self promotion years when he thought he was bigger than 1 of the best university in the nation IU . I say this in my name & the memory of my long time friend Prof. David Baker Jazz Studies Founder

  7. Mike Ewing

    Kent –

    The “Cons” in your analysis are the last refuge of those who will tolerate mediocrity. None of the current crop of best college coaches took his current position after a successful run at a major program besides Roy Williams (and his is a special situation, with him not being willing to succeed Dean Smith and becoming too successful at Kansas to leave until he had to save UNC). Each of them (and Coach Knight) came from more modest circumstances to the jobs they now hold (two from Army). Putting the “who else is sure to be better” argument in your “Cons” category is rewarding the cowardice of an AD who won’t take the responsibility for actually searching for and finding a coaching talent that will flower at the next level and being accountable for the outcome. Every one of the best candidates for all of ‘blueblood’ jobs in college basketball, when the legendary coaches there now retire, will be from smaller programs and the ADs that hire them will have to do their jobs instead of hiding behind the “who is sure to be better?” argument.
    You miss the point with your “Pros.” Indiana plays crummy basketball; it’s painful to watch, whether they win or not. Indiana has not played consistent, poised, disciplined basketball since Crean arrived. Even when they win, it is because they out-talent their opponent and shoot well. They have never played adequate, let alone, shutdown defense and show no evidence that there is any identifiable method to the offense. The kids look dazed and confused and seldom seem to have a plan for how to deal with things that happen in games. Crean’s antics on the sideline are an attempt to cover up for the fact that he doesn’t seem to value basic, fundamental basketball and instead wants to show that he’s the smartest kid in the room. Indiana is still a “blueblood” program, because all of the best kids will still take a call and look into Indiana because “it’s Indiana.” But they don’t sign up because they see what’s happening and see their future in other, better situations. A good recruiter will recruit well at Indiana, but good recruiting includes showing prospects that they will have good coaching. That ain’t true in Bloomington.
    My goals for Indiana basketball are to play poised, disciplined, good basketball, be in the Big Ten AND national championship discussions most years and to always be discernably progressing towards those goals, even in off years. There is absolutely no reason why Indiana can’t compete with the best name brands in college basketball, but nobody can make the case that it will happen with Tom Crean at the controls. I am grateful to Crean for rescuing the program and returning it to respectability. It is no shame that the unique skillset that enabled him to do that is different from the skills needed to lead a program that is regularly and consistently at the top echelon of college basketball. Fred Glass needs to do what’s best for Indiana basketball and not worry about what is ‘fair’ for Tom Crean.
    Crean needs to find another situation that suits him better or Fred Glass needs to show him the door.

    1. coachv

      well said. i would further add that in kent’s first point, he asks if any of these names would have you believe a banner is just around the corner. stevens name is on the list. if that name doesn’t inspire that belief, then whose can?

      and people should stop sounding so positive stevens would not leave the celts. many coaches prefer coaching at the college level. stevens grew up an indiana fan. there are many examples of coaches going home because that is where the heart is.

      1. Mike Ewing

        Brad Stevens should be asked. He’ll respond however he does, but that is not my point. My point is that no school ever gets to choose a new head coach who has been highly successful at the highest levels (e.g., Power Conference championships, multiple Elite Eights, consistent top ten rankings, etc.). Coaches with those credentials stay where they are and every approach to them by another school is merely more leverage to extend and increase their current contracts. Every Power Conference school, especially ones that consider themselves elite, will have to replace their current coach with a coach with modest credentials, but the right priorities and an ascending trajectory. That includes Duke and UNC and Kansas and, gulp, Kentucky. The ADs need to do their job and replace the coaches that need replacing, not whine about how difficult it is to find a coach that is certain to be successful based on his track record at the elite level. To those ADs I say, not all of them will succeed, so get over it; and if your choice bombs, get your resume together.

  8. Thomas

    I’m an IU alum who lives in Columbia SC and I’m dying for someone to get Glass to call Mike White at Florida. 34 years old, tops in the SEC, and a winner and recruiter everywhere he goes. We see him here twice a year and his players play and they respect each other, he’s a young class act that will be a great coach for a long time. If he’s not leaving Gainesville, then Crean is the man. He’s mostly brought back Hoosier basketball from a sanctioned doormat, and has never had a full season of injury free, top talented basketball that his recruits can play. Think if Cody and Victor had stayed one more year with Yogi and OG, does the Final Four seem that far away? He has quality wins this year over Kansas and NC, and NCAA tournament wins over ugh, Kentucky, not to mention a huge home win that sent Calipari into fits on ESPN. Does anyone else remember kissing the floor of Assembly Hall that night? I do, and I’m not sure it’s a fair assessment to only focus on the late, he’s done a lot for Hoosiers like myself everywhere, and if a top 5 coach won’t bite, he’s already got his teeth sunk in. Hoo Hoo Hoosiers!!!

  9. Fred Johnson

    My Father is 96 and was at IU when we stated hanging banners. He loves Crean as a Person and thanks him for his strong integrity but he is not a level 1 coach and that is proven by the records. Crean hasn’t been able to get talent or the W. Bloomington is Not considered the most scary place in the country any more. Just ask yourself WHY then say time for a new coach.

  10. Mike

    Scratching my head on how/why you would include Michigan in the same category as the others? I assume you have stats/facts to back that up?

    1. Kent Sterling Post author

      Why wouldn’t they be – two regular season Big 10 Championships, a National Championship game appearance, and Elite Eight. Beilein has better overall and Big 10 records despite inheriting a dumpster fire in 2007 similar to IU’s the following year.

      I would challenge you to produce any evidence Michigan is not a superior basketball program over the past decade.

      1. Mike

        The last decade is irrelevant. Over the last 6 years (the time during which Crean had fully resurrected the program), their records are nearly identical. Michigan is 141-66 and IU is 136-66. Both have two conference titles, although one of Michigan’s was not outright. There is no argument for calling out Michigan as winning consistently more. It just weakens your otherwise strong arguments.

        1. Kent Sterling Post author

          Beilein resurrected Michigan more quickly, but you want to forestall comparison. Don’t forget to compare Michigan’s NCAA Tourney success to IU’s.

  11. Jeff Gregory

    I can only think that this post was inspired to just get some activity, because I don’t see any reason to buy ANY of the “keep Crean” rationale.

    1. There is no reason that IU can’t get a good coach. What reason would coaches have to turn down IU?
    Is it because they won’t get paid well? NO. IU can compete with any school in the country if they have a mind to in salary packages.
    Is it because IU is football school and it would be hard to compete with football resources? HA!
    Is it because IU has sub-par facilities? No, they arguably have the best basketball facilities in the country.
    Is it because IU just doesn’t have the support? No, they have one the top fan bases in the country plus boosters with money such as John Mellencamp and Mark Cuban who have been very generous.
    Is it because they have a poor base to recruit from? No, Indiana high schools are a hotbed of recruiting talent just ripe for the picking for a coach who knows how to recruit them.
    Is it because IU is just like any other school that has hit and miss seasons over the last decade or so? No, IU only rivals with UNC, Duke, Kansas, UK, and UCLA as a university that is synonymous with basketball with a great storied history.
    To base IU’s desirability solely on the success of other coaches in recent years makes no sense. Even with Crean, they have enjoyed one of the best teams in the country (2013) and a couple of B1G titles. We aren’t talking DePaul here.

    2. Sure IU has had some injuries. Injuries do not explain a lack of fundamental soundness, discipline, and the inability to correct perennial mistakes.

    3. This is your strongest argument, but because of my argument in point 2, it appears those titles happened because of talent making up for the lack of sound coaching. Yogi Ferrell was a season changer.

    4. The only thing you can judge is Crean’s past six years. The rest of that is irrelevant. I will say that Knight had the program on the verge of contending for another banner when he got fired. Davis took Knight’s team to the championship game. Then Davis changed the system and started earning points that eventually got him a job at UAB.

    5. The reasons you have listed for “this as good as IU gets” all points to Crean. So, it probably IS just as good as IU gets under Crean, but that is why we are having this conversation in the first place.

  12. Dave

    I really liked Mike Ewing’s post. It echoed my sentiments. As for number 5 under the pro column, I think former coach Branch McCracken would be rolling in his grave after reading that. I believe Bobby Knight would have been outraged with this thought. The day we accept being happy just to get invited to the big dance is the day I will renounce my alumni status to IU! That’s the equivalent to just giving up. No one should be paid millions to project this type of attitude on the student athlete no matter which sport they participate in. I would also encourage fans to not attend games if the school truly believes we really are incapable of competing nationally.

    My belief that Tom Crean has run his course is not a sentiment based on anger or desiring ill will. In fact, I will acknowledge and praise his efforts to improve Indiana when they were a dumpster fire. That being said, his best days are behind him. He has been well compensated and no act of loyalty (by retaining his employment) is required to show our appreciation for his past accomplishments. I’ve read where some believe he would make a great mid level coach. I’ll let others debate this. In the meantime, I absolutely believe he will be kept on for at least one more year based on his 2016 success. However, get ready for another uninspiring year of college basketball.

  13. joel

    I turned on the local IU basketball show at 1430 AM around 3:10 pm today and I think after 2-3 wks of the
    incessant caterwauling to the point of Ad nauseam has jumped the shark. The point of discussion was Colin Hartmans proposal of marriage. What , really?! Wow!!

    Kent I really do enjoy your show and your view points and perspective on life ,sports, being a good person,doing whats right and etc… but man, give this IU talk a rest. It’s beating a dead horse. My god man,you and Harry need to get a few Vodka Gimlets!!

    IU fans need to get a grasp on they’re fandom for this team,program and reality of where its at and going. IU basketball is not as relevant as it once was beyond the popular belief of the faithfull. The self righteous
    entitlements the fans exude is nauseating. Yes they’re was a time and place where the fan base could puff they’re chest out and show they’re arrogant ass on how great the program was and personify themselves in the demeanor of Bob Knight. Fine,those days are gone of an elite program and I HIGHLY doubt they are coming back barring miracle. Yes they might rise to be a real good program again, but to think they will return to the glory days and stand among the current Dukes, NC’s,Kansas, Kentucky with consistent winning and domination is really reaching. It could happen , but I would not bet on it. IU is not the elite program it once was. What high profile coach is gonna come to IU? No coach of a top 25 team is gonna leave to come here. They are not gonna bring a big name in. IU basketball is not the draw in state anymore. Players are not coming here for a reason,. They did not grow up in that era and they want to win. It’s not as sexy as it once was and Crean is not helping that situation. To believe and think that all great players in this state should go to IU is ignorant,arrogant, and narrow minded. Its the sense of entitlement the fan base reeks of. Yeah , there was a time where it was expected and happened ,but not anymore. Get over it folks,remove the cream and crimson blinders,put down the kool aid and accept reality. IU is now Butlers little brother.

    1. Mike

      Similarly, Butler hasn’t done squat since their great coach left and they joined a real conference. So all we can both do is reflect on the history, and yours is quite bleak.

      1. Mike Ewing

        You guys are way out of my league. I see IU as a blueblood college basketball program that has lost its way. It needs a new, young, aggressive coach who can make the most of all the advantages IU provides. The things that make IU a blueblood can still be levered to put Indiana at the top of the discussion every year, but they won’t last forever if they keep getting squandered, as Crean has. But this notion that IU can’t ever again longer belong among the elite of the college basketball world doesn’t wash with me. It’s simple: excuse Mr. Crean from further participation, find a firebreathing young coach and give him room to run.

    2. Jeff Gregory

      That’s a lot of blow hard, IU hating, Joel – considering your anti-IU rant had nothing to support your take on the program. However, opinions are like ass holes. Everyone has one and sometimes even ass holes have opinions. Not saying you are (because I would never name call), but . . . I am sure it has crossed some minds here.

    3. Kent Sterling Post author

      Agree with you on the gimlets, but not too much else. Hartman’s proposal was the highlight of the season for the Hoosiers – a nice cool can of Falstaff on a desert island of misery.

  14. Rick Mason

    He must be replaced. And for this reason, if no other: He has not abandoned an offense that passes the ball around the arc until the shot clock hits about 5 and then throws up a prayer or turns it over. Their half-court offense stinks and he makes ZERO adjustments. Time to go, and right soon.


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