IU Basketball – Five myths dispelled about the coaching position and Tom Crean

One thing is for sure about the Indiana coaching position – Tom Crean will hold it when IU takes on Iowa tomorrow night.

People are talking about the Indiana Basketball coaching job – again.

The Hoosiers have just finished languishing through their third non-winning Big 10 season in the last four, and alums and boosters are getting restless.

While there is still work to be done for Tom Crean and the 2016-2017 squad in the Big 10 Tournament and maybe the NIT, interest has shifted from the short-term results to the long-term vision for the program.

The Missouri job would be a great fit for Crean, and if he decides to jump prior to being pushed (almost all coaches are eventually pushed), Indiana will be looking for its fourth post-Bob Knight leader, (not including the short but sweet stay of Dan Dakich, who was selected not hired).

There are myths being proffered by writers and pundits who should know better about the IU job that we can dispel.  Here are five of them:

1 – Indiana is a top five job!  If Indiana is a top five job, why has it never hired a top five coach?  The most successful coach in the history of the program was Knight, and he was a 31-year-old nobody when IU tabbed him.  Since then, IU has hired Mike Davis, Kelvin Sampson, and Tom Crean.  By his own admission, Davis was nowhere near ready for the gig.  Sampson was a cheat on his way out at Oklahoma.  And after nine seasons at Marquette, Crean had plateaued during the post-Dwyane Wade Era, and worn raw those in Marquette’s Athletic Department.

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In an ESPN list of the top 50 coaches in college basketball released two-and-a-half years ago, Tom Crean was nowhere to be found.  In other just 17 months ago by Athlon Sports, Crean was ranked #44.

If Indiana is a top five job, why has the university always failed to hire a top five coach?

As people in Indiana assess the program and decide who might be their favorites to be next, many ask whether IU can hire a better coach.  If it is a top five job and Crean is not among the top 40 coaches, how can anyone in his or her right mind point to IU and say, “That’s a top five job!”

2 – Tom Crean will be due $4-million if IU buys him out.  Not so fast.  The contracted buyout for Crean if he is dismissed before July 1 is $4-million, and then it drops to $1-million.  That means Indiana can keep Crean on the payroll without responsibilities through June 30th, and then let him go.  That would cost a maximum of $1.8-million (three months and a few days of salary and perks from the date of the change through June 30th, plus the million), but likely significantly less.

3 – The coach isn’t responsible for the players.  Why is a coach paid millions if not to accept responsibility for the on-court work from the players?  I get that a coach might not necessarily need to be held accountable every time a sophomore guard misses a class or smokes a little weed, but if a team cannot function well enough on the court to be successful at a program like Indiana, that responsibility falls squarely on the shoulders of the coach.  Is that fair?  If your answer is no – don’t become a coach.

It’s not easy to teach basketball to adolescents who have been told they are God’s gift to the world because they fit someone’s definition of what constitutes a great basketball player.  But if Crean can’t get Thomas Bryant to set a well-timed ball screen, or James Blackmon to use it properly, sorry, that’s a coaching issue.

The coach gets to recruit, teach, and deploy.  If the team founders, all eyes should be fixed on the coach.

4 – Indiana can’t find anyone better.  IU AD Fred Glass might not be able to hire someone bigger, but you can’t tell me there aren’t coaches out there who are better.  The next generation of great leaders is out there somewhere, and it’s up to Glass to find it.  All coaches were unknown once.  Everyone wants Brad Stevens to leave the Celtics to come back home.  It isn’t likely, but five years ago he would have sprinted down SR37 to take the gig.  I could run through a long list of coaches who started their careers in obscurity somewhere, but you know them as well as I do.

Back to Stevens for a second.  If Todd Lickliter hadn’t left Butler for Iowa, maybe Brad would still be an assistant shagging jumpers for players and preparing scouts for the Bulldogs.

Can you tell me there isn’t another Brad out there someplace?

5 – Indiana can’t compete with Crean as coach.  Two Big 10 championships in five years is not exactly chopped hummus!  Crean’s skull is not some vestibule of ignorance.  Whether Crean is the right guy for IU moving forward is the subject of a lot of spirited debate among IU fans, but let’s agree that winning a couple of Big 10 Championships in this five season window after IU had won only one (a shared title in 2002) in more than 20 years is a hell of an accomplishment.

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There have been years of relentless mediocrity interspersed among the titles, and the light at the end of the tunnel might be an oncoming train, but given what Indiana’s basketball program has devolved into over the past 25 years, there is a possibility this might be as good as it gets – and Crean might be the right guy to keep it here.

Kent Sterling hosts the fastest growing sportstalk show in Indianapolis on CBS Sports 1430 every weekday from 3p-7p, and writes about Indiana sports at kentsterling.com.

35 thoughts on “IU Basketball – Five myths dispelled about the coaching position and Tom Crean

  1. Maximum Derp

    Do coaches still believe IU is “still IU” in terms of its stature and potential as a place where you can contend for national titles with regularity? I think it probably is still that place, but reasonable minds may differ.

  2. Joe Redenbarger

    As long as Tom Crean is coach at IU you won’t see any championships. I would think that IU’s coaching position demand the cream of the crop. Surely IUs program can be restored to the championship it once was.

    1. Geneshairpiece

      Why would IU’s coaching job be the cream of the crop? It obviously cant keep some of the talent from in state
      leaving. To much competition , better programs and coaches elsewhere. The brand IU does nto sell itself anymore like it use to . Get over it folks.

  3. Jeff Gregory

    IF IU isn’t a top 5 program, it is pretty close. UK, UNC, Duke, Kansas, UCLA – what coaching job is more appealing save these? The Davis pick was because of continuity, not because IU couldn’t get any better. Crean was known as an up-and-comer when IU hired him. He had an NCAA FInal Four, rebuilt and was heading in the right direction when IU got him. I remembered liking the pick a great deal.

    The Sampson thing . . . well, I don’t know about that. He had some success at Oklahoma. I remember being irritated by that pick and even got my post on Peegs removed because it was unfavorable (the Nazi’s).

    People keep telling me it isn’t an elite job but no one can tell me why – including you, Kent. What about IU makes other universities more favorable?

    Indiana can compete with Crean as long as he keeps getting players that can make up for his coaching failings, (read: Oladipo, Yogi Farrell, etc.) Is competing our goal now at IU?

    1. Geneshairpiece

      Put down the Kool Aid son. IU is not anywhere near the likes of UK, UNC, Duke, Kansas, UCLA . Not even close.
      Stop living and dreaming of the BK era. Like I said ,this is not your Daddy’s IU anymore.

      1. Jeff Gregory

        There appears to be a misconception that if you repeat something enough it will automatically be true. You keep saying that the IU job is no longer elite but you haven’t given one reason why. Instead of trying to shout down people with your overbearing, unsupported opinion, try a little analysis. It will go a long way in a discussion if used correctly.

      2. Gilford

        IU is only no longer elite because the admins don’t have the cojones to make a strong hire. Every year, year in and year out, IU is top ten in the nation in basketball revenues with a creaky fieldhouse with no alcohol sales. We have higher hoops revenues than Michigan State and Kansas. Every year.

        Race car just waiting for a real driver.

  4. fuzzyone

    i don’t know that IU is a top 5 school. As mentioned by others there are the Duke, UK, UNC,, Kansas, UCLA and a few others out there that fill that bill. Big question as I see it…is name all the top Indiana players that are playing at other than IU and how many are not in state and why did they elect to play elsewhere. If someone can answer that then it would likely point IU in the right direction.

  5. Jake

    Fire that dip shit. Same shit year after year. Turnovers, missed opportunities. Hell..That Syracuse game…If only he matched up in size instead of starting yogi who is 5″10 with shoes on against a 6″6 PG. And not doing nothing about it? Fire that dumb fuck.

  6. Geneshairpiece

    1 – Indiana is a top five job–Only in the narrow minded brains of the Hoosier Kool Aid drinkers.
    What makes a job a top 5? That’s kind of a subjective statement.

    4 – Indiana can’t find anyone better -because IU is not a tp 5 job and you are a DELIUSIONAL IU fan to think Stevens would have left Butler to go to IU . Don’t be such a self righteous/ important fan boy to think just because the brand “IU” is gonna sell it self. It took the likes of the Boston Celtics to pry Stevens out of this state, so there was know way in holy hell he was gonna leave for Bloomington. He was building a bigger and better ,then down there. Back to Back Final Four appearances. When was the last time the HOO HOO Hoosiers did that or won one?!

    1. Kent Sterling Post author

      Would Brad have left Butler and his $1M-ish salary for Indiana and $5M? I don’t know the answer to that question, but I have met very few men who argue when an employer offers a 500% raise. Other than loyalty – which is a big deal for Brad and anyone quality human being so it’s not to be dismissed – why would Brad stay at Butler if Indiana called with an offer of that kind of cash?

    2. Kent Sterling Post author

      I’m afraid you don’t read well. My argument with #1 is that Indiana being a top five job is a myth proffered by fans who don’t understand that KU, Duke, UNC, UCLA, MSU, Villanova, UK, U of L, and many other programs have sprinted past IU over the past 20 years. I would argue that today IU isn’t a top three program in Indiana.

      1. E

        Kent, it is easy to rebuke that IU currently isn’t a top 5 program (lack of quality coach) and shoot down the reasons why others are wrong in their opinions. I almost agree with your response as well. But that makes me wonder what your reasons are that make a team a top 5 program. Duke has had Coach K since 1980, MSU has Izzo since 1995 so with continuity comes reputation (IU had this during Knight years). UNC has Williams who was established when he left Kansas. Calipari was a hot commodity before Kentucky. Both of those programs where in transition before their arrivals. The wrong coach in those programs made them irrelevant at that point in time. KU has Self who was a hot commodity before coming to Kansas. All these programs have HOF coaches which brings reputation. UCLA is only relevant for the first time in a while. Villanova has a highly underrated under national radar coach in Wright. If any of these coaches were to leave for IU (not going to happen), no one could argue that IU wouldn’t be a top program.

        All this points to a coach makes a program. Wrong coach, irrelevant program. It’s easy to argue against a program not being a top tier while they have the wrong coach. There is a correlation to the combination of having a good coach to match with a top tier program. Although I think the number is not relevant. Does it really matter if your number 5 or 20. In today’s ultra competitive sports environment, your not going to be in the top 5 every year. You will have some peaks and valleys. Alabama was in a transition period until Saban arrived. There were arguments if it could ever be a top program and even compete in the SEC. Then came Saban. All it takes is the right combination and some momentum. Winning can be contagious. However, the wrong coach can have the opposite effect.

        IU currently is not a top 5 program. They are a top 20 program, waiting to become elite again, with many tools at its arsenal. Top tier budget, many high $ donors/alum willing to support financially, an updated iconic facility, an instate breeding ground of BB talent, and tradition of championships, similar to the current top programs. Getting the right coach is important. Recruiting is critical in building a program, and Kent you have made the strong arguments about Crean’s below average recruiting. He’s had some NBA talent that hasn’t translated into team basketball or the inability to convince a team environment. A team is pieces of the puzzle fitting together and knowing a role that makes the team better, not the individual. You need to sell that.

        IU brass needs to determine if they want to be relevant and a top tier program again. If so, then do what the top football programs do and go out and buy a top tier coach. Everyone has a price. What is IU Glass willing to do? Is Glass the right AD?

        1. Kent Sterling Post author

          All good questions and points. UK was a top five job with one bad hire (Gillespie) in almost 100 years. Louisville was irrelevant during the last few years under Denny Crum, but it was still a top five job. Indiana has a losing record in the Big 10 over the last 15 years, and hasn’t inspired much hope for March since 1994. Duke was in the National Championship game in 1978 – just two years before Coach K was hired. Can Indiana get back in the game? Sure, but it isn’t there right now, and if a program can’t hire one of the top five coaches or someone who might develop into one, it is not a top five job.

  7. TB

    You’ve written more than once that the $4 million buyout isn’t an issue, because IU could keep him on the payroll until July 1, then let him go when the buyout drops to $1 million. But how would that work? Wouldn’t Crean have to agree to this? I’m not sure you can just go up to him and say that he’s no longer the basketball coach, but will get paid until July 1 to avoid an extra $3 million in a buyout. I would guess that language in his contract might prevent this. I would think there’s language specifying that as long as he’s employed at IU, he’s the head coach of the basketball program. Perhaps not, but what’s the point of having buyouts if you can dance around them? I have a difficult time believing that’s a viable option if IU indeed decides to part ways with him.

    1. Kent Sterling Post author

      I’ve read the contract, and saw nothing that would prevent IU from keeping Crean on the payroll through June 30th. There is no clause saying his position cannot be adjusted. Why would there be one? Who would pay him $3.16M to do anything else? $1.8M is still a lot of jack. Crean doesn’t come out a loser in any of this, but Indiana is not on the hook for the full $4M.

  8. Jerry

    Is IU a top 5 program now of course not, and it hasn’t been for some time. However it doesn’t mean it cannot come back to being competitive every year not 2 out of 4. UCLA is mentioned above as one, but for years they languished in mediocrity as well. They still haven’t gotten back to that dominate form, but are improving. Kentucky as well struggled to be that between Petino leaving, and Calipari coming in (yes Tubby won a title with Petino’s playes his first year). It is going to take the right coach to bring it back just like the other programs mentioned as top 5. I like Crean and all he as done for the school bringing it back from the dead with the Sampson mess, but I just don’t see him taking us to the next level. I am not sure who that coach is honestly, but there are a lot of young up and comers out there. Only established top 5 program coach that is in this thread we have a slim hope at is Alford. He might possibly be intrigued at coming home, but would be really tough to get him to leave what he has now at UCLA. I doubt he would do it, but is the only one we have a prayer at. Which tells you we are not a top of 5 program. If Crean is fired or leaves IU will to take a chance again on a up and coming young coach without a track record in a big time environment. Hopefully we can find that guy that fits, and finds great success.

  9. Houliio

    IU is easily a top 5 job:

    Basketball Revenue/Profit
    Recruiting landscape
    Fan Base
    TV Exposure & BTN contract $$$

    Anyone who says different is either a Purdue fan or not paying attention

    1. Kent Sterling Post author

      BTN and TV make it at best a top 14 job. Texas has its own network, and the SEC has a network too. Oops, down to a top 30. The fan base is not just a force for good – it likely causes more problems for the coach than it solves. The recruiting landscape has not brought a top class to Bloomington in five years. Tradition of excellence dates beyond the birth date of any current college player. Facilities can be replicated – they are not unique. Pay? Fred Glass can make that happen. Love your passion, but your argument is best viewed through cream and crimson lenses.

      1. Jeff Gregory

        You can’t blame the recruiting on the school. You blame recruiting failure on those who recruit. You said yourself, Kent, that Crean is a turnoff to local prep coaches. You can’t blame IU, the institution, on recruiting failure of a coach you are looking to place for THAT very reason (among others). That is like blaming a good product because of a bad salesman. Other than the coach, what reason do Indiana high school players have to be turned off of IU?

        1. Kent Sterling Post author

          It’s not solely a matter of being turned off by IU. It’s a matter of being turned on more by the cultures built at Purdue, Butler, and Notre Dame. The university is responsible for not recognizing that Crean is not the best guy for that job, and that’s not a knock on Crean. It isn’t Tom’s fault that Greenspan hired him. Tom would be a magnificent answer for all of Mizzou’s issues.

      2. coachv


        what you are missing in your argument IS the fan base. i lived in california and i can tell you this for a fact. the transient population of los angeles could give a shit about ucla basketball. if they have a good season and it becomes a chic hangout, they might turn out… and still not give a shit. that lack of pressure on the coach you refer to as being a plus, i ask you this. if a school with a less passionate fan base wins it all, who really cares?

        the most passionate fan base is THE most important criteria. name one more passionate than ours. the boston celtics? ucla? don’t make me laugh.

        the fact is, indiana is one great hire from being an elite program again. calipari, coach k, self, izzo, jay wright, stevens; if any of these guys took the job you would agree we are or soon to be elite again, right? that’s because of the fan base, not the money or facilities.

        1. Kent Sterling Post author

          Passionate fan base might be a negative for Indiana. People inside college basketball are saying that the lunatic fans might dissuade a top notch candidate. That might be a good thing as it would force Glass to hire someone who can grow into greatness. The most passionate fanbase is just south of Indiana.

        1. Kent Sterling Post author

          Coach, money, brand value, culture, and other factors. Of course, Duke is a top five job. It will be up to who is next to keep it there. Kentucky was still a top 5 job despite Billy Gillespie, and that’s why Calipari came. Same thing with Louisville and that’s how they got Pitino.

      3. Demunn

        IU has as much potential as a top five than UK did before they hired the current chapter in their book of corrupt coaches. Five banners and a fan base that matches UK. It’s like saying Notre Dame isn’t a top five job (remember they haven’t won it since 1988).

        Outside the athletics, the SEC and in some regards ACC cannot compare to the academics of the Big Ten (sans a handful of schools like Duke, Vanderbilt, etc.)

        Regardless of whether Knight deserved it, the athletic program administration has been a disaster since he was fired across the board. A litany of stupid hires in both Football and Basketball could be argued since Mallory and Knight were there. Had Brand not used the firing for a career stepping stone to the NCAA (again Knight deserved it) it also might have looked more objective. I don’t consider any college professor who marries a grad student Mr. Ethics–Brand was an opportunist and quiet egomaniac who used privilege to work his way up throughout his career.

        Doninger, Greenspan and Glass have been a disaster to the program. IU now has the equivalent of a high school football coach and a basketball coach that must have left practice every day that Izzo was practicing defense and fundamentals.

        Davis — An emotional hire. Unqualified and continues to work his way down to a JUCO level
        Sampson – Good history and plenty of red flags before the hire due to sloppy due diligence
        Crean – No defense and no clue how to play against a good team defense without an extraordinary Wade, Ferrel, etc. individual talent to penetrate and dish.

        There is no potential of a top five when you have ADs and presidents who make emotional and economically cheap decisions. Academics and athletics are both not were they were at IU but it does have potential.

        1. coachv

          davis working his way down to juco level? you have no idea what you are talking about. his team has dominated the conference the last 5 years.

          1. Demunn

            It’s the SWAC conference. Haase succeeded Davis (post-firing) at UAB and is now Stanford’s coach.

        2. Notproudiualum

          Finally, someone spells it out perfectly and correctly. When you have a President and AD hired for and acting as PC cops instead of Administrators the result is a once proud academic and athletic school becomes a second rate university.

        3. Kent Sterling Post author

          You make some good points, but I disagree about both Glass and Davis. Mike is achieving a lot of success at Texas Southern – he’s in the NCAA Tournament again.

          1. Demunn

            Good luck to Allen but you can bet that the Ohio State offense will make a statement in August. I wouldn’t put it past Urban to let Wilson get some revenge and put 50+ points on us (maybe by halftime). Barrett is going to be one of the best talents Wilson has had to work with in his career.

            I like Davis and think he’s a good guy and decent coach but let’s be honest– the SWAC is a tier-3 Division I conference and he was fired by UAB. I’ll give him credit that he schedules a lot of top non-conference teams.

  10. David H

    Hire an Indiana born and raised coach and let him recruit Indiana born and raised players. Someone who understands and appreciates what it means to have Indiana on the front of their jerseys. I believe there are enough of those players in the state to fill a roster. Add one or two out of state recruits with the work ethic and mindset of team first, personal glory second. Brad Stevens proved it at Butler, although I personally don’t think we have to pay that kind of money to lure him back.
    My choice would be someone in the mold of Doc Nash at Borden. I’m sure we could find someone within Indiana that could restore the pride back in being an IU fan.


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