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.
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.
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.