Tom Crean saved his best coaching move until the clock read zeroes after Indiana was eliminated from the Big Ten Tournament, and thus from contention for a spot in the NCAA Big Dance.
These are tough times for Crean. He would like to remain the coach at Indiana, but there is a significant sect of Hoosier fanatics who would like him out.
Over time, that level of scrutiny can wear on a guy’s nerves, but last night after Indiana lost to Wisconsin in an emotional quarterfinal matchup, Crean calmly dismissed a heckler who yelled, “You ruined the program!”
The vocal detractor has been assumed to be an Indiana fan, but was wearing a Maryland shirt, so who the hell knows? The line is reminiscent of what Crean said to Jeff Meyer, an assistant at Michigan who was on Kelvin Sampson’s staff when it self-immolated because of NCAA violations. That was in 2013, and for a Maryland guy to dip four years into the past for a callback heckle seems odd.
Why the rube yelled is much less interesting than Crean’s response. There he is during a moment when a lesser coach might lose his mind, and he calmly points to the guy and moves along.
A coach is tasked with leading players in a variety of ways, and one of them is to display poise in the face of adversity. Crean excelled in that realm last night as he exited the floor after what may wind up being his last meaningful game as the leader of Indiana’s basketball program. He stayed calm and collected, and because of that example, maybe one of Indiana’s players will balk at going all Ron Artest on a drunk loudmouth when verbally accosted.
That’s what being a leader of young men is all about.
It would have been easy for Crean to indulge in a raw-assed impulse to challenge the guy – or storm into the stands to assess a physical consequence, but he didn’t bite.
Whether or not you agree Crean should remain the coach at IU, you have to acknowledge he did the right thing when the wrong thing might have felt a lot better.