Tom Crean is out at Indiana after nine years as the school’s head basketball coach. Crean’s departure isn’t due to a lack of effort or passion, as the man has those in spades. No, in the end, results are what matter and Crean simply didn’t achieve enough consistently for Hoosier Nation.
I was at Crean’s introductory press conference in 2008. Everyone in the room — even this once young and hopeful reporter — knew he had inherited a mess from Kelvin Sampson. But given his enthusiasm, you got the feeling Crean was the only one who didn’t know what was ahead of him. In a rousing speech to the assembled media throng, he passionately laid out just what made Indiana a special place and a top program. That day he sold everyone on IU’s greatness and his desire to achieve it once again.
Reality hit hard in Crean’s first three seasons, as the Hoosiers went 28-66 and won just eight Big Ten games. Employing a patchwork roster littered with walk-ons, he slowly rebuilt the program from depths rarely seen in college basketball. Then things suddenly clicked. Indiana went 27-9 in 2012 and 29-7 in 2013, reached the Sweet 16 twice and won an outright Big Ten title. Things looked great as the program was back among the nation’s elite. But then just as quickly as they swung around, somehow things quickly reverted and over the next two seasons the Hoosiers failed to live up to expectations.
After missing the postseason in 2014 and exiting in the first round in 2015, Crean seemed to turn things around again during the 2015-16 season, winning an outright Big Ten title and getting back to the Sweet 16. Once again, the program looked like it was on great footing. Then things fell apart again this season, as the Hoosiers stumbled to an 18-16 record with a 7-11 conference mark. Despite a wealth of talent, Indiana finished tied for 10th in the Big Ten and turned in an embarrassing performance in a first-round NIT exit.
It was time for a change. Too many high profile failures. Too much inconsistency. Too few high-level achievements. After nine long, often arduous seasons, it was time to move on.
Crean did a phenomenal job rebuilding Indiana and getting it on solid footing again. He took a smoldering pile of rubble and sculpted it into something respectable. In the end, respectability was never going to be enough. Not at Indiana. And if you’re one of those people who doesn’t think Indiana is an elite job anymore, you simply don’t understand the resources available to the head coach there. It’s a sleeping giant just waiting for the right guy to turn on the fog horn.
While many goofed on Crean for years and relentlessly mocked some of his mannerisms and traits, there is no denying what he did for Indiana. All of that teasing was ridiculous and completely unbecoming of a great fanbase. No, Crean’s Hoosiers didn’t do enough on the court, but he is and always has been a good man who cared deeply about his players and his program. He didn’t deserve the level of scorn he got from Indiana’s fans. Crean should be thanked for the tremendous service he provided to the university for nearly a decade and wished well.
In the end Tom Crean’s best wasn’t good enough, but his best got Indiana out of a very dark place. Now athletic director Fred Glass needs to find a coach who can take the next step and return the program to national prominence.
Crean’s rebuilding effort will never be forgotten at Indiana and if the program’s next coach hangs the school’s sixth national championship banner, he’ll owe a debt to his predecessor.