Indiana's Firing of Tom Crean Is a Risky Move
The seat under Tom Crean had been growing hotter in recent weeks, with speculation mounting as Indiana closed out a disappointing season by missing the big dance for the fifth time in his nine-year tenure.
Today, the Hoosiers fired Crean.
When you look at it like that -- just four NCAA Tournament trips in nine years -- it seems like a no-brainer that Indiana would want to move on. But it's not that simple.
When Indiana hired Crean after he put up a 190-96 record at Marquette, the program was saddled with sanctions from the Kelvin Sampson era. Crean came in and basically cleaned house, dismissing several players and starting from scratch.
The result, as expected, wasn't pretty. The Hoosiers went 6-25 in his first season with just one scholarship player on the roster. Crean followed that campaign with 10 and 12 wins, respectively, over his next two years. For a program with such a storied tradition, the losses were hard to stomach.
But in 2012, everything changed.
The Hoosiers exploded for 27 wins, announcing its resurrection with an iconic buzzer-beater over Kentucky. Indiana followed that up with a superb season in 2013-14 -- going 29-7, winning the Big Ten title (its first outright league championship since 1993) and earning a 1 seed for the NCAA Tournament.
Is Indiana an Elite Program?
If we judge Crean's tenure starting with that 2012-13 season, when walk-ons were no longer seeing the court on a regular basis, his record at Indiana looks pretty good.
|Season||Record||Big Ten Finish||NCAA Tournament Result|
|2014-15||20-14||7th||Round of 64|
In that six-year span, Crean went 138-78.
This recent run looks particularly good when compared to what Indiana has done recently.
From 1995 to 2011, Indiana advanced to one Sweet 16 and shared one Big 10 regular season championship, with Bob Knight at the controls for the first six seasons of that stretch. From 2012 to 2016, Indiana won two Big 10 titles outright and advanced to three Sweet 16s.
Basically, Crean is responsible for the best run Indiana has had in the last 25 years, and they just fired him.
Crean's recent stretch also looks pretty good when compared to his Big Ten coaching brethren.
*BIG TEN OUTRIGHT TITLES IN PAST NINE YEARS*
Tom Crean: 2
John Beilein: 1
Tom Izzo: 1
Thad Matta: 1
Matt Painter: 1
Bo Ryan: 1
— Gary Parrish (@GaryParrishCBS) March 16, 2017
The Hoosiers are paying Crean $4 million to go away a year after he won the Big Ten and went to the Sweet 16.
So What Gives?
For starters, even once IU got back on track with Cody Zeller, Victor Oladipo and company, there was always a strained relationship between Crean and the Hoosiers' fan base. Twitter searching "Tom Crean" during any IU game told you all you needed to know about how some -- at least the most vocal -- parts of the fan base felt about him.
Winning the Big Ten last season and knocking off rival Kentucky in the Round of 32 in the big dance didn't extend Crean's leash by much, even if it seemed like it did at the time.
But it was all downhill from there. Indiana fell apart and finished 18-16, including a home loss to Nebraska and a one-and-done showing in the NIT.
The Hoosiers weren't playing with a full deck of cards, though, as James Blackmon and O.G. Anunoby, two of their best players, missed time with injuries. Blackmon (leg) sat out a handful of games in the middle of the season, and Anunoby, a possible first-round pick, suffered a season-ending knee injury.
If those two stay healthy, maybe the Hoosiers do just fine, and Crean still has a job in Bloomington.
Any coaching move is a risky one for a program, but with the decision to fire Crean, Indiana's administration put its collective neck on the line, making it pretty clear they still view the Hoosiers as a blue-blood program that should be mentioned in the same breath as Kentucky, Duke, Kansas, Michigan State and so on.
The fact is Indiana hasn't been that type of program for a very long time. Maybe they're a great hire away -- like Alabama football was before Nick Saban took over -- ready to explode if they can land a top-end coach.
But it remains to be seen if Indiana can actually lure that type of coach to Bloomington. Back in 2008, when IU hired Crean, Tony Bennett reportedly turned down the job, and that's when he was at basketball Mecca Washington State.
Thanks to Crean, the Hoosiers' program is certainly in better shape than it was back then. But does the Indiana brand still hold enough esteem to make a big-time move, like prying away Gregg Marshall from Wichita State?
Time will tell.
Indiana's administration is betting it can. And they better be right, because it just fired a pretty successful coach.