In the absence of a real time, or even remotely timely, response to either of our last two games, the loss at Michigan State and the win over Illinois, I thought I’d ruminate on a question I was asked earlier today. And the question was this.
Do you think Tom Crean is the right coach for Indiana Basketball right now?
It’s an interesting question, but not because of my answer, which, by the way, is unequivocally “yes.” No, it’s interesting because of the frequency with which it is being asked. It has stunned me how often I have seen this asked. I’ve seen it asked after every single loss. I’ve seen it asked after almost every single win. I’ve seen it asked in the middle of game. And none of this makes any sense to me at all.
Or, more accurately, it makes perfect sense to me because I’ve grown accustomed to people being completely non-sensical. Asking whether Tom Crean should be our coach, or more pointedly, stating outright that he is terrible and should be fired before he can tell us “it’s all part of it” one last time implies the existence of a number of deeply held positions. None of which make any sense.
1. Every bad thing that happens during a game is the coach’s fault and he should be held immediately, and painfully, accountable for them all. This is a tempting position to take because it gives you someone to blame while still telling everyone that you support the players, and the team. But it ignores a very important fact. Tom Crean, and while I have never been to one of his practices I can almost guarantee you this to be true, has never coached a player to completely ignore everything that he just told them to do in a timeout in favor of whatever crazy thing that player would rather do instead. He has also never designed a game plan whose sole intent to is to get the other team in foul trouble as quickly as possible and then, upon completing that task, do everything thing humanly possible to never shoot another free throw.
Players make decisions, and sometimes they aren’t the decisions that the coach wants them to make. Sometimes they are the exact opposite of what the coach just told them to do. That’s why God invented starting a walk-on.
I heard Don Fischer on The Dan Dakich Show a couple of weeks ago tell a story about Pat Graham, one of the best shooters to ever play at IU. The only problem with Pat, aside from his feet going Greg Oden from time to time, was that he caught the ball and thought “pass.” One day in practice, Bob Knight got so pissed at Graham that he told him that the next time he caught the ball Knight would throw him off the team if Graham didn’t shoot it.
He also cursed.
The next time Graham caught the ball he immediately passed it without even looking at the shot.
Man, Bob Knight was a terrible coach because Pat Graham didn’t listen.
2. The only thing that matters in the equation of whether Crean is the right coach for Indiana is what is happening at this exact second. Dennis Miller once told a story about staying in a hotel room on the road and how he requested a non-smoking room. When he checked in to the room it smelled as if someone had just been in there curing a ham. “Apparently,” he said, “Non-smoking means that no one is smoking in my room, RIGHT NOW.”
Tom Crean is the wrong coach for IU because this year’s team lost 70% of its scoring, got younger in a hurry, and is shockingly not as good as a team that started two lottery picks. Crean isn’t the guy who won our first outright Big Ten Title in 20 years just ten short months ago. Nope, he’s the guy who took Noah Vonleh out when I didn’t think he should have, so he’s gots to go.
Many Indiana fans have the strangest working memory I’ve ever experienced. They can tell you everything you’d want to know about Ray Tolbert, and just how good of a scorer Ted Kitchel was, but they don’t remember beating Michigan on the road to clinch the Big Ten title last year, but they do remember losing to Syracuse the last two times we played them. It’s like they only remember what is going to back up their point at that moment.
3. All that matters is winning. This is a straight up Kentucky-based, Sampson-held view of college basketball. To even question dumping Crean right now, is to tell the world that bringing a program back from the abyss and doing it in a way Indiana fans can be proud of doesn’t matter because we didn’t win a National Title last year, we only won a Big Ten title when the Big Ten was at it’s strongest.
Winning is important, but it’s not worth losing our identity for. Unless it is. Fire Tom Crean!
4. You never want to be able to hire another good coach at Indiana. I’m surprised that this is true, but it must be. Because if you think that anyone in their right mind would want to be our coach if the fan base got their torches and pitch forks out to go after a guy who not only resurrected the program, but won the Big Ten last season, you are insane. Trying to oust Crean now is telling every coach in the country that there’s just no pleasing this fan base. And who wants to deal with that.
5. There’s a better option out there. Who is it? Tell me who is a better fit for Indiana basketball than Tom Crean. He understands the passion of the state. He hasn’t tried to kill any of your crazy message board people yet, because he understands that you are the downside he has to accept to work at a Top Five historical program. He can recruit both the state of Indiana and the nation. He’s got a great eye for talent if we ignore his total inability to find a big man from Africa who isn’t a danger to women, children, pets, and anyone else on the basketball court whose faces don’t react well to elbows. He’s been to a Final Four. He’s coached an NBA All-Star. He’s produced two lottery picks in the same draft. And he does it the right way.
Do you want Calipari? Pitino?
Do you think that a coach at another Top Five historical program is going to leave to go to another? Is Roy leaving UNC? Is Coach K leaving Duke? Is Bill Self leaving Kansas? Is Alford leaving UCLA (OK. He might, but do you think he’s better than Crean? I’d say about even if forced to compare the two).
Who do you respect that you think is a. better, b. has had more success, and c. would leave their current job to come to Indiana? Izzo? Two out of three ain’t bad.
Do you want Sean Miller out of Arizona? Who says he’s better than Crean? He’s good. He’s built a good team. You know who else did that last year? Here’s a hint. His name rhymes with Dom Green and he’s married to a Harbaugh.
You want someone who has won an NCAA Title? Here are the last 13.
Who’s leaving their job? You want Calhoun or Gary Williams out of retirement?
If not Crean, then who? You have no answer that I’m willing to entertain as either plausible or a good idea. And if you took a minute, you’d realize that you know that.
6. It’s realistic to think that Fred Glass is going to fire Tom Crean for not winning back-to-back Big Ten titles. You must think that. Why else would you even ask if he’s the right man for the job. You can’t ask that question unless you think there’s a chance that your answer matters, that there’s a chance he could actually get bounced.
So, why does this question keep coming up? Why are people so quick to want a guy gone who is doing nothing worse than having a rebuilding year? Sadly, I think the answer is Mike Davis.
Davis won a Big Ten Title and followed that up pretty quickly by not even making the tournament two years in a row. People agitated to the point of rage, and Davis resigned. People got power hungry. They saw that if a coach isn’t living up to your expectations, all you have to do is complain loudly enough and he’ll go away.
What they’re forgetting is that we followed Davis with Sampson, which was obviously a huge improvement.
So, yes, I think Tom Crean is the right coach for Indiana Basketball. I think he’s done a great job heretofore and is doing a fine job with this team, laying the foundation for next year’s team, which is going to be much better because it’ll have much better shooters and that matters a lot. He also recruited those shooters, so he’s got that going for him. Which is nice.