Monday, March 30, 2015

Will Thomas Bryant Help Crean Keep His Job at IU?

Perhaps the fate of Tom Crean at Indiana University rests in the hands of a 17 year-old man-child.  Of course, I am talking about the program's latest crush, Thomas Bryant.

Bryant is a 6-10, 240 pound center out of Huntington Prep, Huntington WV.  He is a four-star prospect rated 27th in this coming recruiting class.

It looks like it is a two-horse race between Syracuse and the Stripes to obtain Bryant’s services.  Two things that make me think that he is leaning toward Syracuse is that A. He still talks about them despite the fact that they haven't contacted him in a couple of months; and B. this comment that he made to Inside the Hall, about his Hoosier recruitment included, “They send me a ton of damn letters,” In addition, the Crystal Ball from 247 Sports also has the Orange edging out IU for Bryant's services.

With all the axes falling on coaches around the country, Crean's job security is still ambiguous at best. IU AD Fred Glass seemingly gave Crean an endorsement to remain the coach of the Hoosiers, but pay attention to what he actually said to the Indianapolis Star last week (bold emphasis mine):

"My goals for this program are to perennially contend for and to win multiple Big Ten championships, regularly go deep in the NCAA tournament and win our next national championship - be elite, if you will. As a lifelong Hoosier and IU basketball fan, alumnus and current AD, nobody wants that more than me.
"Coach Crean's status should be based on his ability to achieve those goals going forward, not what he has or hasn't done in the past. Because I believe in the team he has assembled and is assembling, his leadership of it and their ability to start achieving our program goals, I continue to support Tom Crean as our coach."

This statement by Glass looks carefully crafted.  When he claims that he “continues,” that implies “at the time of the statement.”  He didn’t say, “I will continue . . .,” nor did he give a time frame or include the words "next season" in that statement,  It seems that Crean’s ability to “achieve those goals going forward” and the team he “IS assembling” necessarily involves Bryant, or at least a similarly qualified big man.  If not, IU is destined to have another undersized, under-performing team.  


Bryant is poised to make his decision by next week. It just may be that if Crean wants to keep his job at IU, he needs to do more then send Bryant “a ton of damn letters.”  If Crean survives the Bryant recruitment without signing a quality big, then the next chapter of this saga may take place the first week of July, when the coach would be paid $4.5M less than if he was terminated today.

Friday, March 20, 2015

Indiana University Basketball is a Passion Play: The Fate of Tom Crean

This time of year is filled with passion. The NCAA tournament brings it all out.  Underdogs and big dogs show up to flash their wares to fans in arenas and to the millions at home that are surfing the four channels carrying the games.  Like every good passion during Lenten season, there must be a crucifixion.  Tom Crean, Indiana's beleaguered coach, is this year's sacrifice.

I like Tom Crean.  He seems to be nice guy.  He cares about his players.  He brought IU back from the disaster that was the Kelvin Sampson fiasco. He was the Moses that brought the program out of the bondage of  NCAA sanctions and a pillaged roster to the edge of promised land of basketball prominence.  But just like Moses, Crean is not to take them across that river.  That position is reserved to IU's next Joshua - whoever that turns out to be.

IU fans are rabid.  That is good and bad.  They care about their school and particularly the basketball team.  No one would ever debate that.  However, their rabidity can sometimes be unjust.  Crean isn't the villain many of them would have you believe.  He took a team that was full of walk ons and eventually turned it into the number one team in the country. He did the program a great service.  He should be thanked, given a cake, and be told that he is always welcomed back in Bloomington . . . as a guest.

If Coach Crean has been that effective with the program, why should he be shown the door?  It is a fair question.  Every good thing that he did for the program was a double edged sword.  Sure, he had a number one team with two NBA lottery picks.  BUT, he couldn't make it passed the Sweet Sixteen with two NBA lottery picks on his team - and an impressive supporting cast.  Syracuse beat the Hoosiers with a stifling zone in that sweet sixteen game. Red flag courtesy of the Orange.  Okay, that happens.  However, the very next season Syracuse beats them again. Coach Crean didn't change or adapt to win the game. He tried to beat Syracuse with the same failed game plan that bounced them out of the tournament the year before. That was another red flag.

From that point on, IU sank into mediocrity.  They lost important players either because they were ran off, left for the NBA, or transferred on their own,  They also had players get into legal trouble. One was even hurt in an incident that should never have happened.  As the team traveled through the shards of a damaged program, the coaching suffered.  The team had atrocious defense and seemed to lack discipline. They even appeared to lack respect for their coach.  After a strong start to the season, they slid finishing 5-10 with those five victories being over sub par teams. Still, they backed into the NCAA tournament because apparently the selection committee isn't  allowed to use the calender when determining who is allowed to get in.

Still Tom Crean will not be fired.  I think he will walk away of his own accord.  The IU job comes with a lot of pressure. Coaching in the shadow of those five National Champion banners can be daunting.  Although Crean seems to handle pressure okay, himself, it seems that his family has felt the weight as well.  Crean describes his wife as having anguish when it comes to Tom's and their son, Riley's games.  Riley is a player for a local high school.  I guess that is illustrated with the "Tom Crean Sucks!" cries at Riley's games when young Crean takes the floor. Tom, the Christian family man, probably is through with subjecting his family to that kind of atmosphere while trying to win back a fan base that used up all their patience the first few years of Crean's tenure. He also probably realizes that a civil, dignified departure is a lot better than sacked which would probably be coming sooner rather than later.  I believe he will negotiate a decent severance package and move to a school where basketball is just another sport.

Don't be too sad for Coach Crean.  He will be given a chance to coach at a decent school and he will arrive at his new digs with millions in the bank.  It is unfortunate that he couldn't make it in the basketball capital of the world.  However, coaching jobs are usually fleeting.  It comes with the territory.  It is a rare program that has a coach for the long haul.  Even then, it sometimes ends badly. Hoosier Nation certainly knows about that.