Indiana has fired head basketball coach Tom Crean after nine seasons with the program. The announcement comes two days after the Hoosiers were eliminated from the NIT, a disappointing end to what once was a very promising season.
Crean’s overall record at Indiana – 166-135 – doesn’t tell the whole story of the job that he did. When he was hired in 2008, he stepped into a role that very few coaches were interested in: a complete rebuild of a once-proud program that was leveled by scandal. The roster he inherited included one scholarship player and one walk-on, forcing Crean to literally build a team in the months leading into the season.
The first three years were rough – 6-25, 10-21, 12-20 – but by year four, Crean had actually put together a contender. Led by prized recruit Cody Zeller, juniors Christian Watford and Jordan Hulls, and budding star Victor Oladipo, the Hoosiers finished the season ranked #16 and made a run to the 2012 Sweet Sixteen. Crean followed that up with an outright Big Ten title in 2013, though some saw the season as a disappointment because the Hoosiers came into the season as preseason #1. They earned a 1-seed in the 2013 NCAA Tournament but were eliminated by Syracuse in the Sweet Sixteen.
The following year, Indiana missed the tournament altogether. With the exception of point guard Yogi Ferrell, the entire starting lineup from the year before either graduated or declared for the NBA Draft (Oladipo went 2nd, Zeller went 4th).
The Hoosiers were back in the Tournament in 2015 and 2016, the latter including a win over Kentucky and a trip to the S16. But for many IU alumni and fans, the on-court results were not enough.
Crean will be remembered at Indiana for his recruiting, his positive attitude and his ability to connect with and develop his players. Unfortunately, he will also be remembered for his inability to succeed in March despite the talented rosters he was often able to assemble.
The 2016-17 season started with much promise. The Hoosiers beat Kansas in Hawaii to open the season and were ranked #3 in the country. After a shocking loss at Fort Wayne, the team bounced back and dominated North Carolina in the Big Ten/ACC Challenge. But by mid-December, the wheels began to fall off. Sophomore star OG Anunoby was lost for the year and leading scorer James Blackmon Jr. missed time. The Hoosiers went on a five-game skid in February and ultimately finished the season as the Big Ten’s 10-seed at 17-14 (7-11).
The NIT is an unfamiliar place for Hoosier fans. This year’s team became the first team in modern NCAA Tournament history to beat two #1 seeds during the season but not make the field themselves. Indiana oddly turned down a home game in the NIT in favor of playing at 6-seed Georgia Tech, a game in which they lost on Tuesday night.
Crean’s buyout is $4 million, but pressure from fans, alums and boosters has been mounting for years. Calls for Indiana to hire Brad Stevens make sense, but at this point with the success that Stevens is having in the NBA – and the extension he signed last summer – indicate he is probably not going anywhere.
So what’s next for Indiana? While Stevens would still be the #1 option for everyone, Indiana natives would love to bring UCLA coach Steve Alford back to Bloomington. Reports this past weekend indicate that Alford would theoretically be interested if the Hoosiers job became available. Indiana is by far the highest profile job available right now, so AD Fred Glass should theoretically have a leg up on the competition when trying to court his next coach.
For Fred Glass’ full statement, please visit Inside The Hall.
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