The firing of Tom Crean as Indiana University’s head basketball coach after nine seasons, two Big Ten championships, three Sweet Sixteen appearances in the NCAA Tournament and the Big Ten Coach of the Year award last season seemed harsh to me.
I was as frustrated as anyone with the Hoosiers’ play this season. And their performance in the opening game of the National Invitation Tournament Tuesday night, I thought, was pathetic.
But the expectations are always high in college basketball these days. And the person who is willing to accept a $3.2 million-a-year salary (Crean’s pay) for a job like coaching a Division I basketball team realizes going in that the requirement for results is paramount.
Excuses don’t cut it. And Indiana’s injury problems this season were ridiculous. But even if you as a coach are doing everything right and working unbelievably hard, if you aren’t winning, especially when it counts the most, you are in jeopardy of losing your job.
I can’t imagine the scrutiny and criticisms Crean and any other head coach must endure from day to day. All the more when you have a season like the one Indiana has mercifully finished. So while I feel empathy for Crean, think he’s a great guy and may feel that he could have turned things around for next season, I realize that it’s too little too late in the world he lives in. The pressure is immense. But that’s what college basketball coaching (and many other high-profile positions) have become.
When you are rich, famous and providing a product for the masses, you are willingly submitting yourself to exposure unlike anything the common man must endure. The rewards are great. But the tenure is never guaranteed.
Many coaches like Duke’s Mike Krzyzewski and former IU coach Bob Knight have lasted through long careers at one school, but the key has been their successes, particularly in the league and NCAA tournaments. If you don’t produce championship banners, you are going to be replaced.
Is it right?
Butler coach Chris Holtmann commented after his first-round NCAA Tournament victory over Winthrop Thursday, “I’ve got a lot of respect for Tom and how his team plays,” Holtmann said. “I had one of my closest friends lose a job (Illinois coach John Groce, under whom Holtmann served as an assistant coach at Ohio University) ... and listen, we all get into this (profession) knowing the deal. Do I disagree with those decisions? Absolutely. Absolutely I do.”
Maybe winning shouldn’t be as important as it is. Maybe college basketball and other sports shouldn’t be as important as they are made out to be. And maybe salaries for college basketball coaches (and pro players, etc.) shouldn’t be so outlandish. But that’s because of the demands of the public. And they are us.
Kerry Hubartt is editor of The News-Sentinel.