Indiana athletic director Fred Glass weighed the men’s basketball options and came to one inescapable conclusion:
Coach Tom Crean would have to go.
And so he has.
Glass fired Crean on Thursday morning. Now he has to hire a coach who can get the Hoosiers back to the Final Four and their former national-title winning ways.
The announcement came less than two days after the Hoosiers ended their season with a double-digit loss at Georgia Tech. They finished 18-16, a big disappointment for a team that had wins over Kansas and North Carolina early in the season.
It was the second time in four seasons IU had failed to reach the NCAA Tournament, not what you expect from a program that considers itself among the nation’s elite, although it hasn’t played like it for a generation.
Still, as Glass said, “It’s a much better job than when he came.”
Glass said he and Crean talked almost every day, and that they had “two specific conversations about the future and what I saw as my options going forward. He was very relaxed and non-defensive.
“(Wednesday night), after I had a chance to absorb and consider everything, I felt the decision needed to be made. It would be bad for everybody to leave him twisting. I felt I was ready. It needed to be made and that’s why I made it.”
One key was the fact Crean had just three years left on his contract. Coaches want at least five for recruiting purposes.
“At this point I either needed to extend it and give him a vote of confidence, or have him go without an extension. An extension wasn’t something I was prepared to do. We had been too inconsistent for our expectations.
“Tom loves Indiana. He was willing to continue without an extension.
He felt he could win and was willing to bet on himself. I wasn’t comfortable going forward with that. He would have been on the Hot Seat from Day 1. Every ebb and flow would have been blown out of proportion. It would have been hard on him, but more importantly, it would have been too hard on the program.”
That left the third option – Crean was out.
Glass said Crean wasn’t without fan support. He said several people came up to him during Tuesday’s NIT loss in Atlanta to tell him Crean should stay.
“The frustration with the program might have been universal. The opposition to Tom was not.”
Crean is owed a $4 million buyout and will get all of it — $1.3 million a year — unless he gets another job. In which case, the salary from the new job will be factored in. It could be that IU won’t owe Crean anything.
As far as this season, while season-ending injuries to Collin Hartman and OG Anunoby were blows, and more minor injuries to James Blackmon and Juwan Morgan were costly, the Hoosiers still had the talent and experience to finish in the upper half of the Big Ten and make the NCAA tourney.
They weren’t close to doing that, finishing as a No. 10 seed in the Big Ten tourney.
The season began to fall apart when IU lost its Big Ten home opener to Nebraska, snapping a 26-game home winning streak, then lost to Wisconsin, also at home, for an 0-2 conference start.
They never recovered.
In nine seasons Crean compiled a 166-135 record at Indiana, with three Sweet 16 appearances and a pair of Big Ten titles.
The first three seasons were a disaster (6-25, 10-21, 12-20) because of NCAA violations committed under former coach Kelvin Sampson.
Crean brought the program back big time with a stunning upset of No. 1 Kentucky on Dec. 10, 2011, thanks to Christian Watford’s buzzer-beating three-pointer. The Hoosiers finished 27-9 and lost to Kentucky in a Sweet 16 rematch. The Wildcats went on to win the national title.
The next year IU was ranked No. 1 for much of the season and won the Big Ten, but disappointed many with a Sweet 16 loss to Syracuse despite having two of the NBA’s top four draft picks in Cody Zeller and Victor Oladipo.
The next season the Hoosiers were 17-15 and didn’t receive a NIT invitation. They followed that with consecutive NCAA tourney appearances, and were the surprising Big Ten champs last season. That earned Crean Big Ten coach of the year honors.
However, IU was just 63-45 in Big Ten play over the last six seasons. Ultimately it was the lack of consistent excellence, and inability to perform at the level expected of an elite program that ended Crean’s run.
Crean struggled to land the state’s top recruits. While he got Zeller and Yogi Ferrell, he lost out on the last five Indiana Mr. Basketballs.
There also were some off-the-court issues. That included when freshman forward Emmitt Holt hit sophomore teammate Devin Davis with his car. Davis suffered a brain injury. Alcohol was a factor.
Davis was eventually kicked off the team after being cited for possession of marijuana. Holt was kicked off the team following an arrest for illegal possession of alcohol.
Glass issued the following statement in a Thursday press release:
“After deliberative thought and evaluation, including multiple meetings with Tom about the future, I have decided to make a change in the leadership of our men’s basketball program.
“Tom Crean brought us through one of the most challenging periods in IU basketball history, led his players to many successes in the classroom and on the court and represented our university with class and integrity. While winning two outright Big Ten titles in five years and being named Big Ten Coach of the Year, Tom worked tirelessly to develop great young men and successful teams.
“However, ultimately, we seek more consistent, high levels of success, and we will not shy away from our expectations. Tom is a good man and a good coach and we owe him a great debt of gratitude for his many positive contributions to Indiana basketball. We wish him well.
“The national search for our new coach begins immediately. The Board of Trustees and the President have expressly delegated to me the responsibility and authority for this search and hire.
“While I will not be establishing a formal search committee or advisory committee, I will consult with basketball experts from around the country and throughout the State of Indiana, including many former Indiana University basketball players.
“The expectations for Indiana University basketball are to perennially contend for and win multiple Big Ten championships, regularly go deep in the NCAA tournament, and win our next national championship — and more after that. We will identify and recruit a coach who will meet these expectations.”