Why can’t Indiana be a consistent national basketball power again?
Why can’t it once again be what its championship-rich tradition suggests it should be?
Everything is in place for that to happen — money, facilities and commitment. All it takes is the right guy.
After nine seasons, three Sweet 16 appearances, two Big Ten titles and enough ridiculous turnovers and are-you-kidding losses to boost Hoosier Nation into orbit, Tom Crean is out, and it’s up to athletic director Fred Glass to find a new Cream ‘n Crimson savior.
Glass said he wants a proven winner who does things the right way — on and off the court.
“Our No. 1 priority is to play by the rules,” he said during a Thursday press conference.
The goals are simple — win Big Ten and national titles. Beyond that, consistently contend for those championships and make Final Fours.
IU’s fifth and last national title was in 1987. Its last Final Four appearance was 2002.
Glass is committed to ending that drought.
“We can be a powerhouse to be reckoned with because of (our) resources,” he said. “I’m confident we’ll get the attention of some first-class folks. We’ll get the coach we want to meet those expectations.”
The stakes are high, and Glass knows it. Replacing both major sport coaches (football coach Kevin Wilson was asked to leave in December) in a four-month span leaves no margin for error.
“We can’t over-state what a big deal this hire is,” Glass said. “I won’t spare any resource to get the advice and input from people we need. Some of that costs money, like a search firm.
“I want to talk to Indiana high school coaches, AAU coaches and former players. The thoughts of those folks are important. We’ll get all the information we can get and I hope to make a great choice.”
Glass said he hasn’t reached out to anyone yet, but he will, and soon. Several candidates already have contacted him. However, conversations likely will have to wait until their seasons are over.
“Right now there is no guy,” Glass said. “I’ve cleared my calendar for this. This is my focus.
“Most people of the caliber we’ll talk to won’t talk until their season is done. That’s part of the reason why the search could take a while.
“We’ll be as quick as we can, but we’ll give it the time it needs. I’d rather have it right than fast.”
If you’re an IU alum and are interested in the job, Glass will talk to you. That could mean Randy Wittman, the former Hoosier star who has spent his coaching career in the NBA, most recently with the Washington Wizards. He was fired last spring after Washington failed to make the playoffs.
It will mean Dane Fife, the current Michigan State assistant coach and the former Fort Wayne coach who starred on IU’s last Final Four team in 2002.
It will likely mean Steve Alford, the former Hoosier All-America who has UCLA looking like a Final Four team behind some powerhouse recruiting.
One candidate almost certainly won’t be Boston Celtics coach Brad Stevens, who has one of the top jobs in professional sports. The former Butler coach has the Celtics winning at an impressive level. He makes a ton of money — and he doesn’t have to recruit.
However, two possible NBA candidates are Billy Donovan and Fred Hoiberg.
Donovan won a pair of national titles at Florida in 2006 and ’07, and has 502 college victories. He’s in his second season coaching the Oklahoma City Thunder, but might be willing to return to college given Kevin Durant is with Golden State and Oklahoma City, even with superstar Russell Westbrook, is not a title contender.
Hoiberg has struggled as the Chicago Bulls coach, but he built Iowa State into a Big 12 power (115-56 in five years).
As far as other possibilities, consider such established coaches as Virginia’s Tony Bennett (he already turned down the Hoosiers in 2008), Wichita State’s Gregg Marshall (he makes $3.3 million a year) Arizona’s Sean Miller and Xavier’s Chris Mack, or rising stars such as Dayton’s Archie Miller, Oklahoma State’s Brad Underwood (over 100 wins in four seasons) and North Carolina-Wilmington’s Kevin Keatts (more than 70 wins in three seasons).
Why not Butler’s Chris Holtmann, who has the Bulldogs into the second round of the NCAA tourney after Thursday’s convincing win over Winthrop?
Money won’t be an issue. Crean was making $3.2 million a year. The new coach would at least make that. And there will be plenty of money for assistant coaches’ salaries, support staff and recruiting on a national scale.
Facilities aren’t an issue. IU just spent $40 million renovating Assembly Hall. Cook Hall is as good a practice facility as there is in the country. There is a passionate fan base. The state annually produces some of the nation’s top basketball talent.
“This is one of the best jobs in college basketball,” Glass said.
Because of spring break, Glass said he hasn’t talked to the players. He said a meeting is planned for Sunday night. In the meantime, team trainer Tim Garl, director of player development Derek Elston, deputy director of athletics Scott Dolson and senior associate athletic director for academic services Mattie White will work with the players.
Glass said he hopes players will wait until a new coach is hired before deciding if they want to transfer.
Winning Big Ten titles is fine, and Crean won a pair of them over the last five seasons, but in the 21st Century, it’s all about winning big in the NCAA Tournament.
Specifically at Indiana, it’s about consistently winning as if you’re a superpower program in the manner of North Carolina, Kansas, Kentucky and Duke.
Crean never could.
The next guy had better.
This column is the commentary of the writer and does not necessarily reflect the views or opinions of The News-Sentinel. Email Pete DiPrimio at firstname.lastname@example.org.