One of the stranger arguments of the “Don’t fire/replace Tom Crean” camp centers on the question of who IU could get that would be better.
“Great coaches aren’t going to line up to replace Crean at IU!” goes the argument. “And Crean is a top-level coach, so we won’t be doing any better.”
Calling Crean a top-level coach is questionable, but even if we put that aside, the entire argument is being misstated. Somehow, certain IU fans and pundits have gotten it in their heads that the program would need to hire a current top 10 (or better) coach, or else it wouldn’t be worth making a change.
But if we look at most of the top coaches of the last 15 years, we see that most of those coaches weren’t “top coaches” before they took their current jobs. In fact, several of them hadn’t been head coaches at all.
Here’s a listing of top coaches during that time period, and their prior coaching experience before taking over their most prominent jobs:
|Coach||Program||Before Current job|
|Sean Miller||Arizona||Xavier 2004-09|
|Scott Drew||Baylor||Valparaiso HC 2002-03|
|Brad Stevens||Butler||Butler assistant|
|Mike Krzyzewski||Duke||Army HC 1975-80|
|Billy Donovan||Florida||Marshall HC 1994-96|
|Mark Few||Gonzaga||Gonzaga assistant|
|Bill Self||Kansas||Oral Roberts 1993-97; Tulsa 1997-00; Illinois 2000-03|
|John Calipari||Kentucky||UMass 1988-96; NJ Nets 1996-99; Memphis 2000-09|
|Rick Pitino||Louisville||NYK 1987-89; Kentucky 1989-97; Boston 1998-01|
|Tom Izzo||Michigan State||MSU assistant|
|Mike Brey||Notre Dame||Delaware HC 1995-00|
|Jim Boeheim||Syracuse||Syracuse Assistant|
|Jim Calhoun||UConn||Northeastern HC 1972-86|
|Roy Williams||UNC||UNC Assistant, Kansas 1988-03|
|Jay Wright||Villanova||Hofstra HC 1994-01|
|Tony Bennett||Virginia||Washington State HC 2006-09|
|Bo Ryan||Wisconsin||UW-Milwaukee HC 1999-01|
Some important things to note:
- Three coaches in this group who won titles or made title games (Boeheim, Izzo, Stevens) went straight from being an assistant coach to being a head coach. Four if you count Roy Williams, which you absolutely should.
- Last year’s national title winner, Jay Wright, came to Villanova after posting a 59% winning percentage and two NCAA tournament trips in seven years at Hofstra.
- Bo Ryan’s experience consisted of 15 successful years at a D-3 school, followed by two years at UW-Milwaukee where he didn’t finish higher than 4th in the Horizon League.
- Three coaches with a combined 10 national titles (Krzyzewski, Calhoun, Donovan) only had prior coaching experience at the mid-major or lower level before taking on their primary jobs.
- Out of this list of top coaches, you could only reasonably argue that two of them were poached from programs of similar stature. Roy Williams moved from Kansas to UNC, but only due to his deep ties to UNC as a former assistant, and only after having spurned the Tar Heels three years earlier. Bill Self found immediate success at Illinois before moving to Kansas to replace Williams, and you have to stretch the concept of “similar stature” pretty damn far to include Illinois and Kansas in the same sentence.
- At the time of his hiring by Kentucky, John Calipari was viewed with a tremendous amount of suspicion by most of the major programs in college basketball. Kentucky itself spurned Calipari to hire Billy Gillispie two years earlier, and other top programs were giving him a wide berth.
- Sean Miller’s high-water mark at Xavier was an Elite 8 as a 3 seed, and his Xavier teams were only seeded in the top half of the bracket twice.
It is certainly understandable that IU fans would prefer the security of an already battle-tested coach taking over the program should Crean leave. But it is not a necessary aspect of any such change, and furthermore it ignores an important pattern in college basketball. “Great” coaches don’t generally take over great programs. They make them, and forge their own identities in the process.
The key is making the right hire, by picking the coach with the best mix of ability and potential that they can grow into the job. Indiana basketball provides a wonderful canvas for the right coach to paint his masterpiece. If a change is to be made, it would be a mistake to assume that Indiana must hire a coach that’s already painted a masterpiece.