The Tom Crean era went for nine years at Indiana, and Dustin Dopirak was the Bloomington Herald-Times beat writer during the heart of that era. He joins us on this episode of CrimsonCast to talk about his perspective on covering Crean at IU, the struggles the program had under Crean with putting the finishing touches on a return to national prominence, and the direction that IU and Fred Glass might chart moving forward. We also talk about potential coaching candidates, including an in-depth conversation on the profiles of Steve Alford and Tony Bennett.
CrimsonCast and Hoosier Chronicles unite! Galen and Chronic Hoosier sit down for a wide-ranging conversation about IU basketball, deep-diving into the Crean era, the national position of IU basketball, Indiana fandom, and what direction IU will (or should) go for a new coach.
When the IU coaching job is open, we have to talk about it with the people who know it. Our guest on this podcast is Alex McCarthy, former writer for 24/7 and Inside Indiana, as he gives his thoughts on Tom Crean, the Tom Crean era, and what’s next for Indiana basketball.
Galen is joined by Sam Beishuizen of TheHoosier.com to talk about his reaction to the firing of Tom Crean. Sam gives us his post-mortem on the Crean era, and we discuss what might have gone wrong to lead to the firing this week. We also talk about the coaching search for Indiana, what we think the IU athletic department is looking for, and when we might hear word about the new coach.
Galen is joined by Zach Osterman, IU insider for the Indy Star, to talk about Tom Crean’s firing, the past nine years of IU basketball, the status of the Indiana men’s basketball position, and what’s next for IU and for Tom Crean. Come for the expert analysis by one of IU’s most respected media members, stay for the sounds of two dogs wrestling in the distance.
We are still trying to process the Tom Crean firing at CrimsonCast. There will be many podcasts about this whole situation in the future. But in the meantime, it’s time for a very early job board for the IU basketball job.
I have been unimpressed with the job boards that are currently out there. Most of them are either based on no information or bad information, and represent national media throwing darts, basically. We’ve tried to do our homework here at CrimsonCast, and here’s our early forecast for who’s really in the mix, and who’s not.
WHO IS NOT IN THE MIX
Gregg Marshall: The Wichita State coach is tremendously successful, and obviously talented. Word on the street is that he’s also a difficult guy to work with, doesn’t interface well with donors and fans, and isn’t terribly motivated to move away from what is a perfect situation for him in Kansas. Don’t expect him to have any traction in this search.
Archie Miller: This is a favorite name among IU fans, and for good reason — he’s done very well at Dayton and is an obvious rising star. But his focus seems to be elsewhere, and there are better options on the table.
Chris Holtmann: A really good choice – has Indiana history, doing a great job at Butler, would recruit the state very well. I do not see him entering the discussion unless a lot of people say no, and I don’t think a lot of people are going to say no.
Chris Collins: He would be a good choice, but Northwestern is willing to shell out cash for him to stay, and he doesn’t move the needle with the right people. Could be a stealth candidate but it’s unlikely.
Randy Wittman: If IU is going to hire someone from the IU family, it’s not likely to be the former Wizards coach.
Chris Mack: Would be a last resort kind of hire. This is a name being thrown in by lazy writers.
Dane Fife: Would be a fascinating hire for a number of reasons, but it would be shocking if he ended up in the actual mix for the job this time.
Other names: Will Wade, Kevin Keatts, etc…no. Not really worth discussing.
WHO IS IN THE MIX
(none of these are in any particular order)
Tony Bennett: Favored by a lot of IU fans and donors due to his style of play, which features low turnover rates and angry, efficient defense. Some fans see him as the logical stylistic successor to the Knight era for that reason. Turns some IU fans off with his slow offensive tempo. Would probably thrive in Bloomington due to a number of reasons, including improved recruiting, less stringent academic standards, and a weaker conference. Has done incredible things at Virginia, which is by no means a basketball powerhouse. Tournament resume is actually better than you’d think! (No, seriously, go look up his tournament resume at Virginia. It’s fine.)
Steve Alford: Has a lot of support among IU fans, huge support among donors. Hated by much of Twitter, partially due to legitimate concerns about his coaching and prior incidents, and partially due to the echo chamber of Twitter. Coaching resume is actually fairly impressive post-Iowa, if you look at it objectively. Has coached a top 5 offense and a top 5 defense in an 11 year span with two different programs. Would recruit the hell out of Indiana and the surrounding area. There may be too much baggage for the marriage to ever be consummated, and this would be the fourth time that he would be passed over for the IU job in his career. A polarizing candidate online, but not nearly that polarizing if you look at the overall fan/donor base.
Sean Miller: Has been stellar at Arizona. Can coach, recruit, and annoy Steve Alford. Seems to have a great thing going at Arizona, but has also been rumored for jobs out east in the recent past, and there’s a rumor that his wife is allergic to the desert. Would be a home run hire. Earns a LOT of money at Arizona (4 million plus), so that would need to be matched. Was rumored to have interest in the job the last time it was open, and of course wasn’t given an interview because of dumb reasons. Arizona is not as easy of a job as he makes it look — his recruiting base is in UCLA’s back yard, he doesn’t have a huge amount of local talent, so the program is kind of a west coast version of Kansas.
Billy Donovan: Lots of people say that this isn’t a plausible hire, but hear me out. Donovan was notoriously picky with his NBA shot. He accepted the Orlando job only to turn it down a day later and return to Florida. He turned down the pre-LeBron-return Cavs job and the Minnesota job because they weren’t the right circumstance. He accepts the OKC job because they have Durant and Westbrook, and they nearly win the Western Conference in his first year. Then Durant leaves, and now he’s stuck with a team that won’t ever finish better than 5th in the conference, and may see Westbrook depart early. You think Billy wants to have the rest of his coaching career handcuffed to a cheapskate franchise that has zero draw for free agents? If you can hire Donovan, you do it without blinking, or breathing, for obvious reasons that do not need to be repeated here. Plus he didn’t exactly shoot the idea down cold when asked about it. So we’ll see.
On this regular season finale episode of CrimsonCast, we talk about the Big Ten Tournament draw for IU, their chances of picking up enough wins to make the NCAA Tournament as an at-large team (yes, it’s still possible), and the possible NIT opponents awaiting IU if they don’t. We also talk about Indiana’s sordid Big Ten Tournament history (TRIGGER WARNING – we go through every game from 1998-present).
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.