After a disappointing loss to the Penn State Nittany Lions last Wednesday, I saw Indiana Hoosiers fans calling for head coach Tom Crean to be fired. While the frustration is understandable, you need to calm down.
The Hoosiers are having their worst season in three years, but it seems many have forgotten what kind of team Crean was given when he first arrived in 2008. After the Kelvin Sampson debacle IU lost all but two players, Brett Finkelmeier and Kyle Taber. Those two player combined to play 29 games and score 30 points the year before. Not the best guy to begin your rebuild around.
But Crean took on the challenge. He had been somewhat successful with the Marquette Golden Eagles and fans believed he would be the savior of the Hoosiers, someone who would take the team back to the promise land. That was the first mistake by IU fans, thinking a man who had made one Final Four because he had NBA superstar Dwyane Wade on his team, was going to magically turn into an elite coach.
Crean took his first three seasons in stride, having to deal with the university being on probation and the lack of high-profile recruits wanting anything to do with Hoosiers basketball. He won six, 10 and then 12 games, respectively, in his first three years. Then everything changed overnight.
After three miserable seasons, Crean finally landed the big name recruit that everyone was expecting from him: Cody Zeller. Zeller was named the 2011 Mr. Basketball for the state of Indiana and was hailed as the final piece of IU’s championship puzzle.
His recruitment was bigger than just on-the-court reasons. Having landed their first big name player since Eric Gordon in 2007, IU could now recruit the best of the best to join Crean and Zeller in their quest for a championship. And that’s exactly what happened.
The 2012 Hoosiers’ recruiting class was ranked No. 5 in the nation by Rivals.com and the 2013 recruiting class was ranked No. 6. Making back-to-back Sweet 16 appearances helped Crean’s recruiting cause, but having Zeller, Victor Oladipo and Christian Watford around made an even bigger impact.
IU had finally returned to relevance. They were national darlings, preseason No. 1 in 2012, and won the most games in 2012-2013 since the 1992-1993 season.
No banner has been hung in the five full seasons Crean has coached so far and it doesn’t appear one will be hung this season either. But putting the blame solely on Crean is ridiculous. The players are the ones on the court who have to make the plays. While it’s Crean’s job to train them and draw up the x’s and o’s, he has to trust his players to execute what he’s taught them.
This entire situation feels like the Mike Davis debacle all over again, except Crean is a better coach and recruiter. Had Zeller and Oladipo stayed this year we might be talking about the possibility of a championship again, but reality is the team lost it’s best players, had no one waiting in the wing and now have to figure it all out from scratch.
So instead of wanting to fire your head coach after every down year, how about you sit down, take a deep breath and remember you have another Top 20 recruiting class. IU basketball may be doing a minor rebuild again, but at least they are bringing in talented athletes this time.