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A Fan’s Perspective of the Tom Crean Era

A look back at the highly-regarded Indiana University basketball team under their recently fired, former head coach

By Jake MillerPublished 7 years ago 5 min read
Via: Wikimedia Commons

After nine seasons, Indiana University has fired head men’s basketball coach Tom Crean. His tenure has been a roller coaster ride, to put it lightly. Many fans, myself included, thought Crean’s time in Bloomington was up. This leads to the question: What is Tom Crean’s lasting legacy at Indiana? This is a highly subjective question, as the answer you will get will depend on who you speak to. This is my two cents on his lasting legacy. For me to say how he will be remembered, it’s important to break down his tenure into three different periods.

Years 1–3

It’s Indiana.

Those were the words uttered multiple times during Crean’s opening presser. As all Hoosier faithful will remember, Indiana was fresh off the Sampson illegal texting scandal, bringing sanctions to a once proud blue-blood program. Scholarships were lost and almost all of the talent was stripped off of the roster. It was a dark time for the program. This was a program only six years removed from being in the National Championship.

These three years saw the worst stretch of basketball (record wise) in the programs proud history, having gone 6–25 (1–11) in Tom Crean’s first season as coach. The following two years saw the same kind of struggles, but Crean did what he was brought into do and recruited talented recruits such as Christian Watford, Derek Elston, Victor Oladipo, and Jordan Hulls, to set the stage for the success in years to come. The turning point of Tom Crean’s first few years of Indiana was landing the biggest recruit of Tom Crean’s entire nine year tenure, Indiana’s Mr. Basketball of 2011 Cody Zeller.

Years 4–6

With the addition of Cody Zeller, along with the talent mentioned above, 2011–2012 was the first season in which Indiana fans finally could see the light at the end of the tunnel. We all remember Christian Watford hitting the shot against number #1 Kentucky, and it felt like Tom Crean had finally brought Indiana back from the ashes. A Sweet 16 birth later to cap off the season, one idea was built into Indiana fans which led to his downfall: expectation. Until this season, Crean had the luxury of having little pressure to win. Moving into the 2012–2013 season, the expectations of the fan base were back to National Championship-or-bust levels.

In 2012–2013, the Hoosiers brought back all their talent from a year before, plus a top recruiting class. Crean had the Hoosiers ranked for #1 for the majority of the season, coached two AP All-Americans in Cody Zeller and Victor Oladipo, and had a number one seed going into that year’s tournament. That’s when they met the Syracuse Orange, and the offensive juggernaut that was Indiana University looked dazed and confused the whole game. After that game fans began asking the question (fairly or unfairly): What is Tom Crean doing? For the first time during his tenure, they started doubting the IU head coach.

Following this season, having lost a lot of talented veterans to the NBA and to graduation, the Hoosiers missed the tournament for the first time in three years despite having Yogi Ferrell at point guard and Noah Vonleh, who was a lottery pick in the NBA draft. This marked the beginning of the end of the Crean Era, as he began to lose the faith from a fan base whose expectations had soared and would not settle for missing the tournament any longer.

Years 7–9

It was beginning to become a trend in Bloomington. The Hoosiers were always going to be able to shoot the ball and score, play little defense, while turning over the ball at an incredible rate. Over the final few seasons for Tom Crean, he faced much hostility from the fan base, even during the course of winning the Big Ten title for the second time in his career. As mentioned before, he had already begun to lose the fan base. Once you lose fans, it’s always going to be a lose-lose situation.

In many ways, fair or unfairly, fans wanted Crean to be something he was not: Bob Knight. They demanded tough defense, protecting the ball, and Indiana-made talent. None of these were things that Crean had done before. Crean started getting booed at The State Farm Center. During my freshman year in 2014–2015, fans stopped going to games and this year, the Hoosiers canceled a NIT invitational at home, seemingly to protect Tom Crean. This was the point of no return; if Crean had come back for another season it would’ve completely alienated a fan base so desperate for change, and set the program back years.

So, What’s Crean’s Legacy?

Crean’s legacy is a mixed one. Thank him for being a good enough coach to get Indiana out of the cellar of the Big Ten. But after that, he became, for Indiana standards, a fairly mediocre coach. After the 2012–2013 season, he failed to ever recapture the excitement of the fan base. He was paid like a top coach, without yielding top coach results. He failed to advance past the Sweet 16 in the tournament, his recruiting had sunk significantly for Indiana standards, and the quality of play has never improved. Some of the biggest hurdles that the Hoosier’s faced during Crean’s final season were: the lack of leadership on the team (failure to recruit), lack of defense (failure to coach), and turnovers (you get the idea). It leaves a bad feeling in a fanbase so eager to be excited about a team. Quite frankly, it was a somber feeling not looking forward to games or even being interested as to whether or not they lost.

However, not all of this is on Crean. No matter how you look at him, he’s a strong coach. He will win games wherever he goes, and will have a successful career. However, he will never be a championship coach at Indiana University. Indiana fans will always remember him for bringing the program up from the lowest point in history, and he should be applauded for that. But he got paid handsomely, and ultimately failed to live up to the expectations of Indiana basketball, where winning a Championship should always be a possibility. Like Crean said, It’s Indiana.


About the Creator

Jake Miller

I might just be a basketball machine. No relation to Archie Miller. Editor at The Unbalanced

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