In 1989, Tom Crean began his coaching career as a Graduate Assistant at Michigan State University and spent four more seasons at the school as an assistant under head coach and close friend, Tom Izzo. Now, as first reported by ESPN on Tuesday, Crean will be heading back to the Big Ten, this time as an Indiana Hoosier. According to the sports network, an IU source close with the school’s hiring process said that Indiana first spoke directly to Crean about taking the job only after Washington State coach Tony Bennett withdrew his name as a candidate but Indiana officials have adamantly refuted that report. What has been confirmed is that IU athletic director Rick Greenspan spoke to Crean over two days, reaching a verbal commitment with the coach around 2 p.m. Tuesday.
At the Indiana University press conference Wednesday morning unveiling Tom Crean as head coach, Indiana athletic director again refuted the report of there being multiple candidates for the position and emphasized the process as “about hiring the best individual who can lead the program to the best level of academic and athletic success,” clearly something they felt they saw in the former Golden Eagle coach. When Tom Crean finally took the stage, he held up a crimson colored shirt with the words “Crean and Crimson” fashioned on the front. Speaking about his decision to leave Marquette after nine seasons, he characterized the past several days as being a “whirlwind of feelings, emotions, and some incredible sadness at the people I’m leaving…There is no good time to leave. No good time to say goodbye. It happened so fast.” When asked whether or not there was anything Marquette could have done or offered that would have made him stay and change his mind he responded with a no but went on to thank “administrators, faculty, athletic personnel, student-athletes, academic support, (the) strength coach, trainer(s), but most importantly, those young men.” Crean cited strong sentiment towards Marquette fans but called it ultimately a “heart decision. Not a business decision. Not a legacy decision.” The coach said he never felt like he did in previous situations in which he was offered to leave his head coaching post at Marquette. He said it simply came down to the fact that “It’s Indiana. That’s the bottom-line.” It is a coaching position that he felt is at the pinnacle of college basketball, referring to the great basketball tradition not only at the university but throughout the state as well.
Although Crean said at the press conference that he and the school will address the many contentious issues facing the program, what still remains unclear is exactly how that will be done. He is inheriting a team that is possibly losing all five of its starters from last season. Two of them, Armon Bassett and Jemarcus Ellis were kicked off the team early Tuesday morning by then-interim coach Dan Dakich. Two others have used up all their eligibility and there is the expected declaration of freshman Eric Gordon to the NBA. Furthermore, Crean is taking over a program facing self-imposed sanctions with further NCAA sanctions yet to come all thanks to hundreds of impermissible recruiting calls made by former head coach Kelvin Sampson. Although facing an uphill battle, if Indiana was looking for a squeaky-clean coach to restore the tradition and integrity the program once held, Tom Crean is an ideal choice.
After firing head coach Mike Dean in March of 1999, Marquette University hired Tom Crean as a young, active recruiting coach from elite program in Michigan State. After posting a 15-14 record each of his first two years, Crean led the team to an NCAA Tournament birth and a year later guided the team to an improbable Final Four run. Tom Crean’s legacy at Marquette will be one most likely marked by his trip to the Final Four but more so his vigorous recruiting ability. Crean was able to bring in a questionable and passed over talent in Dwyane Wade, who flourished under the coach’s system. He also had a continued presence in the Midwest, evident in his most notable recruiting class in 2005-2006. He was also able to bring in highly sought after guards Wesley Matthews, Jerel McNeal, and Dominic James. What Tom Crean brings to the Indiana University basketball program is fierce mental toughness, great basketball IQ, and much needed no nonsense approach. These characteristics and his ability to recruit in the Midwest and beyond played largely into Indiana’s decision to sign the coach to an eight year contract.
What Crean walks away from at Marquette is a contract that was supposed to keep him at the school through the 2016-’17 season, an administration that gave him full reins of the program, an elite practice facility, and an inconsistent but yet proven set of players. With a large compensation package Crean was undoubtedly one of the highest paid coaches in college basketball, something likely to stay the same at Indiana. He leaves behind his trio of guards and even further uncertainty as to whether two-thirds of it (McNeal and James) will take their chances in the NBA. Tom Crean had a strong impact on his staff, players, fans, and students which makes his exit hard to stomach for so many. He helped to bring the program into the powerhouse Big East Conference and turn it into the program it has become today. As Marquette looks to hire a new coach throughout the off-season who can bring a high level of integrity and coaching ability to the sidelines, fans should be sure to thankful towards Tom Crean for setting that standard for Marquette Basketball.