Who is Indiana's best college hoops coach? There are two answers

February 6, 2013
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Our current IBJ.com poll poses an interesting question about in-state college basketball coaches. We want to get readers’ thoughts on who’s the best.

As of Feb. 6, Butler’s Brad Stevens was netting 61 percent of the vote, IU’s Tom Crean was second with 26 percent and Purdue’s Matt Painter was third.

I think Indiana’s cumulative college coaching brain power rivals any state’s. Notre Dame’s Mike Brey, though absent from our poll, also is doing a notable job as is Indiana State’s Greg Lansing and Valpo’s Bryce Drew. And certainly no one is quibbling about Painter’s prowess.

So who’s the real No. 1? I think there are two answers to that singular question.

The best basketball mind or ‘coach’ is Stevens. Strictly in terms of Xs and Os and for keeping his players aligned to the game plan no matter what, it’s difficult to beat Stevens.

His teams more often than not run like clockwork, and like the man himself are mostly poised under pressure. The Bulldogs play with an intelligence rarely seen in the college ranks.

Also, no one gets more out of his players than Stevens and few coaches get their players to play better together. That’s probably why this state has fallen in love with Stevens, who played high school ball in Zionsville and collegiately at DePauw. People from this state love team basketball.
But who’s the best hardwood CEO? At this point, I’d say that Crean is the man.
It’s refreshing to watch a successful IU basketball coach who seems to be in control of his emotions (relatively speaking) while allowing his players to play through their mistakes. I haven’t yet seen him grab or berate an IU player in front of 17,000 fans. Crean appears to have a very small dog house.
But that’s only a small part of why I think he’s a great CEO.

He completely re-built a program that was decimated and left for dead. Crean restored value in a moribund brand. He has made candy-stripe pants vogue again.

Crean is a marketer’s dream and a consummate salesman. But he’s not all fluff.

He’s an unquestioned leader who people seem to want to follow. He sold high school players and their coaches on his vision before many of those within Hoosier Nation grasped what he was doing or believed he could deliver what he promised.
It’s true, I’m an IU grad, but that’s not why I think Crean is the best college basketball CEO in the state. I’ve been plenty critical in this space over the years of Crean and his boss, IU Athletic Director Fred Glass.

It’s also true that two short years ago, Crean wouldn’t have gotten my vote for anything. But as it is on Wall Street, stock in companies and people rise—and fall—over time. Those ebbs and flows aren’t driven merely by whimsy but by results.
And IU’s recent results, at least in my book, have Crean’s stock at an all-time high.

That probably has a lot to do with why Glass gave Crean a monster pay raise this year. But that’s another story.


  • Best Coach...
    Jim Keller - Grace College
  • stevens
    stevens hands down
  • Stevens - Duke Midwest
    If Stevens lands a couple four star recruits or god forbid a five star recruit, Butler will be on its way to being the new Duke. They are very similar and Butler could very well have had two National Championships the last five years with 3/2 star recruits. It's a monster waiting to happen.
  • Hey!
    How about some love for the women's game? Coach McGraw up in South Bend has done a masterful job with her Fighting Irish - a perennial power! (And much more entertaining team than half those represented in this poll).
  • Women's coaches
    Marshall, I agree, the state of Indiana also has a stellar slate of women's college basketball coaches. Notre Dame's Coach McGraw just notched her 700th career victory, a notable achievement. Perhaps that will be the focus of a future blog post.
  • Butler does not have Duke's Money
    I hate to be Debbie Downer for the Butler guys, but the comparisons to Duke don't make sense. The facts are that in terms of facilities and resources, Duke still runs circles around Butler and will continue to. Butler has made itself a viable option in the state for high school players (Purdue is really getting squeezed by Michigan, MSU, and Butler) and Stevens is a good coach that will keep them highly competitive. Even if T. Bluett chooses Butler, it will not signal any kind of state wide recruiting shift. The facilities and recruiting budgets at Indiana and other Big 10 schools dwarf what Butler is able to match up with. All of that said, it is still a tremendous complement to Butler and Stevens that they have been able to achieve what they have. They are a well run program that will continue to be successful, but that success will not be derived from the world of elite CBB recruiting.
    • Crean
      Anyone who was down on Crean two years ago either was not paying attention to the progress that was being made in the small details in Bloomington that foreshadowed the coming success, or they had some kind of axe to grind. Purdue/Butler fans would ask me when we were going to run him off because it wasn't going to work. They weren't asking because they really thought it would happen, they were asking because they were hoping it would happen.
    • Butler can't?
      I remember when Knight was fired and Bill Benner said "anybody can win at Indiana", so if you told me they would be a 6-20 team in seven years I would say you're nuts. Things change and if Stevens stays and lands key recruits they will be a top 10 program. They've been to two National championship games in four years. IU has been to two championship games in 26 years. IU has a "nice" program.
    • BB Boss
      The state of Indiana is lucky to have Tom Crean and Brad Stevens. And Matt Painter and Bryce Drew. They are all outstanding coaches and fine people.
    • Buy low,
      Should have bought IU stock two years ago, Anthon,y when the price was low. At No. 1 now, even a national championship won't provide much return. As for Stevens, the leadership traits you seem to dismiss "strictly in terms of "X's and 'O's" are precisely those that mark an excellent CEO. This is especially true when you consider he's had remarkable success with lesser resources. No, I'd say IU and Butler are both led by excellent coaches and I'd rather this contrived hypothetical play out in very real circumstances on a basketball court the season's last Monday night. Oh, that's right. They've already played this year and the team led by Mr. X's and O's won. May the basketball gods see fit to grant us a rematch.
    • mayber its not a mens coach
      Muffet McGraw earned her 700th victory - know where she coaches and that she is in the hardest conference in womens hoops !! But Coach stevens is very good!!
    • Interesting
      You said a few years ago you wouldn't have considered Coach Crean as the best of anything in coaching in the state. Interesting, since with the ebb and flow of the coaching world being what it is, Coach Painter would have been higher on the totem pole for the state 2-3 years ago, with a top five team, likely even ahead of Coach Stevens. Interesting timing for this article with IU back in prominence... for now ;) As the old joke goes-- 'what do Purdue alumni and IU fans have in common? Neither went to IU' You have to cater to the masses-- good for you in realizing that-- and IU fans are back in the masses-- from blue to red again.
    • They will...
      have the money when they join the seven original Big East Catholic schools + Xavier and a few others in a new basketball-only conference. BIG TV BUCKS. They will be able to pay Stevens whatever he wants.
    • DePauw
      Don't forget Kris Huffman for DePauw's women. They are 21-0 and number 1 in the country - again. Yes it is D3, but she needs to be in the women's conversation.
    • No 1 coach
      Beth Couture Butler Women's coach Number 1 coach
    • Matt Painter
      If I was a stock trader and basketball coaches were the commodity, I'd put a 'buy' rating on Purdue Coach Matt Painter. His stock may be down this year due to a less than talented team, but he is WAY undervalued by Indiana people who are supposed to know basketball.

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