Well before problems with Assembly Hall’s ceiling surfaced on Tuesday, lots of IU faithful were screaming that the sky is falling.
Indiana men’s basketball coach Tom Crean has been lampooned early and often this season, with some school supporters even calling for his ouster. Several alumni who donate to the school told me over the past week that if Crean doesn’t get the ship righted next year, it’s time for him to pack his bags.
IU supporters were smoldering about Crean’s coaching and game-management skills heading into last week. A home loss to a marginal Penn State team on Wednesday—in which IU blew a late lead—ignited a firestorm, and a blowout loss to rival Purdue on Saturday added fuel to the fire.
Everybody, take a deep breath. No matter what happens the rest of this season, Crean isn’t going anywhere.
There’s one big reason Crean is staying put: IU Athletic Director Fred Glass.
Though Glass didn’t hire Crean, he has twice extended Crean’s contract, last season raising his annual salary nearly $600,000, to $3.16 million. Crean is now signed through 2020 and Glass isn’t about to eat the remainder of that contract.
Glass isn’t likely going to be feeling much heat from the people who matter most—his bosses at IU—to fire Crean, no matter how loud the jeering from school supporters might get.
Glass has most of the right people in his corner. Remember this: One of the primary reasons IU hired Glass was his connections to the corporate community—especially in central Indiana—and his ability to make it rain in Bloomington.
Well, earlier this year, Glass brought a $40 million shower to IU’s athletic department, courtesy of Cindy Simon Skjodt. As long as Glass is able to continue that kind of production, what he says concerning the athletic department goes.
As an example, note how the school’s trustees did an about-face on the issue of Assembly Hall. Before Glass arrived, trustees appeared set on replacing the aging basketball venue. But once Glass began to champion the case for remodeling the outdated arena, trustees started marching to Glass’ tune. That speaks to the power Glass has amassed since taking his job in Bloomington in 2009.
Even if Crean does not know the X's and O's of basketball, as his detractors say, Glass, who formerly worked on the staffs of Indianapolis Mayor Bart Peterson and Indiana Gov. Evan Bayh, certainly knows how to diagram a political power play. He knows how to win the allegiance of the right people. He’s done a solid job of that in Bloomington.
So all those folks clamoring for Crean’s termination should listen to Glass closely when he talks about IU’s hoops coach.
Glass still was loudly singing the coach’s praises after IU’s loss to Penn State last week. He reminded IU fans that Crean, who took over a wretched IU program reeling from the Kelvin Sampson debacle, led the Hoosiers to their first outright regular-season Big Ten championship in 20 years just last season. He also hammered home that this year’s IU team is young, and he noted big wins over Michigan and Wisconsin.
He even noted how Michigan Coach John Beilein credited Crean’s defensive wizardry for the Hoosiers' upset victory over the Wolverines earlier this year.
Following the loss to Penn State, Glass called Crean “an elite coach” and said he has “complete and total confidence in him.” Glass noted that he’s admired Crean since his days at Marquette, where Glass’ son attended college.
Appearing on WFNI-AM after the Penn State game, Glass encouraged hostile IU hoops fans “to put away the pitchforks and torches. I’m thrilled Tom Crean is here.”
He may have been a little less thrilled after the Boilermakers shellacked the Hoosiers 82-64 on Saturday.
It’s fair to point out that Glass did eventually fire IU football coach Bill Lynch in 2010 despite being one of his most vocal supporters. Glass could no longer deny the need for change after Wisconsin that year whipped the Hoosiers 83-20.
But Lynch’s situation was totally different from Crean’s. He was making only $250,000 annually and had only one year left on his contract.
Still, it’s clear that even Glass has his threshold. He’s just not nearly there yet concerning Crean. Even if many IU fans are past theirs.