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IU supporters making it tough for Crean to succeed

March 19, 2014
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Indiana University’s men’s basketball team is down. And if IU supporters aren’t careful, they’re going to help it stay down.

I’m no Tom Crean apologist. But most objective observers would admit that Crean is a good recruiter. He was at Marquette and he’s done a credible job of recruiting since he arrived in Bloomington. Exhibit A is how quickly he doused the dumpster fire left by Kelvin Sampson and built a national contender on the ashes. Few can sell a program like Crean. He sold it when nobody was buying. And I mean nobody.

Any decent coach knows one of the keys to winning is playing to your strengths. But IU supporters are hampering Crean from doing that.

The faithful this season did a wonderful job of undermining Crean’s ability to recruit. They’ve complained about his every misstep and have been eager to fuel every story, rumor or murmur about his imminent departure.

I don’t know if there really is a group of rich IU alum ready to pony up $18 million to buy out Crean’s contract as was reported on a number of blogs and news sites last week. Nor do I have any idea if there’s any merit to the Mike Woodson-to-IU story that was bouncing through cyberspace, also last week. It sounds crazy, but in this day and age, who knows? Oh, and there’s also the rumor that Randy Wittman could be the next IU coach.

To his credit, Athletic Director Fred Glass has stood strong behind Crean. Some IU followers would have you believe that’s only because he’s waiting for Boston Celtics and former Butler coach Brad Stevens to become available.

I don’t know about any of those stories. But I do know this: 17- and 18-year olds pay close attention to the Internet. High school coaches and athletic directors—who heavily influence those youngsters—do, too.

And I know this. IU has seen this all before, with Mike Davis. Was Davis the world’s greatest coach? No. Was he in over his head when he replaced Bob Knight in 2000? Perhaps.

But remember this. Davis wouldn’t have been on Knight’s staff if he hadn’t been a solid recruiter. That’s what he was brought in to do. In his six years as IU’s head coach, Indiana alums did plenty to undermine his ability to get the best talent—particularly homegrown talent—to Bloomington. Of course, Knight did a masterful job of undermining Davis’ ability to recruit, but that’s another story.

The negativity about Crean is causing some of Indiana’s best high school players to flee to places like Ohio State, Michigan and Michigan State. No one has been a greater beneficiary from IU’s civil war than Ohio State Coach Thad Matta and Michigan State Coach Tom Izzo. Ironic, isn’t it?

Maybe Crean can’t coach. If that’s true, it will be born out in time. Glass will figure that out.

But no coach is perfect. Not even Knight. Certainly not Woodson, who has a 305-360 record as an NBA head coach. With any sports operation, there are going to be ups and downs. It’s the nature of the game.

Unless the continual backbiting stops among IU supporters, unless the microanalysis at every tiny step sideways or backwards ceases—or at least slows, no IU basketball coach can succeed.

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