Falling dominoes could send Crean to MSU, Stevens to IU

June 11, 2010
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Dominoes are a funny thing. And they make a funny game—to play and to watch.

Who would have thought the Big Ten’s realignment into a super power could send Tom Crean to Michigan State and Brad Stevens to Indiana University?

Twelve degrees of separation? You bet. But this is how it works.

The Big Ten forms a television network knowing darn well that to maximize the revenue from it, the conference will have to expand into more and larger markets.

This whole realignment idea for the Big Ten didn’t just sprout up last year. It has roots tracing back nearly a decade when the conference’s university presidents and athletic directors began discussing the Big Ten Network.

And now, all other conferences are playing catch up. Somebody better wake up Jack Swarbrick at Notre Dame and tell him to get in the game. This isn’t 1980. And don’t tell me about ND’s TV contract with NBC. The fact is when this thing shakes out and the Big Ten has a conference title game, every team in the Big Ten will rake in more TV revenue than Notre Dame—by a large margin. Yes, by 2012, the likes of IU and Northwestern will have more football earning power than the Irish. That’s a fact. But I digress.

The Big Ten’s expansion was done primarily for football, with basketball going along for the ride. And oh what a ride it is.

Flush with the kind of cash colleges could only dream about two decades ago, Big Ten schools will be able to offer huge coaching contracts. Yes, bigger than they are today. And contract buyout clauses will be a drop in the bucket.

If Butler Athletic Director Barry Collier thinks he has basketball coach Brad Stevens locked up long term, he’s kidding himself. The truth is with the kind of cash the Big Ten schools are going to bring in, they could buy and sell any Horizon League athletic department five times over.

So back to the dominoes. MSU basketball coach Tom Izzo is about to depart for Cleveland to coach the NBA’s Cavaliers for $6 million annually.

IU Coach Tom Crean is on MSU’s short list. That’s no secret. Yes, Crean makes $2 million annually at IU. But he has a big problem. Actually two of them.

First, he, like most coaches, has a big ego, and so likes to win. That’s no big deal though. In fact, some would say that’s a necessary trait to make it in this business.

But his second problem is the big one. He hasn’t earned the trust of Indiana high school coaches and other Hoosierland hoops movers and shakers, and so he can’t recruit the state. That’s the same problem that eventually led to Mike Davis’ demise in Bloomington.

Crean’s not stupid, and he’s been at IU long enough to have a handle on this. As a former MSU assistant and Izzo disciple, Crean has instant credibility in Michigan. Throw in the Harbaughs’ connections in that state, and it starts to look like a pretty good fit.

So when MSU calls Crean next week, expect him to pick up the phone.

IU Athletic Director Fred Glass is no fool either. That's why if and when Crean bolts for East Lansing, Brad Stevens or his agent is the first person Glass calls. Glass is smart enough to know by now that IU should have at least interviewed Stevens two years ago when it hired Crean. For the record, Glass was not AD when Crean was hired. But he has told me many times that he thinks Crean is doing a fine job.

Still, Glass is also smart enough to know Stevens has no problems recruiting the state of Indiana—and apparently has contacts in a few other states to boot. What I like most about Glass is that he doesn’t come from academia, instead hailing from the for-profit sector, where cash is king.

Glass is already calculating the tens of millions of dollars that will be raining out of the Big Ten Network and the new and improved football set-up. He knows well, that the tiny six- or low seven-figure buyout clause in Stevens’ contract is no big deal at all. He also knows what an impact a flourishing hoops program and a beloved coach can have on IU alumni donations.

Stevens is going to take Glass’ call for a couple of reasons. First of all, Stevens, a DePauw graduate, is Hoosier-born. What kid growing up in this state didn’t dream of being a part of IU's program at one time or another. Even Purdue Coach Matt Painter admits to dreaming about being part of the Cream and Crimson.

Second, Stevens himself is no fool. And he has advisers, including those at IMG, that are plenty smart too. You know, Hinkle Fieldhouse is very nice, very quaint. But most of today’s players won’t play there. And they won’t sign up to work out in facilities that pale in comparison to the palaces the Big Ten is building and will build.

Stevens knows this. And his advisors know if he’s going to maximize his career opportunities, he needs to succeed in a super power conference. There is soon to be no conference more powerful that the Big Ten. The Big Ten will be the kind of place where legacies are maximized. And Crean isn't the only one with an ego. Such things matter to big-time coaches. And if Stevens proved anything last year, it's that he is a big-time coach.

Remember, this isn't March. The calendar reads mid-June, and Midnight Madness will be here before you know it. Nothing is a sure thing until Izzo makes his decision, which I expect he will by Wednesday. If Izzo jumps, the scramble will begin, and the rest of this could unfold by the time this country starts shooting off bottle rockets.

Think this all sounds far-fetched? Well consider the following.

It started with a TV network. It blossomed into a super conference primarily for football—that eventually will have 16 or 18 teams, that will pour silly amounts of money on the conference's teams, making anything seem possible.

LeBron James got mad and decided not to take a shot during one game in the Eastern Conference playoffs, and his Cavaliers got bounced by the aging Celtics. Cavs Coach Mike Brown got fired. Izzo got a call, and amazingly jumped on a plane to Cleveland Thursday for an up-close visit.

Boom! Boom! Boom!

I can hear the dominoes tumbling from Chicago to Cleveland, East Lansing to Bloomington, all the way to the Dawg Pound.

And suddenly Hoosiers hoops was reborn, or re-made—or at least stood on its ear.

  • I Wish...
    Brad Stevens at IU...I wish!
  • Who's coaching Butler?
    Who will be coaching Butler then? Coach Knight?
  • Butler's new coach
    Barry Collier is nothing if not prepared. He's plenty sharp, and the Butler way will have him install one of his assistants ... and the transition, I predict, will be as close to seamless as possible. Of course Todd Lickliter is available, but I don't see Collier going that direction.
  • Big Ten Football Title Game
    Off topic, but I would love a post about Indy's chances to host first ever Big Ten football Championship.
  • word
    now that would be fantastic, I'm not a huge IU Fan but I would love to see a less sweaty coach, especially one who eats a chicken Cesare salad at the BR Tavern every week.
  • Far Fetched
    What a terrible factless piece you have written here. Very far fetched Tony. If the Big Ten becomes a super conference (I agree with you here) then why would Izzo leave? IF MSU will have so much more money would they not have more money to throw at Izzo and perhaps match the Cavs offer? Also, what makes you think Stevens is qualified to coach at Indiana? One final four fun, congrats but the Horizon League is a little different than the Big 10.
    • Stevens
      Why should IU have considered Brad Stevens two years ago when they hired Crean? What had he accomplished at that point?
    • Only a matter of time...
      Many sporting the candy stripes wish that Stevens would end up at Indiana. And let me be the first to tell you all this - he WILL. It might be in a few months if Izzo leaves (doubtful but possible), or it may be in 5-10 years as Crean moves on. Maybe less if he really doesn't right the ship soon. Brad Stevens will be the next coach at Indiana University - it's only a matter of time. Anyone who thinks he's not qualified clearly doesn't understand that current landscape of college hoops. Thanks for the blog. (Interesting comment earlier on lack of facts here - blog didn't even mention that Brad's father was a member of the IU football Rose Bowl team and that Brad grew up going to games with his Dad.)
    • too much spectulation
      Crean has a buyout of $3 million until April of next year, when it drops to $2 million. In April of 2013, the buyout drops to $1 million. So, MSU would have to pay him $2mm plus a year AND a $3mm buy-out. Pretty unrealistic...... Too much speculation, not enough fact... The Detroit News mentions Brian Gregory of Dayton and Jim Boylen of Utah as two very possible successors with ties to MSU.
    • Well
      That action might have IU ask about Brad Stevens but there's no chance he would take the job. He just signed a 12 yr deal at in excess of 1 mill per year

      Regardless, if Izzo goes to the Cavs, the MSU job goes to Montgomery or Gregory.
    • not just yet
      I think Brad signed a 12 year deal because he wants to stay at Butler/central Indiana for the foreseeable future. Good money,family, and recruiting ties. That said, every coach except Painter in Indiana wants the IU job someday. Brad will go when/if the job opens up. I just don't think that will be for 3-5 years at the earliest. If Crean turns IU around it will be longer or never and Brad will be courted every year by the new super conference schools.
    • Far-fetched?
      Not even Izzo can command a $6M deal at Michigan State. Have you been paying attention this past week? Izzo publicly visited Cleveland just yesterday, and held a team meeting to inform all of his players on Tuesday. This is not so far-fetched. The only think I disagree with is the bald statement that Mike Davis left town because he couldn't recruit in Indiana. First, he didn't want to recruit in Indiana. Davis wanted an NBA-style pace, and he relied upon recruits from the south to get that done. Second, Davis seemed to have no interest in preserving the heritage created by his predecessor, RMK. He alienated his fan base, which has the greatest effect on recruiting over anything else.
      • Job
        I don't know what is so hard to understand.
        At his current pay, the Butler job is a significantly better job than the IU job. The IU job is actually pretty poor which is why the admin has had trouble filling the position.
      • What if?
        Hey Anthony, Even if your scenario doesn't come to pass, it still makes for a great discussion. I wasn't aware Coach Crean has trouble recruiting in Indiana. Could it be more that the IU program has plummeted so far in the past 8 years that today's "blue chips" recruits don't know or honor the Hoosier hoops legacy? Brad Stevens would be an excellent long-term coach for the Hoosiers but I fear he'll be long gone to another prominent university when Coach Crean finally decides to move on as I can't imagine MSU stealing another Big 10 coach with so many other prospects. Coach Izzo's local recruitment train in Michigan is sputtering as the state's economy tanks further. You can't fault his thinking of banking $18million for 3 years coaching in the NBA then retiring to his palatial lodge estate in the Upper Peninsula. Another good article to make you think, "What if"?
      • Davis Academics
        Out of 120 schools competing under the D1 ranking, UAB was ranked #120 in the Academic Progress Ratings (APR). That's right, University of Alabama-Birmingham has the dumbest athletic program in the division. And the dumbest team in the dumbest athletic program? You guessed it - the UAB basketball team coached by Mike Davis! Plus, IU is still paying for Davis' uber poor team academics today.
      • oops
        You've made one critical error...

        MSU won't come calling for Tom Crean. They won't want him. Not only that, but they don't want to pull him from a job in the same conference.

        MSU is a Top 5 job right now, especially with the kind of talent on that roster for this coming season. If they stay in the MSU family, the first call will be to Brian Gregory. If not, you can bet high-level coaches like Jamie Dixon will get a call.

        My guess is they'll circumvent the IU thing alogether and give Brad Stevens a call directly.

        ...and IU will still be horrible.
      • hahahahaha
        this article was pretty humorous. well done.
      • are a dumbass
        how many final fours did crean have when he was hired @ iu?
      • Stevens

        Understand this: money is not going to be a factor if and when Stevens ever leaves Butler. He's smart enough to know other considerations hold more importance.
      • Lazy article Anthony
        Not....Gonna......Happen........besides Crean put out a Youtube video today saying he's not going anywhere, that Indiana is a destination!
      • Anyone who knows anything about Brad Stevens
        knows that it's not about the money with him. we're talking about the man who left his very high paying job at lilly to work for NOTHING at butler. he loves butler basketball. i think it will be quite some time before stevens leaves BU. especially with the upwards direction the BU basketball program has going, and has had going for quite some time. it's not about the money for stevens.
      • Stoooooopid

        Why would MSU want Crean? Is it the tan or the sideline clapping? The guy is a joke and is lucky to be coaching the last place team in the B10. Just face the facts that you're stuck with him and the IU administration made yet another stupid coaching hire.
      • Supeconference
        Free Bubble-up and Rainbow Stew here! If IU had $100 million to pay a coach, what makes you think they'd choose wisely? Wouldn't there be at least 11 other schools in competition? Can you name 12 coaches worth $100 million?
      • Fun
        I like the article...Izzo is at least thinking NBA...time to make some $$$, then retire. Brad Stevens has IU ties...Crean will be someone that MSU would talk to, as he has made an NCAA final four at a good but not great basketball school that he restored to prominence after a others failed to keep it at the same level of prominence it enjoyed under Al MCGuire (Rick Majerus for one). He was well thought of there...I think Brian Gregory is a fine coach, but he has made one NCAA in 7 years, and won the NIT...good for Dayton, but probably not at the level of the work Crean did at Marquette. IU fans will never accept anyone but Bob Knight, and he is not coming back...they demanded that Crean clean up the program...that ended up meaning clean out everyone...when you get rid of 11 players, you are not going to get to a tournament for 3 or 4 years...don't know if anyone noticed or not, but a couple of the players that were sent packing had pretty good years (Armon Bassett anyone?) at other schools. You can't demand that the coach clean house and then be in the tournament next year, unlsee you hire someone greasy like John Calipari, so quit expecting a quick fix. Crean needs more time at IU...if you are not going to give it to him he would be smart to go, if offered. And Stevens would have to at least listen to IU..same recruiting base, big, big money, Dad went there. While I don't think it is just about money with Brad, at some point you have to say what the best situation is long term. He signed with a marketing firm...they will want him to have the highest possible profile...if he just wanted to coach, no need to do any of that. I would love to see him pull a Mark Few and stay...but Dana Altman loved Creighton and they loved him, but the offer from Oregon was too much...that same kind of an offer wuill be coming from Big Ten schools...may be too much to say no to...and if it is, it could not happen to a better guy
      • People can rip on Anthony for his musings, but I watched the Crean Weblog that iu put out over the weekend. While he talked about iu being a destination job and a place that people dream about coaching, never once did he say I am not leaving, I will never leave or I am here for the long haul. When the dominos begin to fall, a lot of iu faithful may be left in shock. iu is not what it was, and it no longer is the dream job it used to be. How far has the program fallen when there is even talk that Crean may consider going to MSU from iu. Would anyone have even thought of that 20 years ago?
      • Hindsight is 20/20
        I guess since Crean has locked up the state of Indiana and Izzo didn't go to Cleveland this article is shown to be a bunch of hot air.
      • Hot Air is Right
        VanPastorMan is right... Can't recruit the state of Indiana? How about '11: Zeller, Etherington '12: Ferrell, Perea, Patterson '13: Hartman, Davis '14: Blackmon, Lyles. And those are only those that are ALREADY committed.
      • Crean's Recruiting
        Would the writer agree that maybe he was just a tad bit wrong in his comment that Crean cannot recruit in state now that he has signed Zeller, Ferrell, Perea, Hollowell, Etherington, etc? I think Crean is going to be around for awhile.

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