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

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.


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