One man holds Crean’s fate at IU in his hands

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Loads have been written and read, heard and said about the future of Indiana University basketball coach Tom Crean and what it would cost the school to buy out his contract and send him packing.

If IU terminated Crean after this season, it would cost the school—or its alums—as much as $11 million.

The buyout decreases to $7.5 million after July 1. If IU were to fire Crean, the university wouldn’t want to wait until July 1 to do so.

But there's only one man making that call, and it's none of the people screaming the most about Crean. It’s athletic director Fred Glass. And there's good reason for that.

Things have changed a lot since the days when Bob Knight coached IU. Knight was the big draw. He was the primary revenue generator for the entire IU athletic department for many years. I’m not sure the athletic director could have fired Knight if he wanted to.

Somewhere along the line, IU trustees realized that kind of power structure is unhealthy, for a number of reasons. A more stable approach was needed.

Now Glass, not any one coach, is the rainmaker. He came in following one of the most tumultuous times in the history of the athletic department. In the seven years since becoming AD, he’s taken the department out of the red and raised tens of millions of dollars for facilities improvements and operations. He has proved he has the phone numbers of—and sway over—many of IU's richest alums.

That means Glass has the trustees firmly in his corner.

Trustees often are more concerned with money raised than games won. Granted, winning and money generation often go hand-in-hand. For now, though, IU’s trustees aren’t about to bite the hand that’s feeding the athletic program.

That was never more evident than at an IU state of the athletic department presentation Glass gave last month at IUPUI.

Board President Jim Morris, Pacers Sports & Entertainment vice chairman, was especially effusive in his praise, essentially saying Glass is the face of the athletic department.

“I have no doubt that we have the right man for the job,” added long-time trustee Pat Shoulders.

Glass didn’t hire Crean. But he’s given him big pay raises and contract extensions.

On Nov. 9, 2012, Glass strode to Assembly Hall’s center court to announce he’d extended Crean’s contract through 2020. That deal raised Crean’s annual base salary from $2.52 million to $3.16 million—and put Crean firmly in the top 10 highest-paid college basketball coaches.

“Tom Crean has done an absolutely phenomenal job bringing Indiana University back to its rightful place as one of the elite basketball programs in the country,” Glass said before the 2012-2013 season opener. “His energy, integrity, ability, passion, industry, vision and commitment are unparalleled.”

A sellout crowd of 17,472 at Assembly Hall that night roared their approval. But that euphoria has long since been replaced by groans of exasperation.

After the Hoosiers’ most recent loss Tuesday night—a routing at the hands of Iowa—Crean told reporters he long ago outgrew frustration. He said he abandoned the immaturity of those types of feelings by the fifth or sixth grade.

It’s safe to say IU’s faithful aren’t feeling nearly as mature as Crean after watching IU lose seven of its last 11 games. There are many complaints that Crean’s teams—even his best ones—don’t improve throughout the season and/or fade late in the season.

Glass has seemed largely unmoved by the hue and cry. In his seven years in Bloomington, he’s brought the kind of stability the IU athletic department has not known in a very long time.

He’s been a strong advocate for not firing coaches before their contracts expires—a practice that cost IU a lot of money before he arrived.

Through the ups and downs, Glass has remained steadfastly behind Crean.

And right now, that’s really all that matters.

At least as long as Glass continues to make it rain in Bloomington.

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