Wells's hit piece on Indiana's Tom Crean misses the mark.

INDIANAPOLIS, IN - MARCH 10: Head coach Tom Crean of the Indiana Hoosiers coaches against the Penn State Nittany Lions during the first round of the 2011 Big Ten Men's Basketball Tournament at Conseco Fieldhouse on March 10, 2011 in Indianapolis, Indiana. (Photo by Andy Lyons/Getty Images)

 

Allow me to say up front that I like and respect Brad Wells and the community he has built at Stampede Blue, SB Nation's Indianapolis Colts blog, and at SB Nation Indiana.  He may or may not remember it, but a brief e-mail exchange between us four years ago, when I wrote him after he mentioned that SB Nation did not have an IU or Purdue blog, is what led to me decision to start The Hoosier Report, which led to this place two years later.  So I owe much to Brad, but in the spirit of his own bare-knuckles blogging, I wouldn't be doing my job if I didn't say what I really think about the deplorable piece he wrote on SB Nation Indiana about IU basketball and Tom Crean.
Brad took on Crean in an article posted on Saturday  and entitled "Time To Start Re-Thinking 'Crimson And Crean' Basketball At Indiana University. "  Brad leads the article by noting that Providence recently fired its coach Keno Davis, after only three years on the job.  While later in the article, Brad claims that 2011-12 should be the make or break season, what he seems to be saying is that in a just world, Tom Crean, just three years after fielding a team with zero returning scholarship players, should be fired right now. 

 

Factor in that I.U. does not play in the much tougher Big East Conference, and Crean's dismal 28-66 overall record, including an 8-46 record in the Big Ten, one has to wonder how this guy still has a job in Bloomington?

If Keno Davis, a Coach of the Year, is fired for going 18-36 in the Big East, it makes absolutely no sense that Tom Crean is not packing up his office supplies this morning after Indiana was booted out of the 2011 Big Ten Tournament Thursday night. The loss dropped I.U. to an appalling 3-15 in Big Ten play this past season, including getting swept by Iowa, who had a grand total of four Big Ten wins all year.

We'll return to the "much tougher Big East" later.  Next, Brad notes, correctly, that Crean has a really long and really lucrative contract, and then produces this howler:

Still, money should not affect the I.U. athletic department when it comes to the men's basketball program. You know and I know that $18 million is chump change for them. With Crean, the continued irrelevancy of I.U. basketball, and the fact that a once great program is still a shadow of its former self three years after Crean took the job, is all one needs to know when evaluating his performance.

I think that this quote begins to expose the petulant, childish tone (and substance) of this article.  According to an article from the Indianapolis Business Journal last September, IU's athletic department budget is $55 million per year.  In other words, $18 million would amount to about a third of IU's athletic budget.  "But Daaaaaaddyyy...it's only eighteen million dollars!!!"

All that said, the $18 million figure is pulled out of thin air and bears no relation to reality.  Crean's contract is a matter of public record, and the guys at Inside the Hall have been kind enough to host a copy on their site for anyone who might bother to read it.  While IU guarantees Crean a certain level of other income, his base salary is $600,000 per year, not $2.1 million.  Paragraph 6.02 of the Contract provides that if the university decides to terminate Crean without cause, IU owes the lesser of $3 million dollars or the amount of base salary remaining.  Because Crean has about 7 years left on his deal, that would amount to $4.2 million.  That means that the buyout of Crean's contract is $3 million (i.e, "the lesser of...").  That isn't chump change, of course, but it also puts to rest the idea  that IU is holding on to the guy because he is financially handcuffed to the university. 

More from Brad:

So, let's talk about the elephant in the room that many I.U. fans still get red-face mad over: Former-coach Mike Davis. Hoosiers fans get steamed when the subject of Davis comes up because 1) It's obvious now that fans needlessly ran the guy out of town, and 2) He's the best coach Indiana has had since Bob Knight.

Mike Davis was all but lynched out of Bloomington following Indiana's 2005-2006 season, which saw I.U. go 19-12 and lose in the second round of the NCAA Tournament. Throughout his tumultuous tenure, which saw I.U. fans bicker among themselves and others as to how 'good' he was, Davis never had fewer than seven wins in Big Ten play. He got I.U. to the NCAA Tournament four times, including one memorable run to the title game in 2002. His 115-79 record was very respectable.

You know, there is one particular word in this vile little passage that makes me want to go back to the top of the post and delete the nice things I said about Brad.  I'm not going to dignify it with a response.  Still, let's get something straight.  Mike Davis didn't lose his job because of anything that happened in 2006.  He lost his job because he failed to capitalize on the trip to the final game four years earlier.  The run to the Final Four was great fun, literally one of the most enjoyable times of my life as a sports fan, and I'll always be grateful to Coach Davis for that, but it's impossible to square that Tournament run with anything Davis did before, or in the decade since.  It was fun, but it was a bit of a fluke.  Also, based on career resume, Kelvin Sampson probably is the best coach IU has had since Knight, not Davis.  

Also, let's consider what Davis inherited from Bob Knight.  Davis's first team included a future lottery pick (Jared Jeffries), another first rounder (Kirk Haston), a McDonald's All-American (Dane Fife),  future NBA player Andre Owens, AJ Moye, Tom Coverdale, and others.  Tom Crean inherited Kyle Taber.  Something tells me that Crean's record might be just a little different if he had walked into that situation instead of the mess that he inherited.  I don't mean to belabor the Davis point.  By Davis's own admission in a radio interview with Dan Dakich last week, he never should have been the coach at IU, so this "best coach ever" stuff is just embarrassing and wouldn't even be endorsed by the recipient of the compliments.  Still, there's this:

With Ohio State emerging as the prominent program in the Big Ten, local state recruits like Greg Odom [Oden] and Deshaun Thomas have found Columbus, OH more appealing than the toxic stew of losing that is spilling over in Bloomington.
Now Brad is playing a little fast-and-loose with cause and effect.  Greg Oden and his Lawrence North teammate Mike Conley weren't attracted to Ohio State because of its emergence as the Big Ten's leading program and recruiting juggernaut.  Oden and Conley are the reason that Ohio State is now the Big Ten's leading program.  When Oden and Conley signed with Ohio State in November 2005, Thad Matta was an upstart who had done a nice job at Butler and Xavier but had not yet led Ohio State to the NCAA Tournament (his first OSU team probably would have been in the NIT but for the NCAA sanctions that resulted in Matta's hiring).  To the extent that a "toxic stew of losing" inhibited Oden and Conley from attending Indiana, that stew was the responsibility of Mike Davis and the 13-14 and 15-14 seasons he produced in 2005.  Mike "best since Bobby" Davis is the coach who could not land Oden and Conley.  The Thomas commitment to Ohio State occurred in June 2007,  when IU actually was in pretty good shape under Kelvin Sampson, but occurred in the wake of Oden/Conley leading OSU to to the NCAA title game.  Indeed, despite Crean's poor record on the court at IU, he already has signed more Indiana five star recruits (Cody Zeller--I'm not even counting the verbals) than Davis did as head coach.  Davis, despite his inexplicably good reputation as a recruiter, oversaw a mass exodus of elite Indiana recruits (Oden, Conley, Josh McRoberts, Sean May, etc.). 

 

The obvious retort, is, "well, Davis's worst season was better than Crean's best season."  That's true, but again, Davis inherited a roster full of Burger boys, Mr. Basketballs, and future NBA players, took most of that nucleus to the title game, and utterly failed to capitalize on it.  Tom Crean inherited Kyle Taber. 

Moving on:

 

Still, after three years, you'd think we'd see some progress under Crean. And no, beating a then-ranked Illinois at Assembly Hall back on January 27th does not count as 'progress.' Wins like that get negated when the same I.U. team drops two to lowly Iowa and gets swept by friggin' Northwestern (7-11 in Big Ten play).

Again, 1-17, 4-14, and 3-15. Where's the progress?

Well, IU's overall win totals have increased every year, although IU took a step back in the Big Ten this season.  No one who watched the 2008-09 team or has looked at its numbers could contend that the 2009-10 team wasn't meaningfully better.  And what made the 2010-11 team so frustrating to watch is that they were meaningfully better than last year's team (I'll be examining this in more detail in the coming days and weeks).  But, if good wins don't count if the team also has bad losses, then there's really not much to say, is there?

Don't tell me it's on the recruiting front. Good recruiting has to, at some point, translate into winning basketball games. When it doesn't, no one cares where Rivals.com ranked your recruiting haul back in 2009.

Yeah, that's great, but everyone knows that the true recruiting progress that Crean has made is in the classes that haven't yet enrolled.  The 2009 class is a solid class, but that class's gaudy ranking was more a function of its size (6 players) than quality.  Also, the best player in that class, Maurice Creek (if Brad knows the names of any IU players he doesn't say so) has played in a grand total of five of 36 Big Ten games in his IU career. 

I've often made this claim to friends and sports writing colleagues of mine who either love or cover I.U. basketball. My claim is simple and logical: Crean must have a winning record in the Big Ten next year, and he must get I.U. back to the NCAA Tournament, or he's fired.

After I say this, these friends look at me as if someone just took a steaming dump on their heads.

 

Sometimes, when everyone thinks you're wrong, it's because you're wrong.  Earlier in the article, Brad was just asking for progress.  Now, he is throwing down arbitrary, bright line goals.  Suppose that IU next season finishes 9-9 in the Big Ten, 18-14 overall, and just misses the Tournament.  Let's also suppose that the current junior recruiting class, which includes five stars Kevin "Yogi" Ferrell and Hanner Perea, as well as some other good recruits, signs as currently conceived.  Indeed, if IU is able to add Lawrence Central's Jeremy Hollowell or Hamilton Southeastern's Gary Harris to the mix, IU might have the #1 recruiting class in the country.  Brad Wells's response to that hypothetical?  "You're fired, loser!"   As I said earlier, the article is nothing if not childish.  There are a thousand variables that will determine how IU might finish next year, but Brad thinks he knows the magic number right now.

When you're 8-46 in the Big Ten over three years, including 3-15 this year, that's as dead as it gets. Clinging to whatever desperate hope that Tom Crean (a man who has never won a national championship) will return I.U. to the glory days is not basing one's opinions on the reality of the situation.

So, Hoosiers fans can scoff and wag their fingers all they like. But if I.U. suffers through another 3-15 Big Ten season, Crean is gone. If I.U. fails to make a tournament bid in 2012, Crean is gone. If he isn't fired, then I.U. and its fans are nothing more than hypocritical losers, willing to give Crean the pass they were completely unwilling to give the much more accomplished ex-Hoosiers coach Mike Davis.

I guess the one thing I can agree with is that Crean will be on the hot seat if IU goes 3-15 in the Big Ten next year.  But as I tried to demonstrate with my hypothetical above, there is a lot of real estate between 3-15 in the Big Ten and making the NCAA Tournament. 

 

(By the way, the number of coaches who have won NCAA championships at multiple schools?  Zero.  That doesn't guarantee that Crean will win one, of course, but no championship coach had won one when hired by the school where he won it).

 

I've responded to a lot of articles like this, and here's what I don't get.  What do Brad and others think happened to the IU fan base?  Why would IU fans give up on being an elite program?  Why would IU fans be hopelessly in the tank for Tom Crean, a guy who had no ties to IU before he took the job in 2008?  Sadly, Brad has gone down the Boiled Sports road and seems to be implying, particularly with his use of the loaded term "lynched" earlier in the article, that we're all a bunch of delusional racists.  Still, even Bob Knight, a white guy who won three national titles at IU, was under some heat when his last few teams finished in the middle of the Big Ten pack.  Why would IU fans grumble about Knight and stand by Crean?  It's pretty simple.  I've said on many occasions that I think the jury is out on Crean.  I have no idea if he is good enough to return IU to the elite of college basketball, but given the disaster he inherited, it's way, way, way too early to conclude that he isn't good enough. 

 

I'll let you read the rest of Brad's article for yourselves.  I said earlier in the article that I would return to the "much tougher Big East" comment.  If you haven't clicked over yet, you might be wondering what Brad had to say about Tom Crean's record at Marquette, in the Big East or otherwise.  The answer?  Nothing.  Not a thing.  The word "Marquette" did not appear in Brad's article at all.  From his perspective, Crean may as well be a homeless guy who wandered in off the street in 2008, with no particular track record.  Given how impressed Brad is with the "much tougher Big East" (I actually think the Big Ten was better this year, top to bottom), I'm surprised that he didn't take any note of Crean's prior record.  I have learned from reading other articles that Crean's 2003 Conference USA title and Final Four appearance don't count because he had a great player, Dwyane Wade (that's why I've never given Gene Keady credit for his 1994 Final Four appearance with Glenn Robinson...oh, wait).  Still, if nothing else, Crean seemingly would deserve some credit for his successful transition from Conference USA to the Big East.  Of course, in Crean's day, Conference USA, when it was led by Louisville, Cincinnati, Marquette, and DePaul, was a different conference than it is today.  But in 2005-06, those four programs joined the Big East, adding themselves to the mix with traditional Big East powers such as Syracuse, UConn, and Pitt.  Crean's program weathered the storm pretty well.  His three year record in the Big East was 31-19, and he made the NCAA Tournament in each of his three Big East seasons.

 

For those of you who haven't read it, I discussed Crean's progress a few weeks ago.  I'm far from sold on him, of course, and there are things that I have seen that I haven't liked.  I didn't like the way the Hoosiers finished the season, but firing Crean now, or even next year, would be a rash decision, would set IU's program back a few more years, and would not guarantee improvement.  Thankfully, the people who will make this decision are adults who can comprehend the big picture.

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