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Another day, another hit piece.

One of the more challenging parts of writing for a site like this is coming up with off-season content.  In that small way, it’s fortunate that the media keeps churning out ill-considered hit pieces on Tom Crean and the IU basketball program.  Today’s kick-em-while-they’re down piece comes from Anthony Schoettle of the Indianapolis Business Journal.  I should begin by saying that I have high regard for the IBJ, a weekly newspaper that is running circles around the Indianapolis Star and other local media (see, for example, the current series on the corruption in the Marion County Prosecutor's Office).  Unfortunately, this particular blog entry fails in many regards.  Last week, Kent Sterling of 1070 The Fan argued that perhaps IU should make Brad Stevens its next coach.  Schoettle takes things a step further, arguing that perhaps IU should have hired Brad Stevens instead of Tom Crean in 2008.  After patting himself on the back for mentioning Stevens two years ago, Schoettle says:
It doesn’t look so ridiculous any more. And I’m guessing more than a few fans languishing in Hoosierland these days are wondering the same thing. Would IU be better off with home-grown Brad Stevens than the imported Crean?
Imported?  Tom Crean isn't from another continent or even another part of the country.  He's a native of Michigan and he grew up following  Big Ten basketball, then dominated by Knight's IU program.  He is a protege of the Big Ten's greatest coach of the post-Knight era.  Every coaching job he ever has had has been either within the Big Ten footprint or in a state adjoining Indiana.  Crean isn't some outsider who is unaware of the landscape.  Much like Bob Knight (and I'm not suggesting that Crean is or will be anywhere near as great as Knight), he isn't from Indiana but certainly has sufficient ties to "get it."  He continues:
I’m a long way from saying Crean has failed. He simply hasn’t been given enough time to resurrect the program from the ashes. But if he keeps missing on the likes of Gordon Hayward, the questions will grow louder. Crean, who came to IU with a spiffy resume and polished presentation, might want to forget about the national blue chip recruits he keeps whiffing on and focus on the talent making its way through Indiana high schools.

The comment about Hayward perhaps is thinly protected from being false by the phrase "the likes of," but it is, at the very least, misleading, probably by design.  Tom Crean became IU's coach on April 1, 2008.  Hayward signed his letter of intent with Butler in November 2007.    Those who aren't parsing Schoettle's article will think, "Crean passed on the guy who led Butler to the title game?  What a dummy!"  What a cheap shot.

The part about credentials and presentation is mystifying.  Tom Crean advanced to the Final Four when he was 38 years old.  It doesn't take spin or anything else of the sort to make that an impressive credential.

And, it comes back to recruiting, of course.  Certainly, Crean has whiffed on some blue chippers.  But does anyone wish that Crean had declined to recruit Maurice Creek of Maryland (the nation's leading freshman scorer when he was incjured) or Christian Watford of Alabama?  Also, this article perpetuates the falsehood that Crean hasn't "focused" on Indiana players.  His first true recruiting class included Mr. Basketball Jordan Hulls and Derek Elston of Tipton.  Among current high school juniors, IU has a commitment from Austin Etherington of Hamilton Heights.  He is a fixture at Indiana high school games and continues to pursue Marquis Teague of Pike, Cody Zeller of Washington, and many others.  Crean is not neglecting Indiana, and he can claim some recruiting successes in Indiana.  I agree, of course, that IU's recruiting should begin in Indiana, but it never has ended there.  Few complained when Knight was winning championships with the likes of Scott May, Quinn Buckner, Isiah Thomas, Keith Smart, Dean Garrett, or Joe Hillman, or when AJ Guyton and DJ White were named Big Ten MVPs.

None of this should be taken as any sort of slight toward Brad Stevens, who has proven himself to be an excellent coach, recruiter, and leader.  But the notion that IU, heading toward probation and with a major roster purge in order, would be in better shape had they hired a 31-year old with a single year of head coaching experience is tough to swallow.  Crean's "spiffy resume" is one of the reasons why IU fans remain behind him and why recruits still will consider IU.  Despite the current ugliness, Crean has a strong track record (again, Brad Stevens has been only one round deeper in the Tournament than Tom Crean).  Would the same be true if IU had an inexperienced coach and the same record after the last two seasons?  Again, I like Stevens, but stepping into a job with top 5 expectations and bottom 5 talent and experience on hand would have been tough for any inexperienced coach, even an excellent coach like Stevens.

Schoettle then discusses the mismanagement of the IU athletic department, and he's right to some degree.  Still, this article is just riddled with nonsense.

We can only hope that the good folks running IU’s athletic department have by now realized that it’s people, not facilities that make a program successful. Rattling around in the basketball offices and locker rooms at Hinkle Fieldhouse shows you that.

I think everyone understands that people matter.  But people care about facilities.  Michigan State understands that.  Duke understands that.  Ohio State understands that.  Facilities aren't everything, but they are part of the equation, and a broader look at successful basketball programs, not just focusing on Butler's unique attributes, makes that clear.  Occasionally a low budget film wins the Oscar for best picture, but it would be fallacious to take the success of The Hurt Locker to mean that budgets have no impact on the film industry.

Schoettle goes on to complain about how IU has never struck gold with a young coach, even suggesting that there was something insufficient about the process that led to Terry Hoeppner.  But he then says:

I won’t even mention Cam Cameron...

No, Anthony, you have to mention Cam Cameron.  Cam Cameron is the flip side of the Brad Stevens coin.  When Cam Cameron was hired by IU, it was seen as a coup.  Cameron was one of the hottest young coaches in football, either college or pro.  He was from Indiana.  He played basketball for Bob Knight, and later worked for legendary Michigan coach Bo Schembechler.  He moved up the ladder at Michigan and then became a position coach in the NFL.  The Cam hire was supposed to be a golden opportunity for a struggling program, equivalent to the opportunity to buy a promising stock before its price skyrockets.  And despite some excellent offensive play and strong recruiting, Cam failed as a head coach, both at IU and with the Miami Dolphins.  Still, both before and after IU, Cameron has been a very successful and well-regarded assistant coach.  For whatever reason, Cameron's skills are better suited for a supporting role, but no one really knew that until he spent some extended time as a head coach.  Brad Stevens has shown himself to be an outstanding coach, and I expect that he will have a long and successful career either at Butler or somewhere else.   But was there any way to know in 2008 that a guy with one year of Horizon League experience would be suited for the IU fishbowl (you know, the kind of program where the media jackals surround you if you don't execute a complete rebuilding job in two years)?

In the past 15 years, five coaches have voluntarily left schools that they took to the Final Four to take another college job.  Roy Williams went from Kansas to North Carolina; Kelvin Sampson went from Oklahoma to IU; Tubby Smith went from Kentucky to Minnesota; and Tom Crean went from Marquette to IU.  Other than Crean, to date, all of those coaches have succeeded at their new schools.  While the Sampson hire was a disaster for IU, Sampson was successful on the court and on the recruiting trail.  Schoettle's twisted logic seems to suggest that a "spiffy resume" is practically a negative.  In reality, despite the occasional exception such as Brad Stevens, hiring a coach with a Final Four on his resume is much more predictive of success than hiring an assistant.

Again, I suspect that Brad Stevens will succeed wherever he coaches.  But it's incredibly premature to draw conclusions about the Crean era.  When Crean was hired, the die was cast for whomever was hired.  The IU program would have to be purged.  Butler was loaded.  Purdue was loaded.  No coach that IU hired would look good compared to those two programs right now.  But it's impossible to say what the landscape will be in a few years for either Butler or IU.