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Firing Tom Crean: The Pelini Precaution

Nebraska has recently fired their 9-3 football coach and replaced him with a questionable hire. If Indiana were to move in a different direction even if they made the NCAA Tournament this season, would it actually be a bad move?

Brian Spurlock-USA TODAY Sports

So you may have seen the recent tweets via the Crimson Quarry regarding IU’s meager four sweet sixteens in 20 years. And after the drubbing in East Lansing, just like after every loss the coaching chatter picks up again. But at this point in the process call me skeptical. This stems from the fact that I’ve watched Nebraska fire Bo Pelini after a 9-2 season and observed them make a lateral if not inferior hire to replace him. The whole process has left me wondering what the hell were they actually expecting. I know Nebraska used to be this once great football program, but recently they are what they are. A very strong traditional program that is unlikely to actually compete for a national championship from year to year.

Since 1997’s Orange Bowl victory over Tennessee, Nebraska’s program has been mostly good not great. In a sport that lacks the parity that college basketball does from top to bottom, the Huskers have finished in the top 5 (see legit national title contender) only once. Since the turn of the century, they’ve finished unranked 6 times and outside the top 20, ten times. They’re just not what they were through the 90s. Now this isn’t meant to run around bashing Nebraska. It is more to take a step back and look at the forest instead of the trees. They’re not what they used to be. There are a bevy of reasons for that. And it’s not to say they shouldn’t attempt to get back there either. But (I think as do many Nebraska fans) they’ve botched this recent regime switch and I start to think about Indiana basketball and its potential change coming soon.

Indiana, like Nebraska, is not the program of legend that it was in the 70s and 80s. Despite what fans would have you think, we’re just not there anymore. It’s time to be realistic about that. The Hoosiers have been to 3 Sweet Sixteens in the 19 years since Bobby Knight’s last trip. One, I would argue was kind of a fluke as Indiana only had to beat a 12 and a 13 to get there. The other two have come in the last three years.

Let’s be honest about Tom Crean right now. Like Bo Pelini he’s appeared to not be the guy to get us back to that elite status that we all so desperately crave. He’s been able to bring us back from the brink of disaster, much like Pelini after Nebraska’s Callahan and Solich era, but he doesn’t appear to be the one that will actually take us to the promised land. There’s a bevy of reasons that I and seemingly most of Indiana basketball fans feel that way now, but to show proper respect he was exactly what IU needed and seemingly the only one willing to step up to the task when our time of need was greatest.

However, we have to be careful with any sort of transition if one is to occur. Nebraska in my opinion wrecked their transition from Pelini. They rushed to get rid of a guy without any big time replacement lined up. They knew their guy, but he isn't one that instills confidence immediately. No matter your thoughts on Tom Crean, the truth is there are only about 25 other coaches out there that are arguably better than or as qualified to lead this program as Crean. Some of those, I’m not convinced are better, just that you could make the argument. If Indiana does try and make a move away from Crean this off-season they better damn well have about 5 different top tier names immediately ready to interview. Otherwise there is a very real possibility we end up hiring Mike Riley.

In the end, this isn’t intended as a defense or attack on Tom Crean. I’ve just noticed some parallels to Indiana basketball and Nebraska football. And with every loss no matter how outrageous or acceptable the chatter just gets worse. The Hoosiers program is at a pivotal point where a program continues its overall upward trend or begins its fall back down from grace. Ultimately, I say be careful what you wish for Hoosier fans. If we aren’t very much certain about a replacement multiple more years of Crean is better than a 3 year reset with someone parallel or worse.