According to a release from the university, after nine seasons as the Head Coach of Indiana University’s men’s basketball program, Tom Crean has fired.
Crean’s tenure in Bloomington was highlighted by two Big Ten regular season championships, three runs to the Sweet 16, and the program’s return to relevance after the scandal ridden Kelvin Sampson era.
But inconsistency over the past six seasons disagreed with the fan base and boosters alike. And over the past several weeks, Crean’s future seemed as sealed as ever amid growing speculation and several rumors that both Crean and the university were exploring exit strategies. Finally, it seems the saga is over as Crean will leave Bloomington after going 166-134.
In his first three seasons, Crean guided the Hoosiers through a miserable 28-66 stretch wherein Indiana recorded just eight wins in Big Ten play. In his fourth season, however, Crean’s club defeated Kentucky at Assembly Hall to complete the arduous task and catapult the program back into the national basketball conversation.
That season would end much later than most expected, in the Sweet 16. The next season, Crean’s Hoosiers were the top ranked team in the country in the preseason. The team would go 29-7 and win the Big Ten regular season championship. But the season ended in disappointing fashion as Indiana struggled through the Round of 32 against Temple and then played 40 minutes of discombobulated basketball in a Sweet 16 loss to Syracuse.
After a mass exodus that saw Cody Zeller, Jordan Hulls, Christian Watford, Victor Oladipo, Mo Creek, and Remy Abell leave the program, the Hoosiers were a paltry 17-14 and missed the tournament in 2013-2014.
Crean guided the team back to the NCAA Tournament the next season, barely, before being ousted in the first round by Wichita State.
Finally, though, it seemed that Crean had the program back on track in 2015-2016 when, after an awful start that saw the club lose to Wake Forest and UNLV in Maui, Indiana stormed through the Big Ten to win its second outright conference title in four years.
However, in his ninth and final season, Crean’s team melted down at the end of the non-conference season and never could get things going in Big Ten play en route to its worst league finish since finishing last in 2009-2010. The Hoosiers finished the year 18-15, and after a quarterfinals loss to Wisconsin in the Big Ten Tournament, and missed the NCAA Tournament for the second time in five years. They then lost to Georgia Tech in the NIT.
As for the Hoosiers, the immediate question is where does the program turn next.
Getting itself in order will mean finding the right man to hand the keys of the program. While fans will float names like Stevens, Marshall, Mack, and Holtmann, there really is no indication that any of the sexier choices would be willing to take charge of a once elite program mired in mediocrity and belonging to one of the toughest conferences in the country, especially in the evolved state of college basketball where you no longer have to be a blue blood or in a power five conference to be a contender year in and year out.
As for Crean, he was rumored to be at the top of the list for the University of Missouri’s head job before Cuonzo Martin was announced yesterday. While that specific job is gone, a school like Missouri is the type that would be a soft landing spot for Crean, providing him a power five job in a weaker conference where he could quickly rejuvenate a middling program.