Sometimes, relationships simply fall apart.
I’m not the first to make this comparison. I’m not even the first one on this site. But it’s an apt analogy to use when looking at where the things between Tom Crean and Indiana went wrong.
There was no smoking gun. There was never a point of no return. Evidence existed suggesting it still might work. Still, the writing was on the wall. As much evidence suggested it was time to move on. In the end, Indiana’s needs could no longer be met by Crean.
But boy did he bring us on a wild ride leading up to Thursday.
While he may not have been Indiana’s first choice, there was no man better suited for the job of restoring the Hoosiers than Crean. From day one as he stood behind the podium and repeated two words, the fans threw their support behind him. Everyone knew it would be tough, but everyone knew he was the man to bring them back.
When Crean took over the Hoosiers, they had just ended a relationship that left them broken and destroyed. Crean took over at ground zero and began rebuilding the program piece by piece.
Over the next nine years, the highs were incredible. The Wat Shot. The Sweet 16s. The #1 rankings. The Big Ten titles. The return to prominence.
Crean was uniquely equipped to bring back the Hoosier program from the ashes with his mix of charisma and passion. His faults could be overlooked because few people, let alone Division I coaches, were as genuine and caring as he.
As good a coach as Crean is, he’s a better person. You need only look at the reactions to Thursday’s decision to see just how many people he had left an impression on in Bloomington.
The media and fellow coaches were going to throw their support behind a fallen coach. Former players were more than willing to talk about how great Crean was for them.
But other support came from unexpected places. Multiple Hoosier football players thanked Crean. Women’s basketball coach Teri Moren was moved to tears when talking about Crean moments after her team had just won an NIT game.
Indiana University, and Bloomington, needed Tom Crean.
But as Indiana continued to grow and resemble it’s “old self,” the relationship grew rocky. No longer were fans willing to overlook the faults. No longer was “good” acceptable. IU wanted to take the next step, to become great, and Crean struggled to take them there.
Like many others, my time at Indiana was directly tied to Crean’s beginning. As a freshman, I bought season tickets for Crean’s second season and sat in many a seat in my time at Assembly Hall.
I watched Maurice Creek score 30 points against Kentucky.
I watched a 10-win Hoosier team take Purdue’s greatest team ever to the buzzer.
I watched Jordan Hulls will Indiana to a win over ranked-Illinois.
I watched Tom Pritchard dunk on Minnesota.
And I watched it all culminate in the moment Watford’s shot settled in the net.
I watched the once-struggling Hoosiers become national title contenders. Some of the best years and moments of my life are tied to Indiana basketball and Tom Crean.
And that made Thursday’s break-up all the more emotional. This wasn’t a man who cheated his way out of a job. This wasn’t an assistant coach who was overwhelmed by the enormity of the job and eventually tapped out.
This was a man who was part of the community and fabric of Bloomington.
I met coach Crean once while off campus. I was entering the parking lot for Subway when I cut off an SUV for a parking spot. I was a ignorant, arrogant college kid who deserved any and all foul words delivered my way by the other driver.
However, as another car pulled out and the SUV pulled in beside us, I quickly realized Crean was the driver I had cut off. Crean hopped out of his car, held open the door and greeted us with a smile and “How are you today?”
He smiled and shook hands with each worker, all of him were in awe. He stayed in the restaurant to eat, pausing his meal multiple times for photo-ops as customers entered and exited the store.
I was too embarrassed to ask for one myself, but I was blown away by Crean and his humility in that moment. He was a man who never viewed himself as bigger than others even given his position at IU. He was a man who often put his own needs to the side for the needs of others.
He was a man who saved basketball at Indiana and restored a proud tradition again.
Thursday’s break-up was necessary, even if tough. Both sides needed to move on. It was an unfortunate end to a long relationship that once seemed destined to end “happily ever after.”
But the moments will always last. In print. In photos. In video. In memories.
And for that, I thank you Coach Crean.