Our Man Booker Award-winning coaching profile series rolls on with Tom Crean.
Until about two weeks ago, Crean was the coach of Indiana, where he ran the storied Hoosier basketball program after previously serving as the head coach at Marquette. In Milwaukee, Crean took over a team that had slipped into mediocrity and guided the Golden Eagles (or whatever they were at the time) to five NCAA tournaments in nine seasons. Most famously, Crean coached Marquette, led by future Heatle Dwyane Wade, to the 2003 Final Four. Also notably, Crean’s teams didn’t suffer any slip after moving from Conference USA to the Big East, where the Golden Eagles averaged 23 wins per season, and a .620 conference winning percentage, over their first three seasons in the Big East.
In 2008, Crean was hired to coach at Indiana, where he took over a truly awful situation. The Hoosiers had recently seen the resignation of coach Kelvin Sampson, who oversaw various recruiting violations that led to Sampson receiving a five-year show-cause penalty. (Fun note: Typical Media Guy Dan Dakich was the interim coach between Sampson and Crean.) Things got so bad in Crean’s early years that Jeremiah Rivers saw starter’s minutes.
After three years of making not much progress, Crean broke through in 2011-12 on the backs of future lottery picks Cody Zeller and Victor Oladipo. Over the next two seasons, the Hoosiers won 56 games, made two Sweet Sixteens, and featured top-five offenses. After a down year once those stars departed for the pros, Indiana returned to the Tournament and then, in the following season, to the Sweet Sixteen. This year brought even bigger expectations, with a talented back-court and a pair of NBA prospects, Thomas Bryant and OG Anunoby, up front. But the Hoosiers crashed and burned late in the season, losing 10 of their last 14 after Anunoby was sidelined by a knee injury. After the season, Indiana let Crean go.
Crean certainly comes with pluses and minuses. On the negative side, he’s struggled to compile elite defenses, never managing a top-20 unit on that end of the floor at Indiana. As a result, his teams sometimes have an up-and-down feel depending on whether they’re making shots or not. From a strictly aesthetic perspective, he has a somewhat grating sideline vibe, between his gulping of diet soda and his appearance, which can roughly be described as tax-accountant-meets-serial-killer. His odd intensity translates to media and fan interactions, which can be uncomfortable.
Crean also has real positives, however, which can be overshadowed by the aforementioned superficial shortcomings. He can recruit, landing five McDonald’s All-Americans and assembling top-30 recruiting classes in each of his last five seasons at Indiana. He’s particularly scouted and landed talent from the DMV area, including Oladipo, Troy Williams, Robert Johnson, and Curtis Jones. His offenses consistently score: the Hoosiers ranked in the top 10 nationally in offensive efficiency in four of his last six years at Indiana. After rebuilding the Hoosier program, he made four NCAA Tournaments in six seasons, advancing to the Sweet Sixteen three times. That might be good enough at some schools, but not at Indiana.
Ultimately, Crean doesn’t excite many people, but he has a lot of positives. He has perhaps the best track record out of any of the candidates, possibly except for Shaka Smart. He has succeeded at two high-level stops before Georgetown, which can’t be said of any of the other candidates. He might not be the dream candidate, but he’d be solid.
Desirability rating: 4 out of 10
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