As we inch closer toward basketball season I’d like to take a look back, and also into the future.
After what some consider an underachieving 9 year run at Indiana University, head coach Tom Crean was let go. Yet, there are some people that confuse what he did in his time at IU, especially considering the circumstances when he arrived, as success. But unfortunately, that’s not the case.
Having met Coach Crean numerous times, I will be the first to thank him for what he was able to accomplish during his stay in Bloomington. The mere fact he was willing to take on such a task speaks volumes about him as a person.
Most people blame Crean’s predecessor, Kelvin Sampson, for the downfall of Indiana’s program. But personally, I believe the downward spiral began on September 10th, 2000. It just came crashing completely down under Sampson’s guidance…or lack thereof.
Despite the mess he inherited, Tom Crean came in, he rolled his sleeves up, and he got to work. It was a monumental task, yet one he faced head on, and with a belief that he could rebuild the program from the ground up.
The first 3 years were a struggle to say the least. But with Coach Crean’s energy, his relentless work ethic, and his focus zeroed in on the future, you could see the improvement, even as the losses piled up.
The first year they lost games by 30. The second year they lost games by 15. Year three saw them in a lot of games that they just couldn’t close out. Most people deemed all 3 years failures, but I saw progress, which also brought hope.
A few recruits took chances on helping rebuild the program, and they, along with Crean, did just that. Maybe not to the sustained level of play that myself, and other “old timers” had become accustomed to under Coach Bob Knight, but IU had climbed to #1 in the country for the biggest part of a year, so everything was looking good up B-Town.
Due to some in-game decisions, and lack thereof sometimes, I still had questions about whether or not we could build on that recent success. Those questions were finally answered for me when IU faced Syracuse in the NCAA tournament. Having come from coaching in the Big East, and facing Syracuse for 9 years, the game-plan we rolled out there for that matchup told me all I needed to know. Coach Crean had reached his peak at Indiana.
The Syracuse zone is as tough a zone as there is in college basketball. But when you’ve seen it as many times as Crean had, and that’s the best game plan you can come up with, it spells trouble.
Yes, we would have some good seasons to follow, but sustained success was not going to come with him at the helm. Unbalanced recruiting classes also put a huge damper on that success. As did handing out scholarships to players that were not close to being Indiana caliber players.
There is a learning curve when taking over a program with Indiana’s tradition, but if you haven’t figure it out by year 9, you’re probably not going to. Being defensive when some of your decisions are questioned by arguably the most knowledgeable fan base in the all of college basketball, doesn’t help matters either.
Coach Crean took on a huge challenge to rebuild Indiana University’s once storied program and make it respectable again. Make it a place kids want to come and play. And to win basketball games, and of course, banners.
To his credit he accomplished a lot of that. And even more so to his credit, he did it the right way. But unfortunately, he couldn’t sustain it, even having been given more than enough of an opportunity. Throw out the first 3 years, whose results were kind of expected, and what was left was simply not good enough. Too many highs, and too many lows. With the highs not being high enough, and the lows being painfully low.
When I started suspecting, and hoping, a new coach might be sought at the end of the 2016-2017 season, I made my wish list of possible candidates. I had followed young coaches at mid-major schools a little ever since that fateful September day in 2000. And over the past 6 years, one name kept rising to the top of my list when I did my comparisons. That name was Archie Miller.
I may be proven wrong, but Archie Miller, in my opinion, was the perfect hire. His basketball “bloodline” is top notch. His matter of fact, no nonsense approach, reminds me of another young coach that IU took a chance on in 1971. Having been a player himself, and a damned good one at that, his basketball IQ is off the charts. He’s also young enough to relate to today’s players.
In closing I’d like to once again thank Tom Crean for everything he did for the Indiana Basketball program, for the university, for the town of Bloomington, for the entire state, for doing it the right way, and for being exactly what we needed at the time, and getting us to the level he did.
It’s unfortunate that he reached his peak (history backs that up), because I wanted him to succeed. But I believe he will land on his feet at a school that doesn’t have the same expectations that one of the most storied programs in the nation has, and I believe he will more than likely be a success.
Bob Knight set the standard at IU, and yes, he set the bar pretty high. But it’s been like a relay race to reach that standard ever since. With Mike Davis running the first leg, Kelvin Sampson the second, and Tom Crean the third. He just handed the “baton” off to Archie Miller. Who, with the official start of practice being today, is off an running!
Yep, a new era has begun in B-Town, and I firmly believe that the baton has been passed for the last time…or at least for a long time. I’m in no way comparing Coach Miller to Bob Knight, arguably the greatest mind to ever coach a game, but I do believe we will come as close to having come full circle as we can when the dust settles.
I’m not sure about the rest of Hoosier Nation, but I can hardly wait! Thank you Coach Crean, and welcome aboard Coach Miller!