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Why Tom Crean is a better coach than you think

Honestly, I think it’s a mistake if Indiana pushes him out the door.

NCAA Basketball: Indiana at Iowa Jeffrey Becker-USA TODAY Sports

With Missouri’s head coaching job opening up, it’s time to talk about some potential candidates. On Tuesday, we talked about Gregg Marshall. Today we’re going to cover the leader in the clubhouse, Indiana coach Tom Crean.

PROFILE: Tom Crean

  • Current Salary: $3.16 million
  • Buyout: $500,000 (IU would owe him $4 million if he is fired)
  • Career Win%: .608 (355-229)

Indiana fans are crazy. Let’s get this out of the way.

1995 was 22 years ago. Since ‘95, Indiana has made 16 NCAA tournaments with just one Final Four (in 2002). The Hoosiers have lost 10 or more games in 18 of those 22 seasons, and in 13 they’ve won 20 or fewer. In that same span, Missouri has had only 14 seasons of 20 wins or fewer.

Why am I marking their success over the last 22 years? Because almost every basketball player in college now was born in 1995 or later.

Every current recruit was born in 1999 or later. Most of these kids do not know about Bob Knight, other than recognizing him as a little kooky on game broadcasts for ESPN.

I’m saying this out of love, Indiana fans: You are not what you think you are. You have one of the best coaches in college basketball.

Tom Crean is a grinder, a workaholic. He develops players and coaches them up, and you want to run him out of Bloomington a single year after winning the Big 10 and making the Sweet 16.

The Hoosiers are struggling this year. It’s obvious. They’re 17-14 and on the verge of missing the NCAA tournament. Hopes were high at the start of the year after Indiana beat both Kansas and North Carolina in hard-fought games. Then they lost to Butler and got upset by Nebraska. They lost to Louisville and Wisconsin. OG Anunoby got hurt.

Things spiraled a bit. If the Hoosiers miss the NCAA tournament this year (and they are likely to), it will be the second time in four years.

Crean is not perfect. His teams are rarely considered defensive stalwarts — he’s had three top-30 defenses in the KenPom era (since 2001-02 season) and eight sub-100 defenses in that time. But his offenses are usually very highly rated, and he’s a proven recruiter who has signed 16 four- and five-star players during his time at Indiana, plus six more at Marquette in his last six seasons. That list doesn’t include Crean uncovering incredibly high-upside guys like Victor Oladipo and Anunoby.

Coming off of an NCAA Tournament 1-seed and Sweet 16 appearance, Crean’s 2014 team lost Cody Zeller, Oladipo, and Christian Watford, and missed the NCAA Tournament. The Hoosiers played only two upperclassmen in the rotation and played mostly freshmen and sophomores. They finished 7-11 in the Big 10, a conference that featured six NCAA teams and eight top-50 KenPom teams.

What Crean accomplished at Indiana is pretty incredible when you take into account what he had to do his first few years just to field a team. I’ll let Ryan Fagan explain:

Crean should have a statue in Bloomington after what he did to lift the Hoosiers from the depths of the Kelvin Sampson aftermath. He literally had to hold open tryouts on campus to fill out his roster. Think about that. From there, he won Big Ten titles. His Hoosiers earned a No. 1 seed in the NCAA Tournament. He made the Sweet 16 three times. Basically, he took a bottomed-out program and resuscitated it, breathed life into a lifeless body.

Is Tom Crean an elite coach? I don’t know. Without putting together a list I’d wager he’s within the realm of being a top 20 coach. I don’t think he’s elite in the way Gregg Marshall or Sean Miller or Coach K. I doubt you’d put him in the top 10, but it feels safe to say top 20.

He’s prone to rubbing people the wrong way, and he’s a very passionate and intense guy. He has built up the IU program, something that needs to happen at Missouri. He’s shown he can pluck recruits like Anunoby out of the state of Missouri, something the last four Mizzou head coaches have struggled to do.

NCAA Basketball: Indiana at Minnesota Brad Rempel-USA TODAY Sports

Crean is a weird guy. He lives and breathes basketball, and it makes him come off as awkward and goofy at times. It wasn’t long ago that I didn’t like him, but I’ve come to embrace his weirdness over the years, and now I love it.

Basketball, and sports in general, are about entertainment. People haven’t been going to games at Missouri lately because they don’t win enough, sure ... but also because it’s not particularly entertaining. The worst of both worlds.

Crean is the antidote to boring. He’ll shuffle his pants and make weird faces and space out in interviews, and we can laugh at him. Parody accounts usually work best when they both imitate and exaggerate their target, and in that Crean will have plenty to work with.

The way things are going, I’d be surprised if Tom Crean wasn’t the next head coach at Missouri.

Still, there are just a couple things that give me pause. One, he’s at Indiana now — an Adidas school. NC State is also in the market and is also an Adidas school. It isn’t the biggest issue, but coaches tend to be pretty loyal to who gives them money, and the shoe companies do that. I don’t think I’d be completely shocked to find out he went with the Adidas school, even though I think the NC State job is tougher.

If Gregg Marshall is off the table, the next guy on my “five calls” list is Tom Crean. If Crean is available for Missouri, it would be a home run hire. I think he would immediately elevate the program. Within 2-3 years, I think he would have Missouri challenging for an NCAA berth, hopefully driving John Calipari nuts in the process.