To be an Indiana basketball fan over the past few months has meant living a life of uncertainty and frustration.
The 2016-2017 Hoosiers were an exercise in inconsistent madness as James Blackmon and company showed glimpses of brilliance between numbing displays of futility.
That contradiction, indeed those flashes of genius among stretches of futility, are honestly what I’ll remember from the Tom Crean Era, a stretch of nine seasons that were marked by the revival of a program I love amidst moments of pure annoyance.
All of that is not to say Crean’s tenure as coach hasn’t been without joy.
Who will ever forget Christian Watford draining a three from the elbow at the buzzer to topple Kentucky? Who will forget the miraculous turnaround as Crean rebuilt the program from the ashes Kelvin Sampson left in his wake? And who will ever forget the magic of Cody Zeller and Victor Oladipo when the 2012-2013 crew played at their best?
And, honestly, who among the Hoosier faithful didn’t feel, at times, at least a glimmer of hope that Crean might be the man to bring home that long sought after sixth banner?
Those failures have been frustrating, but what has really been maddening these last few days is the national reaction to Fred Glass’s decision to relieve Tom Crean of his duties.
In article after article I’ve been confronted by sports pundits who have summarily pointed their fingers at IU’s fans as if our expectations have made us unreasonable. In their opinions, Crean’s efforts have been more than enough to validate his continuing as coach.
Obviously, if you listen to this chorus, we’re all in denial about IU’s importance in the college basketball landscape and we’re all just still pining for Bob Knight to walk through that door and pick up where he left off.
It’s hard to know where to start with this insipid nonsense.
I can only speak for myself and the IU fans I know by saying that we’re all well beyond apologizing for Knight. The behavior that led to his firing was inexcusable and his attitude as the years have passed has turned us off to the point we’ve had to reconsider his legacy as a whole. And any fan of IU will tell you the last few years with Knight at the helm were similarly frustrating.
The idea that we’re in denial is interesting, but for a different reason than maybe these commentators are thinking.
No, Indiana has not held its own among the college basketball blue bloods, and yes, our times in the national spotlight have been limited, but isn’t that fact enough to justify Tom Crean’s dismissal? After all, the program has incredible resources and an unquestionable pedigree. The fact that we haven’t done more with these factors means that something, somewhere in the process, isn’t living up to its expectancies.
The criticism feels not just unfounded, but stinks of ignorance. It’s a headline in search of a story.
There’s a regionalism at play here, a looking down the nose at Midwesterners who think they’re more important than they are. It’s a critique of people in the Flyover States who think past glory is somehow predictive of future results. Just because IU excelled in the 1980’s, they say, is no reason to believe we have a place at the table in the here and now.
That’s fatalism, and it’s just plain wrong.
With the right coach Indiana is more than capable of re-establishing itself as a powerhouse. Quite frankly, Tom Crean wasn’t that coach. He was the right man for the job of resurrecting the program, of rebuilding it from the rubble. He was able to recruit, motivate, and consistently improve players like Victor Oladipo to play their best basketball. His weaknesses, though, were legion, and anybody who spent hours watching these teams knows them well.
- Indiana teams, under Crean, consistently turned the ball over at alarming rates.
- Indiana teams, under Crean, were consistently outcoached and have failed to make adjustments in the heat of battle.
- Indiana teams, under Crean, often wore out later in the season.
These are issues that all major schools contend with. But programs like Duke, Kansas, and North Carolina rarely struggle with them as overtly or for as long of stretches. And if any of them did. the same pundits who are criticizing IU’s faithful would be calling for their coaches to be ousted.
These national commentators piling onto Indiana fans have obviously not watched enough IU basketball to assess this situation properly, and that speaks volumes of the problem as a whole.
Make no mistake, there are Indiana fans who still wear their Bobby Knight sweaters and still worship their ticket stubs from the Perfect Season of ’76, but we’re not, as a whole, an unreasonable group of people.
Did Mike Davis get his fair shake in the wake of Knight’s firing? That’s a conversation for a different day, but it’s also a different conversation than whether it was time to move on from Tom Crean.
We’re not unreasonable.
We simply expect the best for the team we love so much.
And if that’s unreasonable, then who needs reason?