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COLUMN: Tom Crean and leadership



On March 16, as NCAA’s March Madness was tipping off, IU fired basketball head coach Tom Crean. IU Athletics Director Fred Glass, in making the decision, stated his appreciation for what Crean had done for the team, but that he was looking for “more consistent, high levels of success.”

Between fans clamoring to #firetomcrean, and sports analysts and coaches fighting to defend him, IU’s decision is a controversial one, but it lies in an important truth. To quote leadership authorJohn Maxwell, “Everything rises and falls on leadership.”

Without excellent leadership, no amount of passion, talent or hard work can be used to its potential. Crean’s years with IU basketball are indicative of the power leadership has on a team and a community. In the nine seasons Crean coached, IU won the Big Ten outright in the 2012-13 season and the 2015-16 season. Both were seasons of great leadership, but not by Crean. Players like Cody Zeller, Victor Oladipo and Yogi Ferrell are praised in those years for leading the team and the fans into victory.

Crean knows that leadership is essential to winning basketball games. In both the 2014-15 season and this season, he has attributed much of the team’s problems to lack of leadership. But he doesn’t call for this from himself. 

He instead demands that his players show more leadership, but leadership doesn’t come because it’s demanded. John Maxwell, in his best selling book, "The 21 Irrefutable Laws of Leadership," talks about the Law of Magnetism. The Law of Magnetism says what you are is what you attract, so people who are good leaders attract good leaders. It also claims that the better leader you are, the better the leaders around you will be.

Crean may need to brush up on his own leadership before he demands it from his players.  Rather than hoping for another Yogi or Oladipo, Crean needs to realize that excellent leadership from coaching staff wins championships more consistently than any other formula. John Wooden broke records In the 1980s with his legendary leadership at UCLA. He won seven consecutive championships, with four of those being undefeated seasons, both unheard of streaks before and after his time in basketball. Maxwell, who was mentored by Wooden, says that Wooden’s dedication to improving himself before asking it of his players primarily drove him to victory and made him an excellent leader.

Crean could have taken a page out of one of the most successful coaches of all time’s books. Before asking his players to be better leaders, he should have looked at his own leadership capabilities. He should have led his teams to victory rather than demanding that they lead themselves.

IU’s administration knows strong leadership is what wins championships. Players like Zeller and Ferrell and coaches like Bob Knight have proven the power of leadership again and again. Crean did not show that same excellence in his nine years of coaching, and his time at IU rose, and fell, on leadership.

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