, but the beginning of the end took place March 29, 2013 — the date the No. 1 Hoosiers fell to No. 4 Syracuse in the Sweet Sixteen of the 2013 NCAA Tournament.
In those thousand-and-change days since the defeat to the Orange, Crean and his squads went through many iterations. Big Ten outright champions in 2016, underachievers in 2014, a team sneaking into the postseason in 2015 and 2017, the year in which it all finally combusted.
During the 2012-13 campaign, IU was the cream of the crop.
29-7. Ten weeks as the No. 1 team in the country and all but two weeks in the top five. The season after the “Wat shot” - Christian Watford’s miracle 3 to beat Kentucky - felt like a godsend for Hoosier faithful. Finally Big Red was atop the college basketball landscape once again.
Ranked third overall heading into the tournament, IU felt like a shoe-in for the Final Four with exceptional junior guard Victor Oladipo and in-state legend sophomore forward Cody Zeller. IU beat down James Madison in the East Regional Round of 64 and then took down Temple in a game a little too close for comfort. Then they lost. Convincingly.
It wasn’t that they got booted from the tournament. Teams that are favored lose all the time in single-elimination brackets. It was how they lost. The Hoosiers seemed perplexed by the Orange’s 2-3 zone.
IU lost by double-digits, and 1,448 days later Tom Crean lost his job.
“Tom is a good man and a good coach and we owe him a great debt of gratitude for his many positive contributions to Indiana basketball. We wish him well.”
That was how IU Athletics Director Fred Glass finished the . Eventually, he moved forward and spoke about the upcoming coaching search, as we’re all about to do. But first, we should recognize Crean’s importance to the program.
With the wreckage of Kelvin Sampson’s stint as head coach still lingering in Simon Skjodt Assembly Hall, Crean made it his mission to return IU to its former glory. He immediately dismissed forward Brandon McGee for academic negligence and kicked DeAndre Thomas, Jamarcus Ellis and Armon Bassett off the team.
All that was left was Crean, a bunch of unblemished red jerseys and infuriated fans. Through stellar recruiting classes, he slowly but surely built up Hoosier talent, and IU found itself, at the very least, as a competitive team.
In the past few years, calls for Crean’s firing amplified mostly due to a necessity to be great. It may sound simple, but to be great, you first need to be good. This is where Crean built IU back up.
There’s a common belief that IU got worse and worse during the 2016-17 campaign. This is a misconception.
Even after the Kansas and North Carolina early-season victories, there were glaring flaws.
The Hoosiers depended on an inexperienced freshman class to the umpteenth degree. Leadership was at a minimum. Defense seemed to take backseat to an offense that didn’t want to be in the front seat.
Expectations coming into the season were appropriately high, especially after last year’s surprising success. Crean and the Hoosiers didn’t match them by any metric. IU’s first Big Ten game against Nebraska set a tone of disappointment.
A long losing streak mid-season booted IU from true contention.
The 2017 Hoosiers ultimately became the first team of all time to miss the tournament after beating two squads that would eventually become one seeds in the forthcoming tournament.
It was after the regular season Iowa game in February when I, along with Hoosier nation, finally lost my patience. Another close loss to a lesser team in which the same errors showed up again brought me to a boiling point with the coaching staff.
This program had hit its peak and now it found itself as a roller coaster without reaching any substantial heights. We now found ourselves riding the lamest amusement park ride — one without any thrills, but chock full of nausea.
The firing of Crean leaves the ride at a flatline but with a much higher potential for fun.
For 38 minutes, . He read a statement, spoke about Indiana’s bonafides and promised a step in the right direction. Crean’s canning was a “nine-year decision,” the inconsistencies no longer acceptable. The full $4 million buyout signifies that Glass believes a better coach — and IU program — is on the horizon.
, possibly one from the NBA. The program being at this level, in which it will brawl for top-tier talent, is due to Crean and his role in reviving the program.
He took them from A to B, a pivotal step. The problem is that he doesn’t have the gear to get IU to C, which most would consider a national title.
Now we must wait. Patiently.
As the nine-year Crean trial reaches its fitful conclusion, IU now finds itself with a real opportunity.
Hire the right person, and IU might once again reign supreme.