How Tom Crean has lost Indiana

Times are rocky in Bloomington, Indiana.

Compounding what was already going to be a tough season on the court, the Indiana Hoosiers are working on an arrest record that could be approaching “Pacman” Jones territory by Christmas. This is terrible news for Tom Crean, who had already been falling out of favor for basketball reasons. Now, his stewardship of his players off the court is being called into question.

Since Bob Knight left, the once-prominent national power known as Indiana basketball has reached only one Final Four, and that was the only lasting accomplishment of Mike Davis. Then Kelvin Sampson hit, leaving more carnage in his wake than Hurricane Andrew. Now, the school is left to worry about Crean, who initially weathered the Sampson storm, but has struggled to reach the levels of postseason and regular-season success that are expected at Indiana. Crean is only three games over .500 in seven seasons at Indiana. While he had to uncover from the Sampson mess, that only excuses two to three years.

There’s nothing which can excuse such an abrupt and severe fall from a No. 1 seed in the NCAA tournament to the current crisis point Crean is trying to handle. This is a basketball issue, but it’s now becoming a wider and much more alarming problem for the Tom Izzo assistant who made a Final Four with Marquette in 2003.

On Nov. 1, Indiana’s already-alarming situation became a whole lot worse. Freshman forward Emmitt Holt struck sophomore Devin Davis with a moving vehicle, causing Davis to sustain a head injury while both had been drinking. Though my math is not strong, it is good enough to realize that both players are not of legal drinking age, despite still being under the legal blood-alcohol limit. In addition, a few days after that, it was revealed that Stanford Robinson and Troy Williams would be suspended for failing a drug test. Just months before, both Robinson and Williams were cited for alcohol-related offenses.

I get it: kids make mistakes. Not everyone waits until they’re 21 to drink. That happens. However, this issue comes into play when you make Jameis Winston look like a model citizen.

While the players who have committed infractions should obviously shoulder much of the responsibility for their actions, it is still Crean who agreed to bring in those players, recruit them, and take on the role of second-father figure for them. Adding to the problem, the offenders were suspended just four games – two of which were the preseason games – which is less than a slap on the wrist. While one of the regular season games is against Jerry Rice’s alma mater (Mississippi Valley State), there is no way this “punishment,” such as it is, shows any type of responsible internal authority whatsoever.

At this point, the only solution Crean has is to run his offending players until they have no energy left but to focus on basketball and the classroom – unless they take a Chapel Hill approach and, if so, just call it a day.

Not only has Crean lost the bond of trust and credibility a coach needs to establish with his players, he has lost internal support within the program as well.

Even though Indiana athletic director Fred Glass said last week that Crean is part of the solution rather than the problem, I doubt this sentiment will last after another losing season (or something close to it) on the court. The five seasons of the last seven in which the Hoosiers have not made the NCAA Tournament are wearing on a loyal and passionate fan base. While I don’t doubt that Glass truly believes his comments right now, the pressure is going to get stronger, especially after seeing losses to previously inferior Big Ten competition in the upcoming season. Outside of the back-to-back Sweet 16s with lottery picks Cody Zeller and Victor Oladipo, Indiana has not had another season in the Crean era with a winning record in Big Ten play. In one of those tournament seasons, Indiana was a No.1 seed and was not able to make it out of the Sweet 16. Yet, Crean was still extended.

Moreover, Crean had another fairly weak showing in recruiting this past offseason. This proves that there likely isn’t any help on its way anytime soon.

Though Crean is signed for the next 50 or so years with Indiana (well, okay, at least 2020 — it only feels like 50 years), I don’t see any way how he can survive this storm, especially given the culture in Bloomington and the way that he is losing both the fan base and boosters. This will make a spring-into-summer coaching search pile onto an already-tough season. However, it will be quite interesting to see if the Hoosiers bring in a disciplinarian. This could become a consideration after the struggles of three players’ coaches in a row.

While the school would have to eat $12 million if it cuts ties with Crean after this season, and $7.5 million if it can wait until next year, I see no possible way that they can keep the beleaguered coach around after another subpar campaign. Indiana also needs to make a move soon to keep the job on the radar for coaches seeking national prominence.

In other words, polish those resumes, coaches. Clear your e-mail, Mr. Glass, and we’ll talk again in April.