Crean likes the view much better this year

2013-02-06T01:00:00Z 2013-02-06T07:44:25Z Crean likes the view much better this yearMark Tupper
February 06, 2013 1:00 am  • 

CHAMPAIGN — The easiest people to pick on in sports are the person at the bottom of the pile and the person on top of it.

Tom Crean has been in both places.

When he arrived at Indiana University in 2008, he was taking over a program that had deep bruises and internal bleeding thanks to the mess created by former coach Kelvin Sampson.

The once proud Hoosiers program hired Crean to help it dig out of a major mess and that first season Indiana was 6-25 including 1-17 in the Big Ten.

It looked bleak, and some of the losses were brutal.

“We were trying to claw and fight to have a chance in any game,” Crean recalled.

His second season Indiana was 4-14 in the Big Ten and the third season the Hoosiers were 3-15.

That was Crean on the bottom of the pile.

Former Indiana assistant coach and current TV analyst Dan Dakich was remembering those days last Thursday on a radio show from Indianapolis. The previous night Indiana had marched into Mackey Arena in West Lafayette, Ind., and demolished Purdue 97-60.

“It’s funny to me that just two years ago Purdue fans were laughing at Indiana because they were struggling to win in the Big Ten,” Dakich said. “And now today those same Purdue fans are crying because they say Indiana ran up the score on their team.”

Fours days after the rout at Purdue, Indiana knocked off top-ranked Michigan and on Monday, Indiana ascended to No. 1 in the latest Associated Press college basketball poll.

That’s Tom Crean on top of the pile.

The animated Crean is something of a little peacock — a proud, loud, demonstrative coach who plays to the crowd and has a knack for getting under the skin of opposing fans.

But that’s weak criticism of a 46-year-old man who is one of the least likely highly successful head coaches in college basketball.

Of the 45 head coaches in the Big Ten, ACC, Pac 12 and Big 12 (excluding an interim head coach), only three did not play college basketball.

Crean, who attended Central Michigan, is one. Former Illinois coach Bruce Weber, now at Kansas State, is another.

As an athlete, Weber was a more devoted baseball player. But Crean, who barely played basketball on his high school team in Mount Pleasant, Mich., could be described as a serial schmoozer, a guy who would go to any length to pick the brain of a coach, help at a basketball camp or evaluate an obscure high school prospect.

He gained a reputation as a workaholic who became an encyclopedia of scouting information and he so impressed Tom Izzo that Izzo recommended to former Michigan State head coach Jud Heathcote that Crean be hired as a graduate assistant.

That got Crean’s foot in the door, so to speak, and he quickly moved through the ranks, leaving Michigan State, then returning as an assistant once Izzo replaced Heathcote.

In 1999, Crean got his big break and was hired as head coach at Marquette. His 2003 team, led by Dwyane Wade, reached the Final Four.

And in 2008, when Indiana desperately needed a fiery coach who could help recruit his way out of Sampson’s mess, the school hired Crean.

Now ranked No. 1 in the country, Indiana visits Illinois on Thursday (6 p.m., ESPN2).

The game comes during one of the craziest weeks of Crean’s life.

On Saturday his team defeated Michigan to set the stage for its rise to No. 1.

By Sunday he was in New Orleans for the Super Bowl, there with his wife, Joani, the sister of Baltimore coach John Harbaugh and San Francisco coach Jim Harbaugh.

By Monday morning he was flying back to Bloomington, watching game film on the plane and organizing notes he’d been making all weekend.

But while in New Orleans, Crean did what he does best — he networked, watched and listened, gleaning from highly successful people little nuances that might help him and the Hoosiers down a road he hopes leads to a national championship.

“Having the vantage points that we had — access behind the scenes — I got to watch how the Ravers and 49ers do it, how they prepare,” he said.

“Pat Riley was down there. I spent about 90 seconds with (new NFL Hall of Fame coach) Bill Parcels. Both are coaching idols.

“When you get a chance to pick the brains of leaders — political leaders, business leaders — it inspires you to think more creatively, to look at things differently.

“I was in the box with my family when the power outage came and to watch the commissioner (Roger Goodell) deal with that with grace was amazing. That’s incredible and there’s no question you take things from situations like that and it can only make you better.”

Indiana still has nine regular-season games including the finale on March 10, which is a rematch with Michigan in Ann Arbor.

Then there’s the Big Ten Tournament in Chicago with the NCAA Tournament revving up after that.

No one knows what fate awaits the Hoosiers, but Crean is now enough of a veteran to rightfully claim he’s ready for whatever obstacles come his way.

He knows what it’s like to be on the bottom of the pile.

This week, after a long fight back, he’s the guy on top.|421-7983

Copyright 2015 All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.

(5) Comments

  1. VA JACK
    Report Abuse
    VA JACK - February 07, 2013 3:15 pm
    MIKEY,not much on Crean's showman ship.I might think different if he had us at 18 and 2.===JOHN SHEARY,3 years with yuck,the fan base stayed strong and that deserves a well done.To those of us who love collegiate sports,bring it home once more.This Illini fan, wish the IU team the best, more than a UM or OSU team.
  2. Mikeydamouth
    Report Abuse
    Mikeydamouth - February 07, 2013 6:27 am
    Out of all the teams in the conference, its at tie who I (don't like to use the word hate) dis-like the worst. Iowa and Indiana. Happy Clappy Crean is probably the one coach I dis-like the most. Maybe I will change my mind about H.C. when/if he ever reaches elite status like Izzo or Self, but I doubt it.
  3. john sheary OD
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    john sheary OD - February 06, 2013 11:38 pm
    Thanks to our niece, an Illini cheerleader, my wife & I will be attending tomorrow evening's game. This will be my first game seeing my alma mater @ an arena in over 20 years. I am happy with the upturn of IU basketball, yet humbled & reminded of the long, hard journey the last few years has been. My hopes are for a very competitive, spirited game, as in the Lou Henson/Bob Knight days.

    VA JACK: thank you for your kind words concerning my alma mater. As good as the wins were vs. "Sparty" & Michigan, IU in essence held serve with these home court wins. The really impressive feat will be if IU can defeat "Sparty" & Michigan on their home court.

    Many of the Big 10 teams are so good/competitive this year, many of these games seem almost as championship games.

    Lastly, my wife & I would have loved to have seen another Meyers Leonard vs. Cody Zeller duel. However, given the facts of Meyers indeed being a lottery pick & his family's financial situation, we certainly can not fault him for turning pro. Hopefully, he will finish his Uof I degree @ some future date.

  4. VA JACK
    Report Abuse
    VA JACK - February 06, 2013 10:05 am
    The race to the top of the BTen is at Creans door step as well.9 games remain,4 at home,5 on the road.The rematch with UM will be great for my viewing.IU will already have a claim to the title by game time and UM will win at home and might share Braggin'Rights.Next up the road is another rematch at Indy and IU should prevail then.That brings me to the question,wht the heck is wrong with me???Fans of BB say,Ilini still are going to the tourney.Fans also say,6 to 7 wins are still in the future of the schedule.I laugh at this,what the heck is wrong with me???I have IU doing great and Illini with 2 or 3 wins.A fan of Illinois sports since High School.Yet here I sit doubting if FB and BB programs will ever get on track again in my life time.There were good times,Mike White,Lou Henson,Bill Self and Bruce Weber.Bruce Weber,Wow that will draw hate,but I can not begin to thank him enough for many games of enoyment I had.I do not understand why for 5 years attention to post play was over looked.Good luck to Crean and his BB program.Coach Crean call the dogs off after your team of talent gains a 20 point lead.A beat down might take away our 3 remainning wins,after all you already know we are very Fragile,FRAIL and DELICATE.
  5. crkcrk2
    Report Abuse
    crkcrk2 - February 06, 2013 5:46 am
    Lets hope it does not take JG 3 or 4 seasons to return us to respectability. Hope we can play competitively against IU, recruiting certainly is no helped by getting a thrashing like Purdue took last week, or another debacle like our play against NW.
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