The Ghosts of Coaches Past Haunt the Buckeyes and the Hoosiers, but One School Seems Okay With It

By Johnny Ginter on February 23, 2018 at 10:20 am
Former Indiana basketball coach Tom Crean

I do not enjoy Tom Crean, for one very specific and maybe slightly petty reason.

Back in March of 2013, Ohio State played a Crean-coached Indiana team that was ranked second in the country, and beat them in Bloomington on senior night. Nice. Anyway, the game started at nine at night, and instead of using any of the other 21 perfectly acceptable hours of that day to honor their seniors, Crean and company went ahead and decided that the festivities would happen after the game, and then presumably took a nice little spritz because he didn't appear before the media until 1:37 am. I know this, because our friend Kyle Rowland recorded the time for posterity.

Some things to keep in mind about this are that A) a lot of the beat writers are obligated to stay and get quotes from both coaches, no matter how long that takes, B) Crean had a reputation for making reporters wait for a long time on several different occasions, C) most of the Ohio State writers didn't have Bloomington accommodation and were planning on driving back to the Columbus area that night, and D) there was a late season snowstorm bearing down on the Ohio Valley. All of which meant that a lot of very annoyed and tired writers were stuck contending with a petulant coach and dangerous road conditions over the course of one really long night.

Here's a fun picture of the 2012-2013 Indiana Hoosiers men's basketball team posing with a trophy they won as regular season Big Ten champions, right after getting kicked in the ass by Thad Matta and the Buckeyes. Note the timestamp:

I will concede that I'm maybe making a little too much of this. Crean probably wasn't thinking about anyone but his players that night. Which means that no, he isn't history's greatest monster, but he is a giant tool, as evidenced by this possibly apocryphal and out of context quote from Crean about his high school playing days:

"I didn't play a lot, although my coach called me his biggest tool, but I knew I wanted to coach."

See? A good sign of a guilty conscience is when people start to tell on themselves.

Regardless, Tom Crean got his just desserts a mere five years later, as he got fired for diminishing returns coaching one of the most blue-blood basketball programs in the nation. The truth is that Crean really didn't do a completely horrible job at Indiana; he won a couple of Big Ten titles and made the Sweet Sixteen three times. On the other hand, he also didn't field a team with a winning record until his fourth season in Bloomington, and won 20 games only four times in nine seasons. That's not going to keep you gainfully employed at a school that's been looking for the next Bob Knight for the last 20 years.

So the question becomes, how do you come back from something like that? Indiana hoops fascinates me in a morbid kind of way, because while it has a history that can stack up against any other program in the country, it also seems perpetually doomed to a mediocrity that forces it to insist to everyone that it's still as relevant as it was in the mid-90s. And since I'm really not that deft at throwing subtle shade, yeah, that basically makes them the basketball equivalent of Michigan football.

To my point, James wrote earlier this week about how new Indiana coach Archie Miller has been struggling this season to find consistency with his team, leading to some truly inexplicable losses:

If you would have told anyone that one of these two programs would be in a situation to make the tournament[...] most would have probably had Indiana as the team heading to the Big Dance. 

However, the Hoosiers suffered brutal non-conference losses to Indiana State and Fort Wayne prior to the turn of the calendar year.

Miller is a good coach, but stepping into a void left by a prickly, irritating guy with a modest track record is a project in of itself, no matter what kind of talent he left you with.

That's also probably why you've heard Chris Holtmann repeatedly praise Thad Matta this season. It isn't just the fact that Matta left Holtmann with a team buoyed by some really great senior talent; it's also that Thad Matta didn't create a vacuum around the perception of the program (to outside observers, anyway). That alone makes it easier for a new coach to step in and take on a rebuilding process that could end up lasting several years.

Holtmann came in at an awkward time and faced immediate roster challenges, but not having to worry about rebuilding the overall image of a program was invaluable, because it's just one less battle that has to be fought. Archie Miller has had to position himself as both a torch-bearer for a Hoosier basketball legacy and someone who couldn't be anything less like the previous coach. Holtmann hasn't had nearly that kind of pressure.

It's hard to say what the long-term future holds for both Archie Miller and Chris Holtmann. Miller had a ton of success at the University of Dayton, and it's hard to believe that it'll take him as long as Crean did to get the Hoosiers playing at least B-tier basketball again. Holtmann, of course, has had an incredible first season in Columbus, but he will have to answer some giant personnel questions in the summer as his safety net of upperclassmen disappears.

However the game versus these two coaches plays out tonight, however, the ghosts of coaches past will still loom large. And over one of these two programs especially.

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