Indiana Must Fire Tom Crean, Pursue Billy Donovan
By: Ryan Phillips
Tom Crean and Indiana need to part ways. It’s time. The Hoosiers have had some really great moments during Crean’s nine years in Bloomington, but his teams have been too inconsistent and have typically fallen below expectations. This year’s uber-talented squad fell to 15-11 on Sunday, has lost five of its last six games and may not even make the NCAA tournament. That’s simply unacceptable, regardless of the injuries that have ravaged the team this season.
If Indiana’s athletic director Fred Glass does finally end his marriage to Crean, there’s one name he should pursue as a replacement above all others: Oklahoma City Thunder head coach Billy Donovan.
Indiana fans owe a debt of gratitude to Crean. He came in and cleaned up a scandal-ridden program while raising it from a steaming pile of rubble to laudable heights. The 2015-16 season — during which the Hoosiers came out of nowhere to win the Big Ten title — was as fun a ride as I’ve ever had watching a team. In fact, entering this season, Crean had won two of the last four Big Ten championships. But surrounding those two magnificent seasons has been a mess. Inconsistency has plagued the program at every level.
There are few better people in college basketball than Tom Crean and he has an unbelievable work-ethic. No one can doubt either of those things. He truly cares about his players, the university and its fans, and has given his all for the program. He has done an amazing job bringing academics back as a focus of Indiana basketball, and his player development work has been among the best in the nation. But on the court his teams too often look lost and out of touch with one another. Developing on-court leadership and chemistry has been an issue for years and has kept several of his most talented teams from succeeding. Crean has done great things at Indiana and he was the right person to bring the program back from the depths. But now it’s clearly time for a new vision.
While it will depress some Indiana fans, Brad Stevens is almost certainly not leaving the Boston Celtics, but rumors suggest Donovan might be looking to head back to college. He went to Oklahoma City for the opportunity to coach Kevin Durant and Russell Westbrook, and one of those guys is gone now. With Westbrook dominating the ball, any semblance of an offensive system has gone out the window and despite his dominant statistics, the Thunder currently sit in seventh place in the Western Conference. While the San Antonio Spurs and Golden State Warriors exist in their current forms, the Thunder have no shot at playing for a championship. Donovan has to be keenly aware of that fact.
Money would be a big issue in any pursuit of Donovan. He’s currently making $6 million a year with the Thunder, which means Indiana would have to rely heavily on booster assistance to pony up the extra cash. Crean’s buyout is currently at a manageable $4 million, but if the Hoosiers wanted to chase an elite coach like Donovan, they’d need help. Indiana’s contract with Adidas is currently the 13th richest apparel deal in the NCAA, so there are dollars there, but not enough. The school’s deep-pocketed boosters would need to step up to land a guy like Donovan.
Make no mistake, getting someone like Donovan will not be easy. But Indiana is one of the best brands in college basketball, the state is a fertile recruiting ground and the fan base is desperate to embrace a winner. And Donovan is a winner. His resume boasts two national titles, four Final Four trips, seven Elite Eights, and six SEC championships during his 19 seasons at Florida. After his first two rebuilding years, Donovan’s Gators only missed the NCAA Tournament three times in 17 campaigns, and they won 20 or more games in 16 of those 17 seasons. That’s while coaching at a football-first school with average facilities in Gainesville, Florida, which is far from an exciting destination.
Imagine what Donovan could do in Bloomington, a great college town with top-flight facilities and the financial backing that comes with being the state’s most popular school and coach of its most popular sports program. Like his former coach and mentor, Rick Pitino, Donovan could take on the challenge of lifting two different NCAA programs to championship heights.
If Indiana wants to get serious about its basketball program and becoming an elite, national power again, it needs to find an elite head coach. Crean has gotten the Hoosiers as far as he can, it’s time for the next step. Indiana should throw everything it has at Donovan and let the chips fall where they may.