Embattled and embittered, Tom Crean is no longer head coach at Indiana University. While that should feel like a victory, instead, it feels a little hollow.
After nine years of ups and downs (mostly downs), Tom Crean, the fourth head coach at Indiana University since Bob Knight was fired in 2000, found himself on the other side of the wind as his tenure came to an end at 12:15 pm on Thursday.
Hell of a day, huh?
For a number of years, I’d been among the louder voices in wanting to see Crean go, almost to the point where “Fire Tom Crean” became either a rallying cry, or a greeting to like-minded Indiana fans and alumni, depending on the situation.
Admittedly, spending so much time and effort screaming for a coach to get canned borders on the irrational if not the obnoxious, and if I’m being honest, there’s really no excuse. That said, the idea of seeing Crean fired was a quest of sorts, and whether or not it was right didn’t matter all that much, it just had to be done.
This is the cost of fanaticism. This is what we signed up for, and for something so simple, so silly and so insignificant as sport, we will allow ourselves to be enslaved by our darker natures just for the even simpler pleasure of bragging rights.
Ever since Indiana’s loss to Fort Wayne (my hometown) back in November, the old fires (pun intended) started burning again, and calling for Crean’s job–something I never really stopped doing–was back in vogue. Through a combination of injuries and bad play, the Hoosiers kept getting worse and worse, and my hatred grew hotter and hotter.
I was used to being pooh-poohed for my desire to see a new head coach at IU, but I felt that this year was right, this was the time, and if it didn’t happen now, dear god would it ever happen?
The night before, a friend and fellow alum sent me a message asking me how was I feeling at the prospect of seeing Crean fired. I immediately came up with two words: Hopeful and Cautious. Hopeful in that I thought the end was finally here, and cautious in that once again, my dreams would be dashed for yet another season.
My dreams to see another man lose his job.
By the time I saw the news that athletic director Fred Glass did what needed to be done, I knew I was supposed to celebrate, and I was completely prepared to go through the motions of the moment I’d hoped for, I mean this was it, right?
I couldn’t help but feel a little sick to my stomach. Imagine that.
The chapter president of the “He-Man Tom Crean Haters Club” feeling ill over actually seeing Crean get fired. What in the hell is that?
Social media wasn’t ignorant to my desire to see this day come, as more than a few people greeted me with a sort of congratulations at what they saw as my best day ever:
— 95Sports (@95Sports) March 16, 2017
Methinks @NeverDauntedNet is happy with Indiana's decision
— Reverend Paul Revere (@RevPaulRevere) March 16, 2017
I know @NeverDauntedNet somewhere taking a shot for joy jahaha
— Korey Crawford (@Incredible_KC) March 16, 2017
— Michael Calia (@Michael_Calia) March 16, 2017
— Ed Button (@edb87) March 16, 2017
If I said that I didn’t celebrate, I’d be lying, but even as I did so, I thought back to the first time I ever met Crean in 2012.
It’s a hell of a thing to look a man in the eye, shake his hand and then later slander him at every possible opportunity. But I did just that. I thought about the time I shook Crean’s hand, and at the time, I had every hope, every confidence that this guy was “the guy.”
Even after all the inconsistency and hardship of his first three seasons at Indiana, it was alright because he had to build the program from nothing (this wasn’t true), and because he was so in love with the idea of even coaching Indiana that after all the garbage that happened to get to the point where he had to be hired to clean it all up (a gross exaggeration), he deserved the benefit of the doubt.
By the time Christian Watford hit the fateful three-point shot to upend #1-ranked Kentucky at the buzzer, we were all ready to follow Crean back to greatness.
A few months after that, there was Crean, shaking my hand and being that guy most of us heard about, passionate about IU, and accommodating towards fans. The team was in Washington DC as part of a barnstorming effort to capitalize on the efforts of the past year which saw IU catapulted back to respectability on the back of that buzzer beater and a subsequent top 25 ranking.
He stayed around until every picture was taken and every autograph signed. He listened to our old memories and promised us that we’d have more. I was pretty taken by Crean that night, felt like he was the guy to get us back to the elite status enjoyed in my youth.
Indiana Basketball mattered again.
A year later, I wanted Crean fired, and I never really looked back, even if I did let up from time to time, depending on our fortunes. For me, everything I liked about Crean that night in 2012 felt like I was being sold a bill of goods, and to be sure, I probably was, because if anything, Crean was a semi-effective recruiter, and his job was to sell a fanbase on a dream, a dream pretty much built on one game, and the promise of players which panned out only partially.
I last saw Crean a week ago when Indiana was in town for the Big Ten Tournament. The version that stalked the court as the Hoosiers steamrolled the Iowa Hawkeyes in what was assumed by myself and others as his final game had a different look than I remembered five years prior.
This version of Crean looked both worn down and defiant. The players, for the most part, may have given up, but Crean never did. When the clock hit zero, Crean darted over to the section of the Verizon Center that had the most IU fans sitting in it and he pointed at them, slightly pumping his fist as he was applauded by people who during the game openly speculated as to whether this win was enough to save his job.
When I looked at Crean, I knew that if given the chance, he would stay at Indiana forever. Given all the shit tossed at him in the last five years, he probably thought it was his right.
After all this replayed in my mind, I stopped feeling sorry for Crean, and I realized that this is how it had to end. He wouldn’t go and frankly, we didn’t want him to stay.
For Crean, staying another year would be a living hell, compounded by the fact that his son would now be playing on the team, and as bad as Crean got it, his kid would get it so much worse.
In that, we the fanatics, the Hoosier Jihadis, devout in our belief of a vision of Indiana that died long ago, built around a man in Bob Knight even more fallible than the program we believed in, could quite possibly be the villains of this story. Villains because we all wanted more, more than what’s probably even possible.
Crean will be alright; the $4 million buyout clause in his contract, to be paid out over time, will take care of Crean and his family. Truth is, Crean may likely have a new job before the month is out, so he wins either way, at least in a manner of speaking.
Now that he’s finally gone, and the book can close on this chapter in Indiana history, it does feel a bit hollow, because as part of a rabid fan base, we stopped looking at a coach as a man, but rather an expendable obstacle. A nemesis instead of a leader, and because it’s over, the future, while undecided, still feels murky. Will our next coach be UCLA head coach and prodigal son Steve Alford? Will it be Oklahoma City’s Billy Donovan?
Whoever it is, will we love them long enough not to turn on them?
It remains to be seen, but it’s all part of the deal. This is the cost of fanaticism. This is what we signed up for, and for something so simple, so silly and so insignificant as sport, we will allow ourselves to be enslaved by our darker natures just for the even simpler pleasure of bragging rights.
I guess it’s complicated, but if I’m being honest, I don’t think I’d have it any other way.
Hashim R. Hathaway (Shimbo) is the host of the Never Daunted Radio Network, and proud father to NeverDaunted.Net. You can reach him on Twitter @NeverDauntedNet