So Georgia has a new head men’s basketball coach, and it’s a guy with a Final Four under his belt, who was fired by a Big 10 school 12 months ago, and their first name begins with a T. Welcome to Athens, Tom Crean.
So what did we just hire? Well, from all accounts, a guy who will be a good ambassador and promoter of the program, do things the “right way” from an NCAA perspective, has some solid offenses, and can recruit pretty well. He’s also reportedly a bit prickly, not the best at teaching defense, and can have issues with transfers.
Crean started his coaching career at Michigan St, under then head man Jud Heathcote. Well, let’s back up. He actually started his coaching career while in college at Central Michigan, as an assistant at his former high school in Michigan. He joined Heathcote’s staff as a grad assistant upon graduating from Central Michigan, before moving to Western Kentucky a year later to be an assistant coach under Ralph Willard. It was there Crean met the daughter of Western Kentucky football coach Jack Harbaugh, his now wife and sister of Michigan and Baltimore Raven football head men Jim and John Harbaugh. Crean went with Willard to Pitt for a year before returning to East Lansing to coach under Tom Izzo.
The first head coaching job was at Marquette, where he landed a pretty significant recruit in Dwayne Wade. The pair led the Golden Eagles to their only Final Four appearance not under Hall of Fame coach Al McGuire (who won a title there in his final season of 1977). A pair of NIT seasons followed before the Big East came calling. And in three seasons of Big East play, Crean led Marquette to the NCAA Tournament each year. Then Indiana called, and after nine seasons in Milwaukee Crean took over a decimated Hoosier program.
The rebuild took time, but after three years stuck to the bottom, the program jumped up to a pair of Sweet Sixteen appearances in years 4 and 5, and a Big Ten conference title in that 5th season of 2012-13. The bulk of that team graduated or went pro, as the Hoosiers failed to make a tournament the following season. But they were back dancing in year 7 and in the Sweet 16 in year 8, although both seasons saw several players transfer out prior to their beginning. That third Sweet 16 and second Big Ten regular season title was the beginning of the end though. And an NIT run in year 9 was not good enough for the proud program that decided to part ways with the inconsistent and eccentric Crean.
So what exactly is Georgia getting here? A coach that can win, but has ups and downs. He and Indiana were always an awkward fit, and the situation in Athens could be more accommodating than the extreme focus of an entire state as the man trying to fill Bobby Knight’s sweater. Or he could be a fish out of water in the south and now much more competitive SEC basketball landscape. The biggest questions are how he chooses to fill his assistant staff, with many Georgia fans hoping promising assistant and former Dawg Jonas Hayes sticks around to continue his good work on the recruiting trails and with our post players, and how Crean may have learned from issues that led to his Indiana departure.
All in all, Greg McGarity landed one of the two he was after, a “proven” coach with several years of quality success, a better NCAA track record in his 18 years on a bench than in Georgia’s entire hoops history, and as he turns 52 on March 25th, one who would be capable of several years on the Georgia bench should he find a way to replicate similar success (and hopefully more consistency in that success) in Athens.