Not long after taking the job as head basketball coach at Marquette University, Tom Crean held his first event on campus. "Coffee, Crean and Doughnuts," as it was called, was held in the Alumni Memorial Union and drew a courteous handful of students.
As Crean surveyed the thousands of fans packed into the Bradley Center in the early hours of March 3, 2007 for an ESPN GameDay broadcast, he recalled that event.
"I think about 17 people showed up on a Sunday night in the Union," Crean said. "I knew we had a lot to build, and here it is."
There it was, indeed. After spending just shy of a decade restoring Marquette as a legitimate national program and armed with the almost unprecedented security of a contract that ran through 2017, Crean bolted for what he thinks will be greener pastures and a brighter spotlight at Indiana University.
Crean recited that little tale during his introductory press conference Wednesday in Bloomington. In fact, much of what Crean had to say was eerily reminiscent of his first meeting with the Milwaukee media in March 1999.
Crean talked then about what a fan he was of Marquette while growing up in Michigan. He regaled with memories of watching Al McGuire's 1977 championship team. Wednesday, he talked about how enamored he was with Indiana's 1976 championship team.
In essence, it was vintage Crean. He worked a room like Sinatra at the Sands. He played the humble, appreciative and sometimes awestruck guy who was "just happy to be there." Hoosier Nation won't need long to realize who's in charge down there.
Marquette made him one of the nation's highest-paid coaches with a contract worth roughly $1.6 million a year. They built him a brand-spanking new practice facility (sure, it's the home of women's basketball, but let's be honest ... Crean was the one calling the shots) and rode his success into the Big East Conference.
The school gave him a 10-year extension, despite failing to win an NCAA Tournament game without Dwyane Wade (until this year). Speaking of Wade, the school agreed to his desire to retire Wade's number - oops, jersey - despite the fact that he had not graduated, which is university policy.
Tom Crean got everything he could have possibly wanted and more from Marquette. Yet, it wasn't enough.
During the Kevin O'Neill and Mike Deane eras at Marquette, just getting to the NCAA Tournament was enough. Crean, himself, upped the ante with the Final Four run and the move to the Big East. His record shows the following: one regular-season conference championship (2003, Conference USA); five NCAA Tournaments; one Sweet 16 and one Final Four.
Crean had the kind of political capital that George W. Bush could only dream of. His post-season record was rarely questioned here. The Wade Era transcended everything that Crean was able to or unable to accomplish in the years since. His inability to attract a quality big man may have been ok in the guard-oriented Big East, but how will that translate in the much more physical Big Ten?
You have to wonder now, how Crean's shtick will play in Bloomington. These people don't take kindly to mediocrity. Mike Davis, who replaced the legendary Bobby Knight, took the Hoosiers to the same number of Final Fours as Crean did with Marquette, but was run out of town after four seasons.
His less-than-amicable relationship with the local media won't be a big deal to scribes and broadcasters who dealt with Bobby Knight's antics for years, but how will he handle these reporters when he doesn't fulfill the lofty expectations of Hoosier Nation?
His detractors have called him every name in the book; a snake-oil salesman, a schemer, a master manipulator. His supporters have sung his praises for restoring glory to the Marquette program.
Many Golden Eagles fans, a majority of which drank the Crean Kool-Aid over the years, feel cheated and dejected. Even though college basketball is a business, they have every right to feel that way. They are, after all, the ones that packed the Bradley Center for countless games against opponents that would struggle against UW-Oshkosh. They're the ones that "took ownership" of the program, as Crean urged.
It is way, way too early to decide what Crean's Marquette legacy will be. But Marquette fans, take solace. Your program is leaps-and-bounds ahead of where it was when Crean was hired. He laid the foundation. He carried the ball to the one-yard line. Marquette is an attractive destination. Heck, it might even be an actual destination now. The Golden Eagles are going to be just fine.
Crean left the program in much better shape than it was when he came on board. The university, with a rich history, its Big East affiliation, a top-notch practice facility, a rabid fan base and the financial wherewithal, will attract a coach who should be able to continue the program's success and maybe take it to the next level.
And judging from the lack of bodies, the lack of scholarships and the soon-to-come NCAA sanctions that Crean will have to deal with, it's a safe bet that - even without Jerel McNeal and Dominic James next year - the Golden Eagles will be a much better team than Crean's Hoosiers.
It remains to be seen whether or not Crean is able to restore Indiana to its former glory. Maybe it will be easier to stomach his departure if he operates the same way he did along Wisconsin Avenue.
At the very least, you'll have to wonder if Indiana will let Crean hang Great Alaska Shootout and CBE Classic Championship banners next to the five national title banners in Assembly Hall.
Myke | April 3, 2008 at 6:51 p.m. (report)
AMEN to R.O.B.G.Y.N.Crean was a good recruiter & bad coach.His teams played very undisiplined & had the talent to win more than they did.All this BS from Crean about why he took the job.He said,"It's Indiana the pinnacle of college b-ball".Who's he trying to kid.Right now MU is as attractive if not more so than Indy.He took the job solely becauseof the obscene amout of overpayment the morons running IU spent to get him.I'm happy that this move will help insure UW's recent dominance of IU ! MU should be a very attractive move for much better coaches out there.A big East team loaded with talent. MU should act quick to keep it that way.
If not for Dwyane Wade this program would be nothing. Tom Crean was lucky to have one of the better college players of the past ten years on his team. I think his coaching style and decisions were terrible. i can't wait to see his true coaching come out in Indiana. I think he will fail miserably.
I think the ultimate "f you" to Indiana, its fans, and Crean would be to hire Bobby Knight to coach at MU and have him lead MU to the promised land again.
Booster | April 3, 2008 at 9:48 a.m. (report)
Crean made Marquette into a national player again. Sure he "did it his way," who doesn't? People hate success but also hate losing, it's no win. Crean made MU a ton of money and aided in getting the University record enrollment. He didn't do this (the communication of the move to IU) "right," but there wouldn't be a right way to leave in your eye and the eyes of many.
Fans want to "drink the kool aid," that's the definition of "fanatic." A great leader is a great sales person, motivator and "snake oil" seller. he/she, often, too is confident and even a bit cocky. That's fine.
Marquette is better off because of Crean, and the institution will be fine without him. GO MARQUETTE!
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