Stop me if you've heard this before, but Tom Crean is (apparently) on the hot seat. NBC Sports has been posting a number of lists recently as their preseason coverage amps up and on Wednesday they post their list for coaches on the hot seat, with Tom Crean coming in at first. Not to be outdone, Illinois head coach John Groce also made the cut coming in at fifth.
NBC Sports had the following to say about Crean:
The dismissal of three more players this offseason hasn’t made life any easier off the floor. Indiana’s president isn’t pleased with the off-the-court developments and many prominent Indiana alums have been vocal about the Hoosiers falling below expectations.
In case you forgot, it took Tom Crean a few seasons to turnaround the Hoosiers after he inherited an absolute mess from Kelvin Sampson and company. It took three disastrous seasons, winning a total of 28 games combined over the span, but Crean eventually got the Hoosiers over the hump. The increase in success led to an immediate increase in expectations and the Hoosiers were seen as one of the most talented, if not the most talented, team in 2012-13. Things didn't pan out, though, as a top seeded Hoosiers were knocked out by Syracuse in the Sweet 16. The following season the Hoosiers won only 17 games and missed the tournament, leading to plenty of speculation pertaining to Crean's job security.
That of course led to the fiasco that was last season. Entering the season more or less on the hot seat, Crean's security was considered iffy by the media and his in-game decision making was heavily criticized. Flash forward to a four game winning streak in mid-January, highlighted by wins over Maryland and Ohio State, and suddenly every writer was penning a column on how Crean was the frontrunner for Big Ten Coach of the Year. He then of course struggled throughout the rest of the regular season, going 4-8 (two wins against Rutgers) and failing to beat a team that made the postseason during that stretch. Following another early postseason exit, this time to Wichita State in their first game, and the hot seat crept back into conversation.
Of course everyone eventually remembered that this team returns a loaded roster, including Yogi Ferrell, James Blackmon and Troy Williams, added five-star recruit Thomas Bryant and had more than enough talent to contend at the top of the Big Ten. With Indiana projected towards the top of the Big Ten and most people pinning them in the preseason top 20, the hot seat surrounding Crean seemed to disappear over night. Well, until his team had a number of run-ins during the offseason.
Back on the hot seat.
It's kind of amazing how often Crean has bounced back and forth on the hot seat over the last few years, even more so when you approach some of the main points of criticism aimed at him. Look at his first three seasons, when the lack of success was inevitable based off of what he inherited and the school-induced sanctions. Yet when attempting to criticize Crean, numerous people use those years to make his overall success seem decisively lesser. Then look at all of the off-the-court legal issues, which are a problem if we're being honest. However, whenever Crean is underachieving they're seen as a massive issue worth holding against Crean...until he starts winning and they get brushed aside without much thought.
The ultimate reality is for any of Crean's shortcoming and the disciplinary issues his players have had, if the Hoosiers win all will be forgiven. Considering the nature of collegiate sports (or sports in general), that's not exactly a foreign or unheard of idea. The interesting aspect is that Crean jumps back and forth from being on the hot seat to having solid job security seemingly every few months, with everyone apparently upset with his performance until the Hoosiers get hot for a few weeks and everything goes back to being fine. It shows the fickle nature of college basketball and the "win now...or else" mentality shown by so many fan bases, most of which are considerably more impatient than the athletic departments that make actual coaching decisions.
You don't even have to look very far to see another hot seat turnaround, with Indiana's rival Purdue having their fan base out for blood when it came to Matt Painter and his job as the Boilermakers head coach. Painter was put on the 'hot seat' by the fan base, thanks to social media and an extremely vocal fan base that voiced their desire for the school to move on from Painter, only for Purdue to turn things around out of nowhere in January and make an improbable run to the tournament. Now Purdue fans are the most excited they've been for a season since JaJuan Johnson, E'Twaun Moore and Robbie Hummel were still on campus. Even Maryland head coach Mark Turgeon was apparently on the hot seat heading into last season.
Interestingly enough three head coaches heading into last season 'on the hot seat' are now coaching three of the teams considered to be the best in the conference. Maybe it's the always on nature of the internet and sports media, forcing people to talk about something, but how quickly the perspective on a coach changes from week to week is borderline ridiculous and shows how ill-fated most talk of the hot seat really is. Even if Tom Crean is actually on the hot seat, in a month or two any opinion written on him will most likely already be irrelevant anyway.