There’s been no shortage of criticism lately for Tom Crean. His postgame antics following IU’s dramatic, Big Ten title-clinching victory over Michigan Sunday has drawn the ire of both local and national pundits. The IU coach’s confrontation with Michigan coach Jeff Meyer has been called “classless” and in “poor taste.”
I’ll agree that Crean made an error. But not on the court.
After the Hoosiers’ road victory, which guaranteed the school its first conference championship in two decades, WRTV caught Crean for a few inaudible moments before he told Meyer, a former IU assistant under Kelvin Sampson, “you know what you did. You helped wreck the program.”
And he’s right. Meyer has almost admitted as much. In 2008, he apologized for the “painful and humiliating experience” Sampson and staff created for the program that lead to a three-year probation, among other deeply damaging sanctions. Even if his role was “limited” like he claimed in illegally calling recruits and later lying about it, Meyer was indicted just the same.
So why fault Crean for being honest? The argument from critics seems to boil down to three points: Handle the matter in private. Don’t distract from the team’s victory. Show sportsmanship and take the high road.
Crean’s actions did create a story of its own. At least one IU player had to answer questions about the incident and the clip of the confrontation almost entered Tebow territory Monday with the amount of replays on ESPN. On the court, Crean was visibly heated and restrained after a few seconds in front of the Michigan coach. Later on the team plane, Crean called Meyer and offered an apology.
The IU coach may have lost his temper, but his choice of words (that were audible) was far from controversial. And it’s not like he tried to fight Meyer. He stood up to a man who has suffered few consequences since losing his job at IU and being hired at Michigan before the next season.
While Meyer headed to Ann Arbor, Mich., it was left to Crean and his staff to pull Indiana from the “deep decay” left behind. It was Crean and his staff that sat in living rooms and convinced recruits that Hoosier hoops would return to prominence despite its losing seasons. It was his players that played under probation. After overcoming all that, it seems odd that anyone from IU would owe Meyer an apology.
And after Sunday’s win—a signature moment of the Crean era—something sparked the Hoosier coach to publicly show his disgust for someone who indeed helped wreck a proud program. It may not have been an ideal forum, but it put another spotlight on how the Hoosiers have prevailed over adversity. That is not classless, that’s courageous. If NCAA coaches are tasked with teaching student-athletes integrity, it seems odd to totally dismiss his decision because the timing wasn’t right.
The Hoosiers have played well enough the past two years to mostly make the Sampson-Meyer years a distant memory. The sanctions will always be a part of the program’s history though. It’s unavoidable, even if the coaches that made the mess can skip town to other jobs.
Crean doesn’t a spotless record with the NCAA and the program hasn’t avoided all penalties since he took the helm. But he is leading Hoosier basketball and has the right to confront those who have done the school wrong. He shouldn’t apologize for choosing Sunday for one of those moments. I won’t fault Crean for it, even if he disagrees.