BLOOMINGTON – Now that Tony Bennett has bowed out, could Tom Crean suddenly be that "home run" candidate that everyone has been clamoring for?
Two years ago the Marquette coach was an oft-talked about name in the Hoosiers' coaching search, and for good reason. He has Midwestern roots and had been to a Final Four (2003), which was a prerequisite for anyone to be considered as Mike Davis' replacement.
An Indiana-Crean match didn't materialize two years ago, but could it this time around? While the nine-year head coaching veteran hasn't been on the tip of everyone's tongue in the last couple of weeks, there have been some rumblings as of late that he could be a possibility to replace Kelvin Sampson on a full-time basis.
There's plenty to like about the 42-year-old coach, who spent four years on Tom Izzo's Michigan State staff before heading to Marquette in 1999. He's compiled a 190-96 record during his eight seasons and has earned five trips to the NCAA tourney. He enjoyed his greatest success during the 2002 and 2003 seasons when Dwyane Wade was busy leading the Golden Eagles to a combined 53-13 record and a spot in the 2003 Final Four, but Crean has once built the Marquette program back into a player in the Big East.
Each of his last three years have won at least 20 games and earned NCAA invitations. This year's team was 25-10, advanced to the Big East Tournament semifinals, and lost to Stanford 82-81 in overtime in the second round of the NCAA Tournament.
Marquette has rewarded Crean nicely for his success. Since arriving in Milwaukee nine years ago he's been given four contract extensions, most recently in 2006 (when he was last rumored as an IU candidate). While the details of his contract aren't public, it's believed he makes approximately $1.7 million annually, and he's under contract through the 2016-17 season.
What Makes Him a Viable Candidate: He proved he can get a team to the Final Four when Dwyane Wade was in town, and he's since shown that he can compete a high level in the rugged Big East Conference. He's also considered a relentless recruiter and tireless worker (but also a demanding boss, something that also has a tendency to lead to plenty of turnover among his assistant coaches). Former Ball State head coach Tim Buckley is on his Marquette staff, so he'd have someone already on board who's very familiar with the state and its high school coaches. In addition, Crean has been rumored with some other high-profile jobs in recent years such as Kentucky and Kansas, and those haven't come to fruition. If Crean wants to make a jump to one of the so-called elite historical basketball programs – and that's a big if - he's only going to get so many chances.
What Makes Him a Longshot: According to the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel, Crean turned down a guaranteed $2.5 million deal last year to take over for Stan Heath at Arkansas. At the time, that deal would have made him the highest paid coach in college basketball. If that sort of money isn't enough to lure him away from Marquette, and he wasn't particularly interested in going to Indiana two years ago, it's hard to imagine he's going to be inclined to make the jump this time around. Marquette also built a $31 million practice facility in 2003, which combined with the 18,850-seat Bradley Center gives Crean the type of facilities that he needs to compete from a facility standpoint with any program that he recruits against.
HoosierNation.com's Take: Crean is in an interesting spot with the Golden Eagles for next season. His top four players – junior guards Jerel McNeal, Dominic James, Wesley Mathews and sophomore forward Lazar Haywood – are all due back in '09 and have the makings of a top-10 team nationally after this year's 25-win campaign. But both McNeal and James could be interested in testing their NBA stock. James tested the waters last season before returning, so he's either all in or all out this time around. McNeal, meanwhile, could be tempted to go after a huge finish to his junior season. While NBA riches are a temptation, neither has been rumored as a first-round pick. That means that both most likely will be back next season, and they'll likely be coached by Crean. Maybe it's time for everyone to accept that Crean is happy at Marquette and doesn't view it as a stepping stone to something bigger. When Marquette joined the Big East earlier this decade it rid itself of the "lesser conference" label that it toted around to some extent when it was in C-USA. Now Crean is in a marquee conference, he's able to recruit marquee players, and he's paid a marquee salary. He probably has everything he needs.
Could Crean Be a Home-Run Hire?
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