Tom Crean

Photo: Forbes

Tom Crean is an American basketball coach from Mount Pleasant, Michigan. He has coached several prominent programs including Marquette, Indiana, and Georgia. He oversaw one of the greatest program rebuilds in college basketball history, taking over a depleted Indiana squad and turning around the program within four years. He reached three Sweet 16 appearances with Indiana and made one trip to the Final Four with Marquette. He coached several future NBA players including Dwyane Wade and Victor Oladipo. He is widely known as one of the best recruiters and talent evaluators in all of college basketball.

  • Name: Thomas Aaron Crean
  • Nationality: USA
  • Age: 58 years old
  • Birthday: March 25, 1966
  • Hometown: Mount Pleasant, Michigan
  • College: Central Michigan University
  • Coaching Career:
    • Mount Pleasant High School (assistant)
    • Alma College (assistant, 1987-1989)
    • Michigan State (graduate assistant, 1989-1990)
    • Western Kentucky (assistant, 1990-1994)
    • Pittsburgh (assistant, 1994-1995)
    • Michigan State (assistant, 1995-1999)
    • Marquette (1999-2008)
    • Indiana (2008-2017)
    • Georgia (2018-Present)

Tom Crean’s High School and College Career

Crean was a member of the Mount Pleasant High School basketball team but rarely played. He was known as a decent shooter but lacked the strength and athleticism to garner more minutes.

In fact, Crean was nearly cut from the team his junior year, but the coach decided to keep him around because of his love for the game and relationship with the coaching staff. Eventually, he began leading scout teams as a practice player. Crean also became a regular in the basketball camp circuits, not as a player but as a talent scout and assistant to camp officials and coaches. He quickly became known for his likability and instinct for networking. He was respected by many coaches for his basketball IQ but also his curiosity and willingness to ask questions to deepen his knowledge.

Outside of basketball, Crean was a popular, outgoing student in high school. He was even named “best dressed” in his yearbook.

After high school, he enrolled at Central Michigan University. He didn’t have much interest in academics but understood that a degree was necessary to pursue a coaching career. While in college, he began working as an assistant for Mount Pleasant High School.

Tom Crean’s Coaching Career

Early Years

While still in college, Crean earned a job as an assistant basketball coach at nearby Alma College after nailing a job interview held at the local Arby’s. Despite being the same age as some of the players he was coaching, he never seemed out of place and many around him quickly realized coaching was not just a fad, but a career path.

Crean’s networking eventually paid off as he became friends with then-Michigan State assistant Tom Izzo who talked positively about him to MSU head coach Jud Heathcote. While initially skeptical of the hire, Heathcote gave in after Izzo’s passionate pitch.

Heathcote recalls Izzo saying, “this guy is off the charts in what he knows about players. He’s always thinking about basketball. Not anything else.”

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Thus, Crean secured a graduate assistant position with the Spartans.

After a season in East Lansing, Crean then got an assistant coaching position with Western Kentucky after Heathcote called in a favor with someone on staff. While Crean had never recruited in the south before, he still knew the names of all of the top recruits and continually impressed people with his pre-Internet knowledge of players. Crean also met his wife Joani Harbaugh, sister of football coaches John and Jim Harbaugh, during his time at WKU. Her dad, Jack, was Western Kentucky’s head football coach at the time.

He spent four seasons at Western Kentucky before one year at Pittsburgh. He then returned to Michigan State as an assistant coach. MSU improved each year with Crean on staff, culminating in a trip to the Final Four in 1999. Crean even lived with Izzo while on staff.

Despite departing before the season, Michigan State honored Crean with a 2000 National Championship ring because he was instrumental in recruiting and developing several of the players.

Marquette University

Crean was named the head coach of Marquette University on March 30, 1999. Once the job became available, he was instantly interested in Marquette because of its tradition and history of being a basketball school. He was 33 when he took the position.

Among his first tasks on the job were to improve the team’s image in the community. As a result, he put more emphasis on media days and created a Marquette version of “Midnight Madness.”

Crean hit the ground running and his first recruiting class was widely considered top 20 in the nation. This was one of Marquette’s best recruiting classes in years.

During his first two seasons, Marquette went 15-14. However, their fortune turned around quickly, jumping to 26-7 in 2001-2002. This was followed up by a 27-6 season that took Marquette to the Final Four and is one of the school’s best seasons in history. He also oversaw the school’s transition from Conference USA to the Big East.

Photo: OnMilwaukee

During his time at Marquette, Crean coached several notable college players including Dominic James, Travis Diener, Steve Novak, and Dwyane Wade.

Wade was an important figure in Crean’s career. It showed Crean could coach the very best talent in the country and his continued relationship with Wade later would help with recruiting as several players joined Crean’s teams hoping they could replicate Wade’s success under his tutelage. Wade was a highly touted recruit on the court but had academic issues in high school. As a result, he was only recruited by Marquette, Illinois State, and DePaul. In fact, Wade had to sit out his freshman season because his academic performance was not sufficient for the NCAA’s Proposition 48. After extensive tutoring, Wade was able to gain eligibility and made an instant impact for the Golden Eagles. He averaged 17.8 points as a sophomore in his first season on the court and followed it up with a 21.5 points per game average as a junior. After helping the team reach the Final Four, Wade was named to the AP All-America First Team, making him the first Marquette player to receive the distinction in nearly 25 years.

Overall, Crean went 190-96 (66.4% winning percentage) over nine seasons.

Indiana University

On April 1, 2008, Crean was hired by Indiana University.

After accepting the position, he stated “This was a heart decision, not a business decision.”

Crean came to Indiana at a time of turmoil. The Hoosiers were fresh off of Kelvin Sampson’s NCAA violations. Eric Gordon had left for the NBA and interim coach Dan Dakich had recently kicked two players off of the team. In fact, when Crean took over, IU had only two players on the roster and they were both walk-ons. Despite the difficulty of the situation, Crean was eager to take over and rebuild the program.

Photo: AP

As expected, his tenure got off to a rough start. With a roster depleted of the type of talent that typically plays for Indiana, Crean went 6-25 during his first season – the worst record in school history. The next two seasons saw more of the same with only 10 and 12 victories overall. Despite these losing seasons, his recruiting slowly began to improve and he started to lay the foundation for a successful turnaround.

His fortunes drastically changed in his fourth season. Crean earned the commitment of 5-star recruit and McDonald’s All-American Cody Zeller. With Zeller, IU jumped to 27 wins (up from 12 the year before) and went all the way to the Sweet 16. The drastic improvement signaled Indiana’s return to the spotlight. The turnaround was widely regarded as one of the best rebuilding projects in college basketball history. That season Indiana took down #1 Kentucky, #2 Ohio State, and #5 Michigan State. Crean was named the Sporting News Big Ten Coach of the Year and National Coach of the Year.

The next season was also an enormous success. Indiana signed five major recruits, including Yogi Ferrell. The recruiting class called themselves “the movement.” IU was dominant, spending 10 weeks at #1 and nearly the entire season (except for two weeks) in the top five. The Hoosiers won the first outright Big Ten regular-season title in 20 years and was a #1 seed in the NCAA Tournament. The season culminated in 29 victories and yet another trip to the Sweet 16. Other notable names that were major contributors to the team, include Jordan Hulls, Christian Watford, and Victor Oladipo.

Photo: AP

Crean’s teams struggled from 2013-2015, winning 17 and 20 games respectively. In 2015-2016, Indiana rebounded and went on to 27 wins in route to being the Big Ten regular-season champions. Indiana also made their third trip to the Sweet 16 under Crean that season. Crean was named the Big Ten Coach of the Year.

The 2016-2017 season ended in disappointment by missing the NCAA Tournament and only 18 wins, despite at one point being ranked the #3 in the polls. Indiana lost to Georgia Tech in the first round of the NIT.

Throughout his final season, rumors were swirling about Crean’s future. While he received enormous credit for the rebuild, some questioned whether he could take the team to the next level. Similarly, there were rumors that some in the administration were not happy with his recruiting strategy. While he routinely signed top recruits, some in the administration believed he should have been prioritizing in-state recruits, as Indiana was routinely losing local talent to Purdue, Michigan State, Michigan, and other Midwest universities. Others defended Crean, saying it did not matter where the recruits were from as long as they were talented and a good fit for the program/university. Nonetheless, he was firmly on the hot-seat most of the 2016-2017 season.

Indiana fired Crean on March 16, 2017.

Over nine seasons with the Hoosiers, Crean overall record was 166-135 (55.1% winning percentage).

University of Georgia

After taking a year off to work as a broadcaster for ESPN, Crean was named head coach of Georgia on March 15, 2018. In February 2019, Crean signed the top-ranked shooting guard in the nation Anthony Edwards. Edwards wanted to work with Crean because he coached two of his favorite players, Dwyane Wade and Victor Oladipo, during their college years.

Coaching Philosophy

Crean’s teams emphasized fast breaks and transition offense. He valued team spacing and efficient shot selection. Defensively, he encouraged his teams to create deflections and apply constant ball pressure.

He is widely considered one of the best recruiters and one of the best talent evaluators in all of college basketball.

Off the court, he often talks about his commitment to family and his religious background. He is known for his charismatic style and personable interviews. He also studies leadership and is rumored to have quite a collection of coaching and business biographies.

Tom Crean Videos

Contributor: Mike Pudlow