For IM’s recent look at head coach Tom Crean and Indiana basketball (“Seeing Red”), we sought out someone who’s opinion really matters: his boss. Here’s what Fred Glass—who replaced Rick Greenspan as director of athletics shortly after Crean started at IU—had to say about his most high-profile employee:
Do the opinions of fans and media influence your decision-making with regard to IU basketball?
First, I love that people care. I love that people are passionate about it. Sometimes they articulate it in a way that I think is not constructive, but that goes with the territory and the modern world, with social media and an anonymous courthouse.
The bottom line is, I’m really glad they care, and I’m really glad they’re passionate. The same thing that creates passion for people to stand in line around the block to get autographs at a scrimmage, is the same thing that gets people to say things like, “I could break the 2-1-2 press on my fourth-grade CYO team—why can’t you guys?” I get that. I think that’s an important part of what Indiana basketball is about. I learned from my government days that you need to take criticism seriously, but not personally.
The great thing about criticism—I try and tell my staff this, and my coaches—is that if it’s accurate, then it gives you an opportunity to make changes. And if you don’t perceive it as being accurate, then you just need to ignore it and not worry about it. That’s the approach I try to take. The reality of it is that in a job like this, I’m going to be criticized no matter what I do. If I try to chase what I think is popular, that’s a loser’s game. That’s a fool’s errand. As long as I can listen to all that information, get good advice, and then look in the mirror and feel like I made the right decision, I try to not worry about what people think. Because they’re going to think that no matter what I decide.
Lots of IU fans seem to believe that Crean doesn’t know how to coach.
I think it’s totally absurd. I’ve seen the guy up close, seen the way he breaks down film and coaches these guys, both on individual skills and strategy. I’ve believed since the beginning that he is not only a great recruiter, which people seem to acknowledge. He not only a great developer of talent, which I think his naysayers grudgingly acknowledge. He’s a great X’s-and-O’s coach. I didn’t need this year to have that confirmed for me. Especially through the first third of the Big Ten season, he was taking guys that didn’t fit traditional roles and creating match-up challenges in an up-tempo, successful offense, in an era when offenses kind of suck around the country.
What voices beside fans and media do you listen to?
I don’t think there is anybody who doesn’t give me input. My barber, my butcher, deans and vice presidents—everybody has a view, a thought, an idea. And that’s awesome. It’s like what I was saying before: I love that passion. I really can’t go anywhere without people sharing ideas, pros and cons, encouraging and critical. That’s awesome, man, because they care, and they’re deep into Indiana basketball.
“It figuratively bootstraps itself into being perceived as a legitimate story. Then The Boston Globe has something with this real tantalizing headline.”
Was there any truth to reports last year that former IU great Mike Woodson was a candidate to replace Crean?
None. And there is no truth to any rumor of us being interested in anybody coaching this team but Tom Crean. I think it is really challenging for any mainstream reporter, because there is all this stuff out there on the blogosphere and Twitter, and then at some point somebody writes a column, and the hook for the story becomes, “People are saying …” It figuratively bootstraps itself into being perceived as a legitimate story, then The Boston Globe has something with this real tantalizing headline, then you read the story and it has a big bunch of nothing in it. I can say without equivocation that there is no truth to any of that stuff. We haven’t talked to anybody, or thought of anybody, or anything, period. There is this rumor out there that Indianapolis money people are threatening to withhold donations unless a change is made. That’s just not true. I haven’t had anybody threaten to withhold any donation, about anything, or even encourage a change to be made. It’s just not true.
What are your expectations for IU basketball?
I think everybody’s expectations are the same—mine, Tom’s, Hoosier Nation, the players. Hang a sixth banner. I don’t think Indiana is really satisfied, nor should it be satisfied, with anything less. Everything is driven toward that. Even those days when we literally were having a hard time fielding a team to put on the floor, I think it was understood by everybody involved that what we were striving for was a sixth national championship. I think everybody recognized—I certainly recognized—it would be a long road from where we were then, just making sure the substance of what IU basketball was matched the perception of IU basketball.
I think we had fallen behind a bit in terms of facilities—remember, this was all pre–Cook Hall. We probably fell a little bit behind in terms of funding, in terms of our recruiting budgets and so forth. A lot of what Tom and I worked on together was identifying the resources and providing the resources to bring Indiana basketball back to elite status.
Did you establish any measurable goals for coach Crean and the basketball program short of winning a sixth national championship?
I know this may seem like the wrong answer, but it is really “no.” I take that approach with all of our sports, not just men’s basketball, because I don’t think the administrator is really doing their job if they set what I consider to be arbitrary goals, and then go down the hall and have a cup of coffee and wait to see if it comes out. Then it’s on automatic pilot, right? Because if you don’t make a bowl game, don’t win more than you lose, don’t finish in the top three in the conference, then the person is out, or whatever. I don’t think intercollegiate athletics is that way. It’s driven so much by injuries to players or what particular conference you are in, or what the strength of the league is in any given year.
But in terms of setting measurable goals, we didn’t do that. Frankly, in those early years I think that would have been particularly inappropriate. But I thought he should’ve been a candidate for national coach of the year just for keeping head and home together those first couple of years. Those were tough years and he did a great job.
What did the men’s basketball program look like when you first came on board as athletics director?
Well, I came in as a result of the Kelvin Sampson fallout, and Tom and I really started at the same time in terms of the basketball cycle. With the major infractions case [brought by the NCAA] and some sanctions rising out of that, basically the team was completely gone, and two players returned who averaged maybe two points between them. So it certainly wasn’t the situation Tom expected when he came in. It still looked like there were some pretty good players here [when Crean accepted the head-coaching job], but they either left or Tom appropriately invited them to leave.
We were certainly, I think, at the absolute nadir of Indiana basketball. Early on, we were sort of in a survival mode, to put a team together to be able to play on the court. We had baseball players on the team, and walk-ons, and guys we had recruited from the HPER building [on campus]. It was really just kind of us stabilizing everything and then trying to build back up to where Indiana University needs to be as one the elite basketball programs in the country.
When you were considering the AD position, how did you feel about having Crean already in place as head basketball coach?
To me it was a great positive. My father went to Marquette, and my oldest son went to Marquette, so I’ve always followed Marquette, and therefore followed Tom Crean. I’d go up to Milwaukee for parents’ weekend and so forth, and see him coaching, and see the way he interacted with the fans and saw what he rebuilt there—a program that had proud tradition. It had fallen on hard times until Tom brought it back. I was very encouraged, and I am very encouraged, that Tom is here. Just as a fan, I really hoped that they would have hired Tom when they hired Kelvin Sampson.
The 2012–13 Sweet Sixteen season showed how crazy IU fans can get when they have a team to get excited about.
Guys like us [from Indiana], we kind of grew up with it and know it’s cool, but we don’t sometimes know how cool and unusual and distinctive it is. I think the cool thing about Hoosier Nation is not only did they come back and light the place up when we were rolling, but when we were terrible we still sold the place out. We did some things to encourage people to come, with $5 tickets in the balcony, and we wanted to keep the pump primed. By and large, Hoosier Nation really responded. I can’t tell you how many people said, Hey, man, I had a lot more fun watching this team go 6 and 25, then the team the year before.
That’s one of the great things about IU fans. It starts with the bedrock of, Look, we’re not going to break the rules, and we’re going to go to class, and then we’re going to still beat you because we’re going to be really good. Frankly, that’s why the Kelvin Sampson piece was so devastating, because we weren’t following the rules, and we weren’t doing what we needed to do academically.
A lot fans think the program took a step backward last season.
I think Tom would be the first one to say, and I would agree with him, that we took a step back. If you’re at Indiana, and you don’t qualify for a major postseason tournament, it’s a disappointing year. That is sort of a baseline, that we expect to be there and doing that. The fact that we had done it two years in a row and had some success, and then didn’t go, I think can only be described as a disappointing year.
I don’t want to sound like I’m making excuses, but we lost five [future professionals] and two top draft picks. As crazy as it sounds, at the beginning of the year it wasn’t a forgone conclusion that Victor Oladipo would go pro. I think a lot of people hoped that maybe Cody [Zeller] wouldn’t go pro. It wasn’t out of the realm of possibility that we’d get a couple of those guys back. So I don’t think it was a result of bad planning by Tom, we just lost some key guys, and still I think had a little more success than people give us credit for, in terms of beating nationally ranked teams and teams people didn’t expect us to beat. I think we lost to Connecticut by one point—they were eventually the national champion. We beat Wisconsin—they were in the Final Four.
“Columnists were calling for him to be fired before the next game. I felt it was really important to say that’s not on the table.”
What was your personal reaction to the basketball team’s off-court player misconduct last fall?
I was mad. More than disappointed, more than embarrassed, I was angry. I don’t think any of those things, taken alone or taken together, can be or should be dismissed as, Well, these are college kids, and my kid did that, or my nephew did that, or my neighbor does that. Even though some of that is accurate, it’s unacceptable in that kind of pattern. I think it runs contrary to not only what Indiana basketball is about, but what Tom Crean is about. I know for sure there was no winking or nodding, or boys-will-be-boys mentality, by Tom, and so I was angry about it.
Having said that, I felt that these kids at their core were good kids. If Tom and I didn’t believe that, they wouldn’t still be here, and every day is another audition, I suppose: There is no warranty that one of these guys isn’t going to do something dumb. But I think they’ve really embraced the challenge of limiting those distractions and coming together as a team. I’m optimistic that we’ve got that largely behind us.
Why did you feel it was important to come out and express confidence in coach Crean and the program when those incidents came to the public’s attention?
I worked closely with him and believed that he wasn’t running a program and kind of letting the guys do that. I think under the circumstances, all of us needed to look in the mirror to see what we can do better. I think Tom appropriately acknowledged that he could do some things better, and he wished he could turn back the clock. I thought about things that I could do better and the department could do better. Even though I thought we had done a lot of things to set the tone and have consequences and educate the kids, by the results it obviously wasn’t enough. We as leaders, administrators, and caretakers need to do the right things, and Tom embraced that. I just didn’t think he was doing things, or not doing things, that were directly leading to this kind of nonsense.
There was so much stuff swirling around out there about that situation and about Tom. Columnists were calling for him to be fired before the next game. I felt it was really important to say that’s not on the table. That’s not where we are.
Hannah Hall contributed to this article; interview has been edited for length and clarity.
Crean photo by Tony Valainis; Glass photo by Mike Dickbernd courtesy IU Athletics