Insider: Fred Glass sets bar high — now he has to clear it

Zach Osterman
Tom Crean

BLOOMINGTON – Indiana fired Tom Crean on Thursday, ending his nine-year tenure in Bloomington. The university announced the move — which promises to have far-reaching implications on the athletics department, Athletic Director Fred Glass’ legacy and college basketball at large — via a news release that in no uncertain terms spelled out the sky-high expectations waiting for his new hire.

“The expectations for Indiana University basketball are to perennially contend for and win multiple Big Ten championships, regularly go deep into the NCAA tournament, and win our next national championship — and more after that,” Glass said Thursday, parroting that release. “We will identify and recruit a coach who will help us meet these expectations.”

Sitting alone at a desktop in the press room of Simon Skjodt Assembly Hall on Thursday afternoon, Glass began a 38-minute meeting with the media by rereading that two-paragraph statement.

He spent the rest of his news conference defending Indiana as a top-tier job in college basketball, ensuring neither status nor resources would obstruct him from pursuing the right candidates.

• GREGG DOYELFor IU, Tom Crean was not enough

• MOREPotential candidates to replace Tom Crean

In short, Fred Glass has set the bar as high as possible.

“I think this is one of the best jobs in college basketball,” he said. “I think through a variety of situations, we haven’t been there since 1987. I think sometimes, those of us who are so close to it at Indiana don’t step back and recognize what an extraordinary job this is.”

His reference to 1987, of course, is a direct mention of Indiana’s last national championship.

It has been 30 years since then. It has been 15 years since the Hoosiers played to the Final Four. In the last 17 years, the university has fired more head coaches than it has won Big Ten titles.

So, as he set that extraordinarily high bar for Crean’s replacement Thursday, Glass was confronted with questions over whether Indiana might be expecting too much of itself. Whether the program’s national brand has — through controversy, corruption and a basic lack of consistent success — atrophied beyond the scope of Glass’ expectations.

“I don’t accept that,” Glass said. “I think somebody suggested that if I fired Tom Crean, I ought to come out in a Members Only jacket, because it was 1980.

“Even though that was my era, I didn’t have a Members Only jacket.”

Glass’ “era” is relevant to this. He’s a two-time IU alumnus who was a high school student at Brebeuf Jesuit when the Hoosiers finished the 1975-76 season undefeated. He was an undergraduate for Bob Knight’s second national championship in 1981.

When he speaks about those expectations, he’s speaking from experience.

And when he spoke Thursday about Crean, Glass alternated between a glowing assessment of his former coach as a person, and making it clear that his decision to move on was based not solely on IU’s 18-16 campaign just concluded.

That “this wasn’t a one-year decision or a four-year decision — it was a nine-year decision,” Glass said.

Yet it’s hard to shake the feeling that Crean might still have a job had this season not veered so violently off course.

As of Thursday afternoon, the trophy Indiana won for beating Kansas, in the Armed Forced Classic in November, still sat in the foyer of the men’s basketball offices at Cook Hall. Next to it, the crystal-engraved Big Ten coach of the year trophy Crean won barely more than 12 months ago.

• MORETimeline of Tom Crean's tenure at IU

• RECRUITINGCrean couldn't maintain initial in-state success

Reminders of how recently Crean was achieving the kind of success Glass outlined Thursday, and of how rapidly the good standing of last season — a Big Ten title, an NCAA tournament win over Kentucky, a Sweet 16 appearance — evaporated.

When Glass spoke about a “nine-year decision,” though, he pointed to a lack of consistency in Crean’s stewardship that, in nearly a decade, couldn’t be eradicated.

Indiana finished the last six seasons fifth, first, ninth, seventh, first and 10th in the Big Ten. The Hoosiers missed the NCAA tournament in as many of those seasons as they won the conference. He leaves Bloomington with a winning record, in league play, over two just Big Ten teams: Penn State and Rutgers.

In the end, Glass — and by extension, Indiana — expected more.

“Even though we have had success (under Crean), I just think between and within seasons, it’s just been too inconsistent,” Glass said.

So the page turns.

Glass said Crean will receive his full $4 million buyout, spread over the final three-plus years of his contract. That would be offset by any future earnings Crean might receive from another job in the sport, whether as a head coach, as an assistant or in media.

And Glass wouldn’t close the door on anything relating to the quality or location of Crean's replacement.

A coach with in-state ties? “Double-check plus.” A sitting NBA coach? Would just be “a detail.” Potential costs? “Resources won’t prevent us from getting who we want.”

In short, no stone unturned, no avenue unexplored, no door not knocked on. Glass basically wouldn’t rule out any potential candidate Thursday, beyond those with a history of NCAA infractions or player abuse.

Whoever that person is, he’ll walk into a program in far better shape because of Crean’s nine years, and he’ll have to grapple with expectations that couldn’t be set much higher.

The defining weeks of Glass' tenure as athletic director begin now. He has set the bar stunningly high, first for himself in identifying and hiring a new coach, and then for that coach in meeting those expectations.

Follow IndyStar reporter Zach Osterman on Twitter: @ZachOsterman.