It’s a study of contrasts. Tom Crean had it right at Indiana as far as selling himself and the program.
Tom Crean’s efforts in the beginning of his run at Indiana did not necessarily make sense there, but they make sense here. Crean’s promotions of himself and the program were the right way to promote at a school that has doubts, hostility and a non-existent culture. The point is to elevate Georgia Basketball to being on equal ground and understanding where the low-hanging fruit is. Tom Crean was able to understand this, but just executed his tactics at a school that did not require such an approach (Indiana). It’s important to draw distinctions between Crean and his predecessor Mark Fox.
Who are you selling?
The Mark Fox Way: It’s about rewarding ticket-holders and paying patrons. Went with Mark Richt on 8 of 9 UGA Bulldog Club meetings. It was all about fundraising and talk. There were no clear targeted audiences. It’s a tough sell since most of these audiences are so far away from any potential Basketball venue to be engaged.
The Tom Crean Way: Engaged the students first. He even addressed the student body at Indiana. The energy comes from the student section and selling the next generation. He sold the local community everywhere he went and he did it in unconventional fashion. Crean would have attended the 2008 Little 500, but had prior engagements with his kids in Milwaukee. However, it would definitely not be a surprise to see him do more than just attend G-Day like his predecessor. It would not be a surprise to see Crean at the Athens Twilight Criterium and even make an appearance at AthFest in June. Crean wants students, alumni and the local Athens community involved.
What’s Your Message?
The Mark Fox Way: Fox leaned heavily on Mark Richt for guidance and he was self-limiting about what Georgia Basketball could be from the very beginning. Damon Evans had to carry the language in the articles about the hire. Fox knew certain details about this position, but as we all found out Michael Adams had to tell him what he was really in for with this job (the 10-12 Year Plan). Fox was intimidated and too eager to be second-fiddle. Fox did not seem to have a message early on until he decided to accept a sidekick role to Mark Richt and Kirby Smart supporting the Football Program at the expense of his own.
The Tom Crean Way: Crean spoke to a few coaches he knew about the role. His message is quite clear, the days of complete imbalance of support are over. Crean wants buy-in from everyone to not only win, but to get to a point where demand exceeds supply at Stegeman Coliseum. Crean wants the party atmosphere every night and he wants a versatile style of play. Crean wants Midnight Madness back at Georgia, which is something that was tried once by Mark Fox and it was a complete flop because it was promoted and executed rather poorly. In fact, prior to Basketbash any time the subject of Midnight Madness came up as a suggestion, the response was always, “We don’t do things that way.”
The message is quite clear, “Put Football and Basketball on equal footing.” It’s very apparent that Kirby Smart wants a lively atmosphere in Athens on Game Days/Nights so that he can sell recruits himself. Tailgaters and a festive atmosphere will raise eyebrows. Basketball must be a part of the social fabric among students and alumni.
What’s the Goal?
The Mark Fox Way: Doing things the right way. Being solid citizens.
The Tom Crean Way: National Championships, Conference Championships, bringing that same passion on Football Saturdays to “The Steg”. Providing UGA with even greater recognition globally. Creating future leaders of industry.
Using Outsider Status
The Mark Fox Way: Disappearing only to create an identity that was similar to Mark Richt’s without the success and accepting his minor role to cheerlead. Every coach in the past was intimidated by the Football Culture and let themselves be run over by it. There was no courage to acknowledge that there was no Basketball Culture. Even programs with success like the Lady Dogs resorted to having star players in Tate Plaza a few hours before tip-off imploring students to show up. Fox did not recognize the problem and even embraced it. “Getting” Georgia meant going along with the idea of second-class status.
The Tom Crean Way: He’s seen how it is supposed to be done and he knows what the experience is supposed to be like. Crean does not realize how revolutionary or disruptive (in a positive sense) what he wants to do is, but it is absolutely necessary. It’s why it was a bit of surprise that Crean was ever considered because he will step on toes to get what he wants. Tom Crean is here to usher a new era of how we perceive Georgia Athletics and those stuck in the past with problems over prioritization are going to be left there. Being on the broadcasting end, he clearly learned a bit more schematically and from a messaging perspective. He is a willing change agent.
The Press Conference
The Mark Fox Way: Mark Fox was run over by Damon Evans. Plain and simple. This is the Head Coach of the Georgia Basketball Team. He sat down and shared a stage with Evans. He looked small and Damon Evans did most of the talking for Mark Fox justifying the hire.
The Tom Crean Way: Crean’s press conference speech was not a speech, it was a manifesto. Unlike Mark Fox who had to share the stage with Damon Evans while he was announced as coach, Greg McGarity had 90 seconds of speaking time followed by Tom Crean’s motivational speech. Crean said things never said before in front of a UGA podium. Crean controlled the room and the moment. It was a rebuke of the way things were and an actual vision laid out. Crean asked you to imagine with him what it would be like. He gave specific visual cues and examples, it was rhetorically on-point. The most specific detail he gave was concerning the 3/4 court pressure and how he recognized that this something that is so effective at setting a defensive tone. It’s like he’s gone through every criticism and proposed a solution.
Crean would be wise to trust his instincts and not listen to those who have the mentality of “This is the way it has always been.” Crean had the courage and conviction to say what needed to be said, now he has to take action and follow through. Execution is always tougher, but it can be done. We have to buy-in as well.