Georgia Basketball

No, You Don’t Fire Tom Crean… Unless You Want to Give Up on Basketball

Tom Crean has been at Georgia for 1 1/2 seasons and only one full season with a roster that is mostly sourced by his staff.

Let the meltdowns begin.  Georgia’s inexcusable loss to Ole Miss at Stegeman Coliseum in front of a tepid, yet sold-out crowd has sparked fury and calls for Crean’s firing.  People who called for Earl Grant’s hiring or wanted Mark Fox to remain at Georgia have already started the push for change in what is Year 1 for Tom Crean as last season was a demo season to show recruits the style of play that Crean wishes to run.  As the publication that pushed for the dismissal of Mark Fox after 8 years and then 9 years at Georgia and even made a case not to hire Crean, it may surprise many that the charge to remove Crean is not being made here.  Consider this to be the case for the base to calm down, not let this spill over into something ugly because this fan base is capable of doing this (just ask Aaron Murray and his family), and not let history repeat itself with Tom Crean.

Many credit gBb with eventually changing the minds of those in power to remove Fox, but the removal of Fox had more to do with the Tax Cuts and Jobs Act of 2017.  If you supported President Donald Trump, then you actually helped the process of Making Georgia Athletics Great Again without even realizing it.  Big donors acting as owners of the UGA Athletic Association could not do so on the taxpayer dime anymore.  Contributions to College Athletics programs were no longer tax deductible.  Business generated, political power, and ownership perks are no longer subsidized.  It was a major loss for the Good Ol’ Boys Club.

Georgia is a Very Tough College Basketball Coaching Job

Lest we forget the status of the program before Crean arrived…

Convincing a largely ignorant College Football Base to care about College Basketball is not only a tough sell, but it invites a lot of problems.  The culture of Georgia Basketball is rooted in antipathy, Tom Crean was brought in to change this.  Change does not happen overnight and in a grossly misunderstood game by those who cover the sport, it makes it all the more challenging to make Georgia Basketball not only relevant, but embraced.  Crean’s less targeted approach opens itself up to an audience that will be far more knee-jerk in reaction and less forgiving of a program that they deem to be one of the following:

  1. Unnecessary.
  2. Unable to ever win consistently.
  3. [Insert Racist Comment Here]
  4. Never good or important enough to care about.
  5. “Go Big Blue”,  “Let’s Go Duke”, “U!-N!-C!”

This is a part of the culture surrounding Georgia Basketball that Tom Crean has to overcome.  The University of Georgia chose Football and Segregation over a possible Basketball Dynasty and integration.  “The Curse of John Wooden” lives and within Bulldog Nation among non-alumni is still cheered enthusiastically during the post-Segregation era.  Tom Crean may not realize the uphill battle he is fighting, but he should understand it.

These sellouts are likely not going to happen next season, the base will be fatigued because they will only cheer for a winner.  Bulldog Nation only supports Football regardless of record or expected record.  When it comes to other sports, the program is a lot like most of the 50+ year old and minority electorate in the Democratic Party Presidential Primaries, they are supporting who they believe will win.  Much like the older and minority Democrats, Bulldog Nation when it comes to Basketball will only show up to see a win, it is an investment of time.  This is why a more targeted approach geared toward specifically toward alumni and students would have been the way to go, instead the hype approach was used and unfair expectations were created.

Filling Stegeman Coliseum is not the best indicator of the program’s health and support this season.  The Maui Invitational was the indicator.  Every Division I program not named Georgia had a large amount of supporters show up to Maui before Thanksgiving.  Georgia had a few dozen supporters come and much of the Georgia section was filled by supporters of other schools (Dayton, Michigan State).  More UGA supporters were in the restrooms at the Sugar Bowl during a given Baylor possession than the number of attendees to the Maui Invitational.  93,000+ can fill up Sanford Stadium on a Saturday, but it is considered a major accomplishment to fill 10,523 seats at Stegeman Coliseum.  This step up in attendance at home is merely a first step in the cultural change.

Pulling the plug so early on Crean would mean a return to the way things were, which was a terrible state of affairs.  It would tell recruits and coaches that UGA aborted their effort to create a Basketball Culture.  Who would want to be a part of that?  Who would want to be a part of a culture that is outwardly hostile toward a particular sport?

Cut and run is not a solution in Year 1. 

Tom Crean won Two Big Ten Championships at Indiana, it is not a fluke… yet he is hated so much.

The “Tom Crean is a Clown” meme is what the Kentucky and Indiana fan bases want, it makes them feel good to deflect from their own issues.  Programs like Kentucky and Indiana have their own insecurities and skeletons.  Adolph Rupp was a segregationist and Indiana ran off Mike Davis due to his skin color.  Tom Crean’s family dealt with threats in Bloomington and ailing alcoholic, Billy Gillispie, was literally chased out of Lexington.  The University of Kentucky and everyone associated with supporting their university did nothing to help a clearly ill and self-destructive man and instead treated him like he was a sexual predator.  At Indiana University, one of their most prominent and heralded alumni for over a decade was revealed to be a sexual predator.  They are not the voices of reason in the world of College Basketball.  To trust the opinions of their media and fan bases is to trust the opinions of the Alabama base when it comes to College Football.  It would be like seeking out the Westboro Baptist Church for an expert view on Christianity or asking members of Hezbollah or ISIS to opine for expert perspective on Islam.  Passion and zealotry does not equal knowledge or expertise, Bulldog Nation should know better.

Kentucky does not want Georgia to rise up and compete in Men’s Basketball.

The University of Kentucky Athletic Department does not have the resources that the University of Georgia has and the City of Atlanta plays a very large role in ensuring a flow of capital into the University of Georgia.  UGA’s alumni diaspora in Nashville, New York, Dallas, Houston, and Denver do not get enough appreciation for their contributions.  Louisville and Lexington do not provide that sort of an economic impact for the University of Kentucky.  Kentucky’s inferior Football Program cannot be counterbalanced by a merely competitive Men’s Basketball program.  Kentucky Basketball must be a dominant force because of the socioeconomic environment.  The biggest fear among Big Blue Nation is to become Indiana.

Kentucky Basketball is a distraction to pull attention away from plaguing issues taking place inside the Commonwealth that Kentuckians do not wish to acknowledge or deal with in a direct fashion:

Of course, they do not want the transplant-filled and capital-rich University of Georgia, to take away one of the few sources of pride they have left.  They have pooled their resources and passion into Kentucky Basketball, if they lose this, it would be incredibly devastating.

Tom Crean’s turnaround at a more ordinary, yet still entitled Indiana

Tom Crean had to turn around a program that was decimated at Indiana.  He had limited scholarship athletes and a delusional base.  Crean turned things around at Indiana, but no matter what he did, he could never make the Indiana base happy.  Indiana Basketball is a lot like Georgia Football.  Lots of passion and traditions, but few Championships to back it up.  A stuck in the past mentality among the base with a common idea of what the style of play is associated with the program and a fear of losing this connection to the past.

The Big Ten is one of the best College Basketball conferences.  When Crean coached in the Big Ten, he faced some of the best coaches in the game:  Tom Izzo, Matt Painter, Thad Matta, John Beilein, Bo Ryan, and Tubby Smith.  The Big Ten is a conference of established programs with large budgets and broader interests than the SEC.

Pay the bigots, enablers of sexual predators, and inhumane cretin no mind.

If John Calipari or Archie Miller was suicidal, half of the respective Kentucky or Indiana base would probably encourage a bridge-jumping.  That’s the way these monsters operate as they live in the extremes, the objective is not to be like them.  The aspiration for UGA Men’s Basketball is the model that was built at Virginia and Florida, but with our own style of play and traditions.

Angry?  Don’t be mad at the messenger, be mad at those in power in Bloomington and Lexington.  Look inward and be better.

Strength and Conditioning and Offseason Development are Paramount

Immature minds and bodies have kept this Georgia team from meeting high expectations.  Immature is not synonymous with young.  To say that the veterans have played immaturely this season would be an understatement.

The weights do appear to be overstated in the case of Toumani Camara and Christian Brown.  Rodney Howard needs to be more agile and have better explosion.  Mike Peake needs to improve his footwork and core strength as he has not shown good balance on the floor.  Jaykwon Walton could certainly become stronger as well.

There is talent in this Freshman Class beyond Anthony Edwards, the concern lies with the 2020 Class (next season’s Freshman Class).  This is a disconcerting class as the players do not fit the team’s needs and the biggest need is shooting.  Georgia opponents will pack it in against this team and neutralize the cutting aspects of the offense.  However, more on the Freshman Class is to come in a future article, but K.D. Johnson should be working on his perimeter shooting if he is going to be respected as a driver.

The nucleus of this class and the hype of the preceding talent should mean that next season’s team should follow the course of Georgia Basketball History and be an NCAA Tournament team.  Another group of talented underclassmen that followed an extremely talented and hyped nucleus were the 2005-06 Florida Gators.

Above is the roster of the 2004-05 Florida Gators that were eliminated in the Second Round of the 2005 NCAA Tournament.  In the prior season, Florida had lost in the First Round of the 2004 NCAA Tournament.  Under Billy Donovan at Florida, NCAA Tournament appearances were a given after the 2000 NCAA Tournament.  Anthony Roberson, David Lee, and Matt Walsh were the nucleus of a Florida program that could not meet the expectations.  However, a group of under-the-radar underclassmen were able to become legends in Gainesville delivering back-to-back National Championships.

This is not to say that Georgia will have the same results as a more mature Florida program going through a comparative trough under Billy Donovan, but the idea that Georgia is doomed without Anthony Edwards is nonsensical, especially when history suggests the exact opposite.

It Takes Time to Build a Program, There are NO SHORTCUTS

Sometimes, a coach is just handed a program that fits really well for their style of play.  Bruce Pearl’s first seasons at Tennessee are emblematic of this.  Pearl was able to get Tennessee into the NCAA Tournament and contending for SEC Championships because Tennessee was recruiting very good players and not necessarily getting the most out of them.  Another example would be Eric Musselman, who inherited a shallow roster, but he has a pair of excellent guards in Mason Jones and Isaiah Joe (who should be SEC Player of the Year).

There are cases where first year success with holdover players is followed by failure.  Darrin Horn was able to win with holdovers from the Dave Odom era at South Carolina, but could not put together a roster of his own that was able to win.  Kermit Davis has much in common with Andy Kennedy stylistically and Kennedy’s burnout and reliance on Hero Ball at the Point Guard position brought his era in Oxford to an end.  Davis featured a similar style of play and was able to take a talented Ole Miss team to the NCAA Tournament in his first season, even though the team was in the process of crashing and burning in their last 7 games.  Ole Miss is struggling this season and it is not as easy for Davis to replicate the same success.

Then there are cases where there has to be a full rebuild.  Auburn, Mississippi State, South Carolina, Florida (under Billy Donovan), Clemson (under Oliver Purnell), Indiana (under Tom Crean), USC, Virginia, Virginia Tech, and Rutgers are all examples.

Georgia is in the process of a full rebuild and to deny that this is happening would undermine the effort.  Going from a Mark Fox constructed roster with a style of play that is extremely controlled and players are not supposed to lead to a Tom Crean constructed roster that offers more freedom is a massive adjustment.

It’s a massive adjustment as far as the messenger is concerned as well.  Mark Fox was a thin-skinned coach who undermined his program and played politics.  Tom Crean is a very direct coach who will give explanations to the media that may go over the heads of those covering him.  It’s a massive difference in personality and approach.  Media are still figuring it out and the base is still in shock because Georgia coaches are usually supposed to be boring personalities while there is usually an assistant that has a personality that fans gravitate toward over the years.  Examples of the boring coaches would be Mark Richt, Kirby Smart, Jim Donnan, Dennis Felton, Mark Fox, and Vince Dooley.  Examples of the more colorful assistant coaches would be Erk Russell, Joe Kines, and the current Head Coach of the Arkansas Football Team – Sam Pittman.  The only coach who broke this model was the most dominant coach in the History of Georgia Athletics, Suzanne Yoculan.

Tom Crean is not Rick Ray or James Johnson, he is an established Head Coach with track record of success.  Running off Crean would be the equivalent of trying to get rid of Ben Howland, Bruce Pearl, Frank Martin or Rick Barnes after their second years at Mississippi State, Auburn, South Carolina or Tennessee respectively.

  • Ben Howland:  16-16
  • Bruce Pearl:  11-20
  • Frank Martin:  14-20
  • Rick Barnes:  16-16

The UGA Basketball program was not in a healthy place under Mark Fox and it was left in worse condition than Fox inherited it.  There was no foundation built.  It was a house that fans thought could be flipped with a better coach, but upon entering the house it was clear the house was in need of a total teardown.  The cognitive dissonance that UGA committed 9 seasons to Mark Fox is too hard to handle for most.

In 2009, the University of Georgia hired Mark Fox and in the same year the University of Virginia hired Tony Bennett.  After two seasons, this is how Fox fared in Athens.

This is how Bennett fared in Charlottesville.

How did it go for both coaches?  This is how it went for Mark Fox.

This is how it went for Tony Bennett.

It started off slow at Virginia and the success was there for Mark Fox in his first two seasons, but this is why judging a program in the course of rebuild in 1.5 or two seasons is dicey.  Mark Fox was on a better track than Bennett based on the records, but the track record that Bennett and the patience that UVA had to allow Bennett to build the program in his image delivered a National Championship to Mr. Jefferson’s University.  Fox was not able to come close at Dear Old UGA, the damage he wrought and bridges he burned will take time to rebuild and heal.

This could all fall on deaf ears, so please do make that petition to fire Tom Crean and make UGA look backward in the process of moving forward.  There are just so many opportunities to show that Bulldogs can dunk on other Bulldogs.  It would be an opportunity to show the world how much we are not like Auburn and that there is no hive mindset.

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