Tom Crean calls them “echo signs.”
Others call them silly.
The Indiana coach defended his use of signs during recent games, explaining that the basic directions conveyed on the placards held from the bench are meant to remind players to communicate with each other, especially on the defensive end of the floor.
“Those are echo signs,” Crean said Monday on his weekly radio show. “You hold up signs sometimes, people do, for offense or to change defense and things like that. We’re looking to give our guys anything that helps them communicate. They’re basic, but they’re echoes. A big thing for us is to make sure that we echo calls. Rather than sit back and complain about a lack of communication constantly, and sit there and hope things are going to change, give them a vehicle to help them change.”
During Sunday’s loss at Northwestern, Indiana assistant coach Chuck Martin was seen on the bench holding different signs issuing reminders like “Hands Out” and “Call Out Screens.”
During a game against Austin Peay in December, Crean was also spotted holding a sign that said “Don’t Hop.” Point guard Josh Newkirk later explained that particular sign was used to remind him to slide his feet while guarding instead of hopping.
Late Sunday and throughout the day Monday, the signs came under fire on social media and talk radio for their simplicity. Many wondered if those reminders were necessary for a Division I basketball program, especially one of Indiana’s tradition.
On his afternoon radio show, former IU player and coach Dan Dakich joked that he wanted to flush his head in a toilet after seeing the signs. Dakich said he wasn’t criticizing Crean so much as he was the players for needing such basic reminders.
When IU play-by-play man Don Fischer asked Crean about the signs later Monday, the Indiana coach gave his rationale.
“We’re gonna gonna do it, and I’m not really concerned about how people view it,” Crean said. “It’s just a situation to give guys a reminder on the defensive end. It gets them talking. I had a conversation with a writer, a friend of mine that visited a few weeks back doing an interview. He was talking about how he covers a lot of football and basketball. … This was really what spearheaded it for me.
“He said the universal theme among coaches in the different sports that he talks to is how hard it is to get the players to talk on the field, or on the court. That’s exactly what the issue is. It’s, ‘OK, well, we can keep sitting back and hoping it changes, or we can do something that helps them change it.’ That’s exactly what it’s been.”
When Fischer asked whether Crean has noticed the signs making a difference, Crean said he hadn’t given it much thought until it became a conversation topic Monday.
Crean explained that while he was a graduate assistant at Michigan State during the 1989-90 season, then-coach Jud Heathcote used cards to call plays.
“One of my jobs was to hold up the play cards,” Crean said. “We had like 70 to 80 cards. Tom (Izzo) stopped doing it after a couple of years, but no one said anything like that. They though that was pretty profound, right? What a brilliant idea. We’re just holding up some signs for defense. That’s all it is.”
And it doesn’t sound like the signs are going anywhere.
“We’re just trying to find ways to win,” Crean said. “That’s all we’re trying to do.”