Change is never easy.
Change is also inevitable.
Those two facts have been on a collision course when it comes to Indiana basketball for quite some time.
On Thursday, the resulting explosion was the firing of IU coach Tom Crean after nine seasons at the helm.
Crean affected change in his own right when he was hired on the heels of the Kelvin Sampson debacle in 2008.
“It’s Indiana,” Crean famously intoned, endearing himself immediately to a fanbase hungry for a return to glory.
But if those two words once suggested salvation for the Hoosiers, they also turned out to be a harbinger of damnation in the end.
Many schools would dearly love to win two conference championships and reach three Sweet 16s in six seasons.
At Indiana, that’s the minimum, not the maximum.
Hence the difficult decision that Indiana and athletic director Fred Glass had to make.
Some of you reading this are thinking, “Didn’t seem that difficult to me?”
Contrary to some opinions, Crean was not a bad basketball coach.
Flawed to be certain, but not incompetent.
In other words, he was good enough to have Glass contemplating a stay in safer waters.
There’s risk to change.
Some might say, “You can do worse than Tom Crean.”
And you’d be right.
But you can also do better.
If you’re Indiana, being paralyzed by fear is not an option.
To do nothing was to move backward, and that is a direction the Hoosiers could not and cannot go.
Crean maxed out his potential at Indiana and wore out the welcome mat.
He brought the Hoosiers back to relevance and respectability, but left everyone wanting more.
With in-state recruiting stalled, a frustrated and fractured fanbase and a regressive arc since spending most of the 2012-13 season at No. 1, there was only one way forward for Indiana.
It was time for a change.
The clock started ticking on March 28, 2013, with that fateful loss to Syracuse in the Sweet 16.
The mantra moving forward was supposed to be, “We’re Back.”
But back can’t last just one season, and in a twist of fate, that spectacular success made for an equally spectacular letdown.
In 2014, there was no postseason at all, then the off the court problems leading into 2014-15, the Maui mishap a season ago just ahead of the Duke debacle, and after a change of course that produced a Big Ten title, another gross disappointment in this season that ended in the NIT on the road.
This change was not a kneejerk reaction. If anything, there was an exceeding amount of patience shown that would not exist at a North Carolina or a Kansas or a Duke or a Kentucky.
Still, some say that change is the product of expectations beyond any reasonable capacity.
It’s been 30 years since Indiana won a national title, it’s been 15 years since Indiana reached a Final Four.
College basketball has passed the Hoosiers by.
To which I say, poppycock, and Glass agrees.
“That’s the beauty of the opportunity,” the IU AD said. “The next coach can put his mark on a program that hasn’t had the success that we expect generally in that time frame, but we have all the resources to get there, and I think looking forward can be a powerhouse to be reckoned with, with the right leadership.”
IU is not currently an elite program. I’ll give you that, but it has an elite history with elite expectations and that means there is elite potential.
But there was only one way Indiana was ever going to reach that potential.
Sports writer Jeremy Price can be reached at 812-331-4342 or [email protected] Follow him on Twitter @JPPrice.