Tom Crean was Georgia’s second choice but he could be right choice

It is the practice in this small disturbed corner of the universe not to pre-judge coaching hires. There have been enough win-the-news-conference coaches who’ve fallen face first when the games started and under-the-radar hires who ended up wowing the masses in both pro and college sports to affirm that this is all a guessing game.

But if resumes count for anything, this looks like a win for Georgia.

After whiffing on the waffling Thad Matta, Georgia has finalized a deal with Tom Crean to become its next basketball coach, according to Seth Emerson of DawgNation. Crean, who signed a six-year contract worth $16 million, the same deal offered to Matta earlier this week, will be introduced at a Friday news conference.

Second choice, good choice.

This is the same Crean who went to three Sweet 16s in a span of five years in the not-too-distant past. This is the same Crean who recruited a Chicago kid named Dwyane Wade in 2001 and took Marquette to a Final Four a year later.

Crean’s previous place of occupation was: Indiana. The campus there has a just a tad richer basketball history than the one in Athens.

“I am honored and humbled to join the University of Georgia family,” Crean said in a statement Thursday night. “Make no mistake, this is a basketball program inside of a great university that can compete for championships doing it the right way. We will work diligently and with great energy to make everyone associated with the University of Georgia very proud of our efforts. We’re going to need everyone in the Bulldog Nation to help us to create the energy and excitement that will take Georgia to the highest levels of success.”

Crean’s list of accomplishments isn’t quite as long as Matta’s. But it’s longer than any basketball coach in Georgia history. He has coached in almost as many NCAA tournaments (nine in 18 years) as the Dogs have in their long and inglorious history (12) and has won more tournament games in the process (11 to 7).

So credit to the frequently maligned athletic director, Greg McGarity, for aiming high in his search and getting a face he can slap on ticket brochures. This hire is a major test for McGarity, who has been hit-and-miss in coaching hires since taking over.

“Tom Crean is one of the most successful coaches in college basketball over the past two decades,” McGarity said in a statement. “His teams have consistently been participants in postseason play, and his players have been extremely successful in the classroom.”

Why was Crean available? For the same reason as Matta. Both have had impressive careers that took a recent downturn.

After struggling in his first two seasons at Marquette, Crean took the program to five NCAA tournaments in the next seven seasons, including a Final Four. That helped him land the Indiana job in 2008. At that point in time, the Hoosiers were a dumpster fire in the post-Bobby Knight era, following the firings of Mike Davis and Kelvin Sampson (NCAA probation).

There’s a bit of revisionist history on Crean’s tenure in Bloomington. Critics suggest he stepped into a great situation. He didn’t. He inherited a depleted roster, and it showed in the first three seasons (6-25, 10-21, 12-20). But the Hoosiers were 56-16 in the next two seasons (2011-12, 2012-13), won a Big Ten regular-season title and made it to two NCAA regional semifinals.

Indiana went to the tournament in four out of five years and reached another Sweet 16 in 2015-16, finishing 27-8 and earning Crean conference coach-of-the-year honors. But an 18-16 finish in 2016-17 -- concluding with an NIT loss to, ironically, Georgia Tech -- led to his firing. Recruiting also fell off.

They don’t have a lot of patience in Bloomington.

How have things gone since? Indiana were 16-15 this season under Archie Miller. Crean spent a year collecting checks from his $4 million buyout and living the chill life as an ESPN analyst.

This will be his chance to lift another program. The resume suggests he can do it.

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