It is the biggest name coaching hire for Georgia basketball since it brought in Jim Harrick in 1999. Since the ignominious end of Harrick’s tenure a few years later, Georgia went the mid-major route, hiring Dennis Felton from Western Kentucky and then Mark Fox from Nevada. This time, with the SEC strong enough that eight teams made the NCAA tournament, Georgia’s administration decided to target an experienced, proven coach.
“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. He’s going to be a great fit for the University of Georgia. I’m extremely excited to have him leading Georgia basketball into the future and to welcome his family into the Bulldog Nation.”
Georgia is getting a coach with 356 career wins, a career winning percentage over .600, a Final Four trip (with Marquette in 2003) and three Sweet 16 appearances with Indiana from 2012-16. He was fired last year after nine years as the coach of one of the most high-profile coaching jobs in basketball.
Now Crean takes over a Georgia program that was elevated to respectability by Fox, who had guided the Bulldogs to five straight winning seasons. But after not reaching the NCAA tournament for the seventh time in his nine years, Georgia moved on, with McGarity saying he “didn’t believe the program was reaching its full potential.”
The hope is that Crean, despite not having any direct connections to the Southeast, will be the answer. During his 18-year coaching career, Crean has more NCAA tournament wins (11) than Georgia does (seven) in its entire history.
“We will work diligently and with great energy to make everyone associated with the University of Georgia very proud of our efforts,” Crean said in the statement. “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 becomes, at least for now, the second-highest paid coach in the SEC, after Kentucky’s John Calipari. Georgia had been paying Fox an annual salary of just over $2 million per year.
This will be Crean’s first time as head coach at a school were football was the main sport. But he’s no stranger to football: His brothers-in-law are Michigan coach Jim Harbaugh and Baltimore Ravens coach John Harbaugh.
Crean spent the last year out of coaching, doing TV analysis for ESPN and touring the country to talk to other coaches. It was clear he was ready to return to coaching, interviewing at Pittsburgh and showing eager interest in the Georgia job, despite the lack of a natural connection.
Crean, who will turn 52 next week, is a native of Michigan who has spent his career in the Midwest: He was an assistant coach at Michigan State when Marquette made him head coach in 1999. He spent nine years there, going 190-96, before taking the Indiana job in 2008.
Taking over a scandal-plagued program hit by NCAA sanction, Crean’s team’s struggled their first three years, going a combined 28-66. But then things took off.
Indiana won 27 and then 29 games in Crean’s next two seasons, making the Sweet 16 each year. They slipped to 17 wins and missed the tournament the next year, then went out in the first round the next year. But then Indiana went 27-8, won the Big Ten and made the Sweet 16 again.
But last season the Hoosiers again fell, finishing 18-16, and Crean’s last game proved to be an NIT loss to Georgia Tech.
Now Crean will play Georgia Tech at least once every season.