Georgia makes official its split with Tom Crean

Georgia coach Tom Crean directs his team against Vanderbilt during the first half of an SEC Tournament game on Wednesday night in Tampa, Fla. (AP Photo/Chris O'Meara)

Credit: AP

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Georgia coach Tom Crean directs his team against Vanderbilt during the first half of an SEC Tournament game on Wednesday night in Tampa, Fla. (AP Photo/Chris O'Meara)

Credit: AP

TAMPA — Tom Crean officially is out as Georgia’s basketball coach.

Georgia Athletic Director Josh Brooks made the announcement in a press release circulated by the school at 6 p.m. Thursday.

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“I would like to sincerely thank Coach Crean and his family for their commitment to Georgia Basketball,” Brooks said in a statement. “Tom Crean demonstrated unquestionable effort and enthusiasm in what he has attempted to accomplish at Georgia. That said, our expectation is to compete for postseason success in all 21 sports. We believe a leadership change in men’s basketball is needed to achieve our goals.”

The decision came as no surprise to Crean or fans of the basketball program. But Georgia was unable to make the move until it had delivered a written notification to Crean. That happened Thursday afternoon shortly after the team returned to Athens from Tampa, site of the SEC Tournament. Crean was observed packing up his office on the second floor of the Stegeman Training Facility around 3 p.m. Thursday.

The Bulldogs’ 2021-22 season ended Wednesday night when they lost to Vanderbilt 86-51 in the first round of the tournament. The loss dropped Georgia men’s basketball’s record to 47-75 (.385) under Crean’s leadership. He signed a six-year, $19.8 million contract with the Bulldogs when he took over the program a year after he was fired by Indiana. If Crean accepts the $3.2 million buyout that his contract calls for after the fourth season, he will have earned approximately $1.1 million per conference win for the 15 SEC games he won.

Had he continued as the Bulldogs’ coach, Georgia would have paid Crean $7.2 million over the next two years. Instead, a buyout clause from the original contract six-year contract signed on March 15, 2018T kicks in “at the end of the 2021-22 season” that reduces that number to $3.2 million. Crean, who retained lawyer Tom Mars to represent him, is not disputing those terms.

Neither Mars nor Crean commented on UGA’s action. Earlier Thursday, Mars pointed out that Crean’s contract required a written notice of termination seven days before a separation could take place. Brooks delivered that notice when he met with Crean on Thursday.

Mars is a Northwest Arkansas-based trial lawyer and former litigator for Walmart who practiced law in Atlanta until recently. He is best known for representing NCAA athletes on eligibility matters and led efforts to change legislation to allow one-time transfers.

After working for a time on the NCAA enforcement’s complex-case unit, Mars is back to representing coaches in contract disputes. Recent clients have included Auburn’s Bryan Harsin and Michigan’s Jim Harbaugh. He successfully represented coach Houston Nutt in a lawsuit against Ole Miss several years ago.

Brooks offered Crean the opportunity to resign Feb. 23 and accept the $3.2 million buyout, but Crean refused, people familiar with the situation told the AJC. Why the Bulldogs did not submit a notice of termination to Crean a week ago is unclear.

Meanwhile, the Bulldogs are carrying on a coaching search in earnest with the assistance of the Atlanta-based search firm of Parker Executive Search. Two of Georgia’s targets – USC’s Andy Enfield and Wake Forest’s Steve Forbes – accepted contract extensions from their current employers.

At least two other candidates remain in play in Cleveland State coach Dennis Gates and Xavier associate head coach Jonas Hayes. Both of their teams were eliminated in conference tournaments this week, with Hayes’ Musketeers getting bounced in overtime by Butler in the Big East Tournament in New York.

UGA may also seek an audience with Murray State coach Matt McMahon. Furman coach Bob Richey and Chattanooga coach Lamont Paris are among several mid-level head coaches who have expressed interest in UGA’s opening, according to people familiar with the situation.