Crean's surprising departure has Marquette searching for replacement
MILWAUKEE -- Tom Crean's departure felt like a kick in the stomach at Marquette.
Sure, the school should have been ready to face a day like Wednesday, when Crean was introduced as the new coach at Indiana. For all his coaching and recruiting ability, Crean seemed just as skilled a job hunter over the years as he flirted with several high-profile openings.
But just as it once seemed another Wisconsin sports icon, Brett Favre, never meant it when he grumbled about retirement every year, it had begun to feel like Crean would never really leave Marquette.
Golden Eagles guard Dominic James said players understood Crean's decision, but were hurt and embarrassed that he didn't tell them it was coming.
"We found out at the same time as everyone else," James said. "And as his players, I feel like we should have known before a lot of people, before the rest of the country. That was the worst thing about it."
Boston Celtics coach Doc Rivers, a former Marquette player and current school trustee, was sorry to see his close friend go.
"It's a tough loss for us, I'll say that," Rivers said. "A great gain for Indiana. ... They're getting a great guy. That program, it looks like they need somebody who's going to work their butt off, and there will be no one in college basketball that will work harder than Tom Crean."
Marquette remains an attractive job with a top-notch practice facility, enthusiastic fan support, a good recruiting base and considerable financial resources. Crean's annual salary was believed to be about $1.5 million.
At his IU introduction Wednesday morning, Crean said he felt some "incredible sadness" over leaving Marquette.
"I walked away from one incredible job to take another one," he said.
And it's not like Crean's legacy will be impossible to follow. He made the Final Four with Wade in 2003, but the Golden Eagles hadn't won another NCAA tournament game until they beat Kentucky in the first round of this year's tournament.
"We're looking to hire the right person who will take what we have and take us to that next level," Marquette athletic director Steve Cottingham said.
So now what?
Count out Rivers, who joked that he "would make more than the extra calls" to recruits as a college coach -- a reference to the circumstances that led to Kelvin Sampson's departure from Indiana. The first name that came out of Rivers' mouth was former Marquette coach Rick Majerus, who coached three seasons at his alma mater in the 1980s.
Chicago Bulls interim coach Jim Boylan, the point guard for Marquette's 1977 national championship team, said he wasn't shocked by Crean's departure. So will Boylan, who is not likely to be retained by the Bulls, throw his hat in the ring?
"We're having a press conference tomorrow morning at 9, so we'll let you know," Boylan joked Tuesday night.
That didn't happen, of course, but Cottingham said the school plans to move "aggressively" to hire Crean's replacement.
Cottingham has only been on the job full-time since February, but said past media reports about other schools' interest in Crean led him to put together contingency plans just in case.
Cottingham said the school already has started its search and has a short list of candidates. The school does not plan to form a search committee or hire an outside search firm.
Forward Lazar Hayward said he is confident the school will attract a top-level coach.
"We have a great university," Hayward said. "and I have no worries as to the decision that they're going to make and I trust them with all my heart."
The list of potential replacements for Crean could include several of the same names that surfaced during Indiana's search.
Marquette's home-run hire would be Washington State coach Tony Bennett, who has strong ties to the state because of his father, former Wisconsin coach Dick Bennett. But the younger Bennett didn't jump when Indiana expressed interest, and it is unclear whether he would listen to Marquette.
Other names of interest could include UNLV's Lon Kruger, Vanderbilt's Kevin Stallings, Xavier's Sean Miller, Butler's Brad Stevens and Wright State's Brad Brownell.
Majerus is coaching at another Jesuit school, St. Louis University. But the Billikens had a so-so first season under him, and the gregarious coach made waves with controversial comments off the court -- two strikes against him.
University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee coach Rob Jeter could be considered despite his ties to rival Wisconsin and his mentor, Bo Ryan. Then there's Milwaukee Bucks coach Larry Krystkowiak, who had success at Montana before jumping to the NBA and could be out of a job when the Bucks hire a new general manager.
It also wouldn't hurt to put out feelers to Illinois coach Bruce Weber, a Milwaukee native who might not be feeling appreciated by Illini fans who have pressured him to recruit more big-name players.
Cottingham said he would not discuss the school's interest in specific candidates.
"We're going to be in a good place," Cottingham said. "Sometimes the journey's a little bit rocky and hard, but the results will be great."
Copyright 2008 by The Associated Press
MORE MEN'S COLLEGE BASKETBALL HEADLINES
- Florida, Zona, Wichita, UVa get No. 1 seeds
- AAC's standing may have led to L'ville seed
- Brown, SMU snubbed by NCAA tournament
- Florida holds off Kentucky to win SEC crown