Jim Harbaugh compares Tom Crean's dismissal at Indiana to his own with 49ers
Harbaugh knows what it's like to be let go after a complicated tenure
Indiana pulled the mother of all news dumps Thursday when it announced -- just as the 2017 NCAA Tournament was tipping off -- that it had.
It was a dramatic end to a slow burn. The possibility of firing Crean, who coached the Hoosiers for nine seasons, had been a talking point among the fan base for a while. It was clearly a point for Indiana’s administration, too.
But that type of slow buildup undermining a coach and a season can be damaging. It’s a distraction -- though an all-too-common and inevitable one at that -- and usually does no one any good, even if it’s determined to be the right call in the end.
Michigan coach Jim Harbaugh, who also happens to be Crean’s brother-in-law, knows how that feels. During the 2012-13 season, he was leading the San Francisco 49ers to a Super Bowl appearance. Two seasons later, he was out.
“Much like my situation in San Francisco, the people that are doing the micromanaging … when it comes to building a ball team, what they know could not blow up a small balloon,” Harbaugh said in an interview with Sports Illustrated. “In my case, an owner and a general manager. In his case, an administration. They are so similar in that way. And he still wins two Big Ten championships outright.”
We know this much from Harbaugh’s comments: He still thinks about his departure in San Francisco, which also featured a long lead-up. However, we also know there’s some shades of truth to those comments.
Crean’s time at Indiana was complicated, which makes the decision to can him a nuanced discussion. He has two outright Big Ten titles in nine years, more than the likes of Tom Izzo (Michigan State) and Thad Matta (Ohio State) in the same time period. Crean also has three Sweet 16 appearances dating back to 2011-12. Still, Indiana’s desire to get back to its golden era meant Crean’s work wasn’t enough. Getting knocked out early in the NIT this year surely didn’t help.
Harbaugh is biased when it comes to his view on Crean, but he also understands how the process works and what it takes to succeed or fail. That line almost never is drawn on just one factor. That was the case with the 49ers and it was the case with Crean at Indiana.
But if the situational comparisons between Harbaugh and Crean have merit, the former has shown how quickly and easily a coach can rebound.
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