Man, for someone who writes a college football blog, I sure have gotten a lot of requests for my opinion about the hire of Georgia’s new basketball coach. Okay, here goes nothing, I suppose.
Skipping past the Xs-and-Os discussion — I said this is a football blog, remember? — and moving on to what this might say about Butts-Mehre and a possible change in approach, my answer is simple: too soon to tell.
Look, they’re paying Crean a lot of money, a six-year contract worth $3.2 million annually, to be specific. But it’s not like they’re going in hock to do so. Fox was making north of two million a year when he was canned and there’s enough left in the profit margin to cover the increase comfortably.
That being said, B-M does get credit in my mind for recognizing that there were two slam dunk hires in the market, based on resumes, and both men were prioritized in the job hunt. I’ll even go farther and say that the criticism I saw in certain quarters from pundits like Thamel and Schultz was unfair. I’m not going to knock McGarity for setting his sights high and whiffing on his first choice, especially because it sounds as if for once there was actually a Plan B in place in case Plan A, which turned out to be Thad Motta, didn’t come to fruition.
Along those lines, if you know you’ve got the guy you want, then don’t screw around getting the deal done. Per Weiszer, they didn’t.
The executive committee of Georgia’s athletic board approved the hire Thursday night in a hastily called meeting about a half hour after university president Jere Morehead and athletic director Greg McGarity landed from Sarasota, Fla., the area where Crean lives and where they met to hammer out an agreement.
Morehead and McGarity took part in the athletic board call sitting in a car in the Athens-Ben Epps airport.
McGarity walked to the car carrying a briefcase and talking on his phone after wrapping up a coaching search in five days after firing Mark Fox on Saturday after nine seasons.
So all that’s in the plus column. Why, then, do I have this feeling of hesitancy? I think because it was such an obvious move. Do I think anyone in the athletic department has the first clue about how to hire a successful basketball coach? Well, take in this stat from Seth:
During his 18-year coaching career Crean has more NCAA tournament wins (11) than Georgia does (seven) in its entire history.
As I put it the other day,
Along those lines, make sure you check out this Jason Butt story about the hirings of Mark Fox and Virginia’s Tony Bennett. Then remember that Dooley’s last two hires were Ron Jirsa and Jim Harrick. It’s a rich tradition we have at Georgia.
Crean is a safe pick, which means it’s more justifiable than a reach, but doesn’t necessarily mean it’s the best hire for Georgia basketball. That takes work. Then again, if you can admit to yourself you don’t know much about what you’re doing, then maybe the safe pick is the best pick.
The real question from here is how much support Crean gets from the administration in building the second most important program on campus. If he’s smart, he’ll sell his new bosses on the financial benefit that accrues to schools from actually winning games in the NCAA tourney. There really is gold in them hills for a successful newcomer. (Like it or not, that’s what Georgia would be.) In the end, though, what I’m curious to see is whether Smart is the new template for how the major programs are managed by Georgia’s administration; namely, trust that the guy you’ve hired knows more about what he’s doing than you do and give him enough room to prove it.
Crean lacks a couple of Smart’s advantages. He’s not a Georgia guy and there isn’t the same passionate backing for men’s basketball that there is for football. The faster he wins big, the easier things get for him. (Especially if he can manage to stay on the good side of the liquor barons.)
Maybe it’s a new era for Georgia athletics. Or maybe it’s simply an easy way for Morehead and McGarity to say, “hey, at least we tried”. That’s something we won’t know for a couple of years. In the meantime, I’ll keep my fingers crossed.
UPDATE: Interesting note from Seth Emerson:
Finally, just some inside baseball-type information, but indulge me. The scene when Crean was hired Thursday night was a bit surreal. Greg McGarity and Jere Morehead got off a plane at Athens-Ben Epps Airport after returning from interviewing Crean in Florida. Three reporters, yours truly included, were there to greet McGarity and Morehead, who declined comment but then climbed into McGarity’s car, where they led a hastily called teleconference with the UGA Athletic Board executive committee. Reporters were invited to call in – McGarity wrote down the number and gave it to this reporter to call – and we listened to them approve Crean’s hire and six-year contract, with McGarity and Morehead still sitting two cars over in the airport parking lot. When it was over the two administrators drove by, rolled down the window to make sure we had everything we needed, confirmed the press conference was Friday, and we all said goodbye. … Surreal, but all in a night’s work for administrators and reporters.
Hmmm. Maybe the times, they are a-changin’, after all.