How was Georgia able to land Tom Crean as its basketball coach?
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Can you cover the differences between the hiring process for Mark Fox and Tom Crean? What has changed at Georgia that made this possible?
— Hayden in Norcross, Ga.
There’s a pretty easy answer here: Tom Crean was available now, as was Thad Matta. There weren’t coaching free agents of that stature available in 2009 when Fox was hired — at least not who were interested in getting back into coaching. That remains an open question with Matta.
This is not to take anything away from Georgia’s administration. It ended up making a change in a year that Crean, a high-profile coach with a keen interest in the profession, happened to be available, and in a year in which there weren’t a huge amount of other openings. The ones that are open have major questions. Louisville has the FBI scandal. UConn has its own NCAA issues. Pittsburgh has cratered. Georgia’s job opened in the same year as the position at Ole Miss, and it appears both Matta and Crean prioritized Georgia over Ole Miss, which most would.
Nine years ago the Georgia job came open in the same year as the jobs at Kentucky and Alabama. Kentucky obviously is on its own planet, but Georgia and Alabama were fighting over many of the same candidates. In fact, Anthony Grant often was mentioned with Georgia, but he ended up going to Alabama, where he saw a good opportunity. Former athletic director Damon Evans and UGA also targeted Mike Anderson, who was at Missouri at the time. Georgia didn’t end up with either, so it ended up going the mid-major route. There was no big-name free agent out there to turn to next.
OK, Bob Knight was out there and wanted a look. But that was about as likely to happen then as considering Rick Pitino was this time.
There’s another difference between now and 2009: money. Georgia had more to spend this time around.
The creation of the SEC Network has put more cash in the coffers of every SEC school, which not only helps in the football arms race, but allows schools like Georgia to spend more than they ever would have thought to on a basketball coach in 2009. Back then, the additions of Texas A&M and Missouri were still three years away, and the advent of the SEC Network came two years after that.
The SEC payout in 2009 was $11 million. Last year it was just under $41 million.
One other factor: Georgia basketball is in better shape than it was in 2009. Fox left the program after five straight winning seasons with a decent nucleus of returning players. Crean, as much as he wanted to get back into coaching, was still collecting a buyout and had just moved his family to Florida, and he could afford to be selective. He took over a disaster at Indiana a decade ago and didn’t want another rebuilding job.
Georgia isn’t a rebuilding job anymore. It’s about taking it to the next level now.
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