ATHENS – The Georgia basketball program has won just seven NCAA Tournament games in its history. Tom Crean has won more than that by himself.
The same was true of Thad Matta, the former Ohio State coach who turned down Georgia’s offer on Wednesday. All indications are that UGA moved on quickly to Crean, the former Indiana coach who appears genuinely interested in the job.
Crean was set to meet with Georgia officials on Thursday, an industry source confirmed. If the meeting goes well, things could move swiftly.
Georgia athletics director Greg McGarity as well as UGA president Jere Morehead are both at the meeting, one person familiar with the search said.
Georgia offered Matta a five-year deal worth at least $3.2 million annually, according to people familiar with the offer, and it figures that Crean would get something on par with that deal. Indiana was paying Crean an annual salary of $3.1 million entering the 2015-16 season, his second to last at Indiana. Crean received a $4 million buyout when he was fired last year.
Crean was first contacted by Georgia representatives last Saturday, after the firing of Mark Fox. That was the only contact for a few days while Georgia pursued Matta. But attention then turned to Crean, who apparently was not fazed by not being the first choice.
Pittsburgh has interviewed Crean, and the Louisville and UConn jobs are open. After a year away from coaching, and working as an ESPN analyst, it appears that Crean is motivated to coach again, and the Georgia job intrigues him.
If Georgia hires Crean, it would continue a trend of SEC schools hiring experienced coaches. Six of the league’s last 10 hires have been coaches with power-conference head-coaching experience.
“I think that’s what caused the rejuvenation of this league. We had some good coaches. And we added some good coaches,” said Mike Tranghese, the former Big East commissioner who is an adviser to the SEC on basketball. “Georgia’s a challenging job, but I think all the jobs in this league are challenging because the competition is getting tough. But it has great facilities, and great fans, and has a lot of great players in the area.”
Tranghese said he has followed the Georgia search “pretty closely” and has spoken with McGarity. He said he also knows Crean well. But Tranghese didn’t want to talk about specific candidates, letting the process play out.
Crean has a long record as a head coach, first at Marquette – where he took the team to the Final Four in 2003 – and then at Indiana, where he took over amid NCAA sanctions. The Hoosiers struggled in Crean’s first three seasons before making Sweet 16 trips in 2012 and 2013, and again in 2016. But Indiana went 18-16 last season and Crean was let go.
Crean, who will turn 52 next week, was born in Michigan and has spent his entire coaching career outside of the Southeast. Tranghese, speaking generally, indicated that shouldn’t be a disqualifier.
“In a perfect world you get someone who knows your area. But if the person isn’t a good recruiter it doesn’t do any good,” Tranghese said. “I still think it’s got to be a good fit. The guy’s got to be able to coach, he’s got to be able to recruit. I think the guys that Greg is looking at can do both.”
While Crean is now the focus of Georgia’s search, at least publicly, it does appear other coaches at least remain on the radar.
Earl Grant, the 41-year-old coach at College of Charleston, could be discussed once his team is done playing. Charleston plays Auburn on Friday night in the first round of the NCAA Tournament.
Texas coach Shaka Smart, 40, has been mentioned as a possibility the last couple days. But Gary Parrish of CBS Sports reported Thursday afternoon that Smart and Xavier coach Chris Mack both “politely declined” overtures from the search firm being used by Georgia.
There is sentiment among Georgia boosters for bringing back Tubby Smith, with Jonas Hayes as a top assistant and heir apparent. However, that option apparently hasn’t gained traction with the administration.