ATHENS — Georgia coach Tom Crean fell on the proverbial sword on Monday. He apologized — profusely — for his remarks after this past Saturday’s game against Ole Miss.
Following the 80-64 home loss before an announced crowd of more than 10,000 at Stegeman Coliseum and 90 former players there on the occasion of Letterman’s Day, Crean inferred that he wished he had cut ties with some of the Bulldogs’ returning lettermen.
Crean said Monday that he didn’t really realize what he’d said until he read his remarks in news accounts well after the game. At that point, it was too late to take them back.
“It’s been on my mind since Saturday night,” Crean said Monday as spoke to reporters during his regular-scheduled press briefing before Tuesday night’s game at Texas A&M. “I wanted to wait until we got out in front of you guys. I definitely thought about putting out a statement but I thought it’d be better to do it this way.
“I always tell me players you can’t let frustration in, and I always preach that and try to be very cognizant of that. But I think I did. I think I let losing that game and the fact that we had those lettermen there and our fans in general, because I didn;t think we played with the spirit and the passion that we need to. I looked back at those comments and I saw them and it was like I was blaming the players and that was never my intent to do that.”
Crean had actually been talking to reporters for a good while during his postgame press conference following the game when a question about turnovers and poor mental toughness led to one of Crean’s patented long and unscripted rants. It was in the midst of that several quotes came the were pulled out and highlighted some by media outlets, including some that otherwise didn’t cover the game.
“It’s all on me, and I get it. The last thing I can do after making the decision to keep guys on in the spring is now get overly mad at them because I’m the one who made the decision. I live with that every day.”
While Crean’s comments came off as harsh and unsympathetic, the reality is a coach cannot revoke a student-athlete’s scholarship who is otherwise living up to all other conditions of his grant-in-aid agreement with the institution. It is not enough for a coach to determine that a player that was recruited is unable to perform to the standards the program requires. However, it is not uncommon for coaches to be honest with their charges about how much they believe they will be contributing on the field of competition. It’s up to the student-athlete whether they see that as being satisfactory to meeting their athletic goals. But their aid is to remain constant unless standard conduct or academic codes are violated and unmet.
“I tell the kids all the time that I believe in them and if I didn’t they wouldn’t be here,” Crean said. “I didn’t say that and that was a mistake. I am definitely sorry and I have apologized to them. We’ve talked through a lot of things and I apologize to anybody else that offended, because that was never the intent.”
The Bulldogs (10-13, 1-9 SEC) held a team-meeting before Sunday’s practice that lasted more than an hour. In that meet, every player spoke as well as Crean. He said he first apologized to the players for not expressing his belief in them and then they all turned their attention to what they can do to turnaround the season.
The loss to Ole Miss was Georgia’s ninth in a row in SEC, the most since the 2008-09 season when they dropped 11 straight and finished 3-15 in league play. The Bulldogs had 20 turnovers in the game, were out-rebounded on both the offensive and defensive glass and gave up an inordinate number of second-chance points and points off turnovers.
“We had a team meeting and we all came together, coaches, too,” sophomore forward Nicolas Claxton said. “Coach Crean told us what was portrayed on Twitter and social media was not what he meant and he believes in us and has confidence in us. He said he still has that same confidence in us and we’re going to finish the season as strong as we can.”
Georgia will be looking for its first road win of the season on Tuesday against a Texas A&M team that is in very much the same predicament. The Aggies (9-13, 2-8) just won their first road game of the season 68-59 over Missouri. But before that they had dropped six straight conference games. That has turned up the heat on eight-year coach Billy Kennedy.
While the Bulldogs talked about and are quite aware of all the things A&M does well and not so well, it is clear this is a team that is looking decidedly inward. Georgia knows now that 2018-19 is not going to be a memorable season from a winning standspoint but the Bulldogs are eager to show progress and perhaps point back to a season low-point representing a turn-around junction in their first season under Crean.
“Everbody’s mindset is just one getting a W, of course,” junior guard Jordan Harris said. “We’re getting closer and we’re already close and we just want to get tighter as the season goes along.”
Said Crean: “We have to play with a level of spirit and passion and toughness. That’s a high demand every day. When that didn’t happen the way I like to see it happen I think I let it get to me that day. I can’t do that. That’s not a reflection about how I feel about them; that’s not a reflection of how I feel about us. It’s not about blame and I never should have let that enter my mind.”
The irony is Crean made his apology on the eve of gaining a commitment from the highest-rated recruiting prospect in the history of the Georgia basketball program. Anthony “Antman” Edwards gave the Bulldogs and Crean his pledge at a ceremony at Atlanta’s Holy Spirit Prep at 9 a.m. Monday morning.
Since Edwards, a 6-foot-5, 215-pound combo guard, has not yet signed a national letter-of-intent, Crean could not comment on him specifically. But he acknowledged that it had been a good day and he believes Georgia’s basketball future is bright.
“Generally speaking, there’s no if you’re in the state of Georgia that you need to go anywhere else,” Crean said. “Everything is here. It starts not only with the beauty of the campus and it extends to the unreal quality of the education. I don’t have a degree from here, but you get around enough people that do and you work with people that have been here a while and see how people feel about this place and you realize that spirit and energy is here. It translates over into the athletic side and we’re seeing it now on the basketball side. … If you want the best in the game and educationally, it’s all right here.”