Tom Crean is a college basketball coach with over 400 career wins and three all-conference Coach of the Year awards. He most recently coached at the University of Georgia and previously had long-term stints at University of Indiana and Marquette. He is also the brother-in-law of of famed football coaches John and Jim Harbaugh.
We caught up with Tom for this week’s Friday Five…
Who is your biggest mentor?
It’s hard to name just one for me. It’s really the people that I worked for—especially early on. Denny Kuiper, My high school coach. Ralph Pim, who I worked for at Alma College, gave me my first chance. Certainly, Tom Izzo is one. Ralph Willard, who I worked for for five years at Western Kentucky and Pittsburgh. Those are probably the ones that really gave me a lot of confidence, training, the understanding—just everything that you need to understand: all the different facets, all the unknowns. They really helped me with that.
If you could give your younger self one piece of advice, what would that be?
Understand, as early as you can, that you don’t get to pick and choose what matters.
When you’re in coaching, you have to understand every aspect of the business and you don’t get to pick and choose what you feel like doing that day. You want to be well-versed in everything and you want to understand every position as well as you can. You want to be as helpful as you can be in every position.
What happens is: You fall into this belief that you can just focus on what you want to focus on, and that doesn’t prepare you to be a head coach. What prepares you to be a head coach is understanding every facet.
What has changed most about the coaching profession since you got started in 1987?
I would say the “One for All and All for One” on the staff. That’s the biggest thing, especially when it comes to backing up how you discipline players. It’s so easy for guys to want to be liked and for guys to migrate to the best players. They don’t understand, at times, that everybody needs to be coached. You have to support one another in everything.
More and more, people want responsibility. They want a role without the accountability, but if you want a responsibility, then you have to understand how to be accountable for it. Coaches are getting harder to coach and teach because more and more younger guys are coming up not believing that they need that. But you do need that. It doesn’t matter what age you are. It doesn’t really matter what role you are in. You need that.
If you had one moment in your professional life that you could bottle up and save forever, what would that moment be?
Beating Kentucky in the Elite Eight when they were on a 26-game winning streak and were No. 1 in the country. We beat them to go to the Final Four in Minneapolis. Nobody thought we could do that, but our players believed it. They had enough belief to compete. Then, as the game went on, they believed it totally.
If you could invite any three people in history to dinner, who would they be and why?
I would go with Mark “The Bird” Fidrych, because I got a chance to see him pitch three times as a rookie, and that was unlike anything I had ever seen in my life. I would just like to be able to talk to him about what that experience was like.
Chuck Noll, because I never got a chance to meet him. I would want to know what that was really like. What was that like? Getting that team to win? Day in and day out with that discipline and the fundamentals.
Finally, Scotty Bowman, because I think he’s one of the greatest winners that’s ever done it in any sport. I would love to be able to talk to him about how he motivated and how he stuck with it. How he saw through things. How he was able to get guys to be at their best even when they didn’t know he was doing it, or they resented it.