BLOOMINGTON, Ind. -- Tom Crean couldn't say "no" when
Indiana offered him the coaching job.
He thought back to the undefeated 1976 team he watched as a child, the first coaching clinic he attended with Bob Knight, the appearance of Kent Benson in his hometown of Mount Pleasant, Mich., and the respect he had for the program.
Yes, his loyalties always seemed to be with Indiana, and after his introduction Wednesday as the new coach, he's finally a Hoosier.
"This was a heart decision," Crean said, his voice cracking. "This was not a business decision or a legacy decision. I'd had other opportunities to walk away [from Marquette], and none of them felt like this. I'm going to miss those people a lot, but I'm excited to be here."
Indiana fans are just as eager to have him in Bloomington.
By giving Crean an eight-year deal worth $18.24 million, an average of $2.3 million each season, the Hoosiers paid a hefty price to forget one of the darkest chapters in school history. Kelvin Sampson, who resigned as coach amid an NCAA scandal in February, was to be paid a total of $1.1 million this past year before accepting a $750,000 buyout to go away.
Sampson's alleged NCAA violations, player suspensions and player dissension all made wins and losses moot at a school that lives and dies with basketball.
Crean's job is to clean up the mess.
He wants to restore Indiana's national prestige, just as he did at Marquette, and he challenged his new players to complete that task with the same energy and passion he's bringing to the program.
"I'm going to look for people who understand why we wear the candy-striped pants and why we wear Indiana on our jerseys," he said. "It's going to take time."
Yet it didn't take long for the 42-year-old coach to turn on the charm.
Before stepping to the podium, he kissed his wife, Joani, two of his children -- the 2-year-old had run off to look for stickers -- and grabbed a T-shirt that read "Crean and Crimson," a play on the school colors, cream and crimson.
"They handed this to me an hour ago," he said. "I guess this let's me know where I am."
For Crean, the uncertainties will make this the most daunting task of his career.
Athletic director Rick Greenspan said he would not get involved in whether Crean decides to let them return, and two players who attended the news conference, guard Jordan Crawford and forward Eli Holman, remained unclear about whether Bassett or Ellis or both might be reinstated.
"I can only do so much, but that's not up to me," Holman said when asked if he would lobby on behalf of his friends.
Crean also understands how difficult it will be to rebuild the Hoosiers, who still have a June hearing in front of the NCAA infractions committee stemming from the phone-call scandal that led to Sampson's resignation Feb. 22.
There's no indication of how severely the NCAA may punish the university, and school officials have already stripped the basketball team of one scholarship next season.
All of the baggage still couldn't dissuade Crean from taking the job he called the best in the country, especially after former college coach Eddie Fogler called twice on behalf of the search committee.
"I would say I decided sometime between the first two conversations I had with Mr. Fogler, and the general interest from the university really brought the fan out in me," Crean said. "If you ask people, some might rank it [the job] in the top three or the top five or the top 10 in the country. To me, it's No. 1."
Even at a basketball school, Crean found his introduction upstaged.
Instead of holding the news conference on the Assembly Hall floor, as was the case for Mike Davis and Sampson, it was moved to a room underneath the football stadium because a Hillary Clinton rally was scheduled to be held Wednesday afternoon in Assembly Hall.
Neither the location nor the timing seemed to matter to Crean or anyone else involved in the search.
"We started this process about two weeks ago, and we're here now with a good result," said Harry Gonso, the former Indiana quarterback who chaired the 10-member committee. "I want to make it clear that we only made an offer to one candidate."
For the players, now with their third coach in less than two months, the announcement was a relief.
"It didn't seem quick enough, it's been horrible for us," Crawford said of the search. "It was a very long season, a lot of stuff happened, so it's good to start it over and have a better season."
Crean wouldn't quibble with that, and although he asked for patience, the new coach doesn't want this to be a long rebuilding project.
After all, Indiana fans would never stand for much losing.
"I'm taking over a very challenging situation, and I know it is and you know it is," he said. "But that lit something in my heart because Indiana is bigger than any one person. I can't tell you with eloquence how I feel. It's Indiana. It's Indiana."