Tom Crean lasted four seasons at Georgia before being fired this spring after a very tough season on the court.
That was obviously bad news for Crean. But, at the time, we wrote how it could be very good news for college basketball fans who enjoyed his work as a game analyst. On Thursday evening, Michael McCarthy at Front Office Sports reported that Crean will indeed be making a return to broadcasting at ESPN. As per McCarthy, he’ll handle game duties as well as some studio work starting on December 7th.
Crean’s first broadcasting run came during the season between his Indiana firing in 2017 and his taking the Georgia job in 2018. In just a few months, though, Crean managed to make a very strong impression. He showed off a command of the modern game and the kind of attention to detail that put him in rarefied air as an analyst who can express complex and relevant concepts in simple and entertaining ways.
Trae Young’s been impressive but Tom Crean is the star of this game. He sounds like he’s been a color analyst for 10 years.
— Stewart Mandel (@slmandel) January 24, 2018
Those are rare gifts for broadcasters. Plus, in the years since Crean’s first stint in the booth, he wasn’t out of the sport. He was instead right back in it, coaching players like Anthony Edwards, spending time on the recruiting circuit, and scouting teams and players across the country.
There’s a reason some of the best analysts are people recently out of the sport. Crean (seen above on the sidelines in a February 2022 game) has that element, plus a year of prior broadcast experience under his belt.
He seems to understand this, too. Talking to McCarthy, Crean laid out the traits he feels are most important for a broadcaster:
“If you have energy and you have excitement for it, there’s nothing wrong with doing that,” he said. “I think people want to feel good about what they’re watching. They want to have a reason to go back to that game. Or tune in the next time.”
At the same time, today’s modern sports fan wants to learn, said Crean, who coached Marquette, led by Dwyane Wade, to the 2003 Final Four. The trick is to be both entertaining and educational.
“I think it’s so important that you tell people, ‘Here’s what you’re seeing. But here’s why you’re seeing it.’”
It’s hard to come up with a better summation than that, and it speaks to why Crean was successful the first time. He takes the broadcast side of the job as seriously as he takes the basketball side. This won’t surprise anyone who has followed Crean’s coaching career. The man is hardwired to take his job seriously. He’s a natural fit with the Harbaugh family.
If anything, that commitment to the job hurt him in past stops. As an Indiana fan, I watched Crean’s single-mindedness and occasional inflexibility help lead to the end of his tenure. (And while Indiana is in a good place now under Mike Woodson, the disastrous years after firing Crean helped repair his image within the fanbase.)
Crean’s presence on a broadcast isn’t enough to get me to block out a night to watch random college games. We’re probably past the era of a broadcaster being able to do that (though the ManningCast novelty came close last year.) But if I’m trying to find something to kill time this winter, having a choice to watch Tom Crean dissect basketball in a fun way is a hell of a tiebreaker.
He’ll almost certainly return to coaching at some point. But that’s all the more reason to enjoy Crean’s talents while we can.
[Front Office Sports; photo from Dale Zanine/USA Today Sports]