Time running out, but there’s hope for Crean

This is not over yet.

The buyout clock can stop ticking.

The whispers turned to screams can be silenced.

The all-out falling out between IU basketball fans and their coach can be repaired.

But it is has to start Thursday in Chicago and continue next week in whatever first-weekend NCAA tournament outpost the Hoosiers are sent.

It is stunning to see Tom Crean’s rapid fall from grace among IU’s faithful. It’s not that it hasn’t been coming for some time or that the criticism, in large part, isn’t deserved.

The coach’s ability to transform from head cheerleader to chief tactician has been a question mark since his arrival in Bloomington. He turned the reeling program around, but is he good enough to get it back to the top of the mountain?

There appear to be many who doubt that. And the speed with which they turned on the coach — their coach — is alarming.

After losing their third straight game Saturday, going 4-8 since late January and having their NCAA Tournament hopes turn into a bubble, fans are voicing their frustrations.

During last Tuesday night’s home loss to Iowa, Assembly Hall was filled with boos. Since then, local radio talk shows have debated Crean’s job status and some callers tried to orchestrate a boycott of Saturday’s game. The seats were nearly filled to capacity, and there was not much booing.

Online message boards also have been inundated with posts calling for Crean’s ouster and lobbying for possible replacements.

All of that was enough to set off Michigan State’s Tom Izzo, Crean’s mentor.

“Am I a little frustrated with it? Yeah, I am. Do I think he’s a hell of a coach? Yes, I do. Do I think he’s got to make adjustments just like I do and everybody else? Probably,” Izzo said. “But I’m telling you the guy can coach.”

Can he? I mean, that really is the question. IU is 27-22 in February and March since emerging from the NCAA scandal that gutted the program about the time Crean took over.

Indiana AD Fred Glass is squarely behind Crean publicly, but even he cannot quiet the forces that have stirred an unusually loyal and patient fan base.

Two years ago, with future lottery picks Victor Oladipo and Cody Zeller on the floor, the Hoosiers started the season No. 1 and left the tournament with a Sweet 16 loss to Syracuse in which Crean was thoroughly outcoached.

It’s not just about Xs and Os. Multiple off-the-court issues the last two years have stained a program striving to be clean.

Crean’s treatment of some players has been concerning, particularly popular fifth-year senior Matt Roth, who had his scholarship pulled. The term “creaning” has even found its way in the urban dictionary to mean pulling a scholarship and awarding it to a more highly valued recruit.

All that fodder is again surfacing. Frankly, it is just that. As much as those other factors matter, winning is only thing that can save Crean’s job now. But let’s be clear — winning can still save it.

Indiana fans worshiped the biggest horse’s rear-end of a coach for three decades because he won. Success blinds supporters and turns flaws into quirks.

Bob Johnson is a sports correspondent for the Daily Journal.