UGA Basketball

ESPN's Dick Vitale feels Georgia is close to landing its next men's basketball coach

Tom Crean
Tom Crean AP

Longtime ESPN analyst Dick Vitale predicted Georgia will soon have its head coach.

According to an early-Thursday report from USA Today, the Bulldogs’ brass is slated to meet with former Marquette and Indiana head coach Tom Crean about the open men’s basketball job. This comes on the heels of Georgia believing it had all but locked up Thad Matta for the position, only to be spurned at the last moment.

Vitale, however, believes Crean is the perfect fit for Georgia. In a phone interview with The Telegraph, Vitale made the bold prediction that Crean will ultimately receive an offer and take the job.

“I think Tom’s going to get the job. There’s no doubt in my mind. I believe that,” Vitale said. “I said that on SportsCenter, that he will be the next coach at Georgia. I firmly feel that way. He will be a slam dunk. He has energy. Georgia needs some juice in basketball. They need energy. They need recruiting. They need a guy who can really give them a buzz.”

Vitale’s thoughts on Crean come with a little more credence than most. Vitale said he lives roughly two minutes from Crean down in Sarasota, Florida. For the past year, Crean has worked as a college basketball analyst at ESPN, the same company Vitale has been with for years.

The two talk often and have shared thoughts on the subject. From Vitale’s perspective, the Georgia job is likely intriguing to Crean.

“I know he wants to coach. I know he was excited Georgia spoke to him,” Vitale said. “Nothing has been offered at this moment, but I think it will be. I think it’s going to be a done deal.”

Vitale later added: “I hope I’m right in predicting it. I just feel it. I think something would have to happen that I’m not aware of to make this not happen. I’m telling you, it is all aligned for him to be the coach.”

Crean spent nine years at Indiana from 2008-17. In that span, he led the Hoosiers to three Sweet 16s in four NCAA Tournament appearances. It did take some time to rebuild the program since his tenure began with the NCAA putting the Hoosiers on probation for violations that occurred under previous head coach Kelvin Sampson.

Despite a run that finished with four NCAA Tournament appearances in his final six years, Crean was let go following a 2016-17 season that saw his team finish tied for 10th in the Big Ten.

That year, the Hoosiers began 14-6 with wins over Kansas and North Carolina. Season-ending injuries to OG Anunoby and James Blackmon Jr. then occurred, and Indiana wasn’t the same team down the stretch.

“I just think he got a raw deal at Indiana, I will tell you right now,” Vitale said. “At Indiana, he took them out of the depths of despair. They were on probation, they were having problems there. … It changes your whole team in basketball if you lose one key player. If Georgia loses (Yante) Maten they win maybe 12 or 14 games.”

While Crean advanced to the second weekend of the NCAA Tournament three times with Indiana, he took Marquette to a Final Four in 2003 with Dwyane Wade on his roster. With both Indiana and Marquette, Crean holds a career win-loss record of 356-231. In the NCAA Tournament, Crean holds an 11-9 record.

Georgia turned its attention to Crean after Matta, who was extended an offer, decided not to take the job. Matta told ESPN that he wasn’t “completely ready at this point to give (athletics director) Greg McGarity and the University of Georgia what they deserve.” Matta has long battled a health issue stemming from a botched back surgery that has left his right foot disabled.

Vitale believes Crean is the right fit for what he called a “sleeping giant” at Georgia. With the number of quality players in the region, the college town of Athens and the proximity to Atlanta, Vitale sees the right coach turning Georgia into a perennial winner.

While Georgia has the “football school” stigma, Vitale said, Crean will be able to use that to his advantage when it comes to basketball recruiting. He cited former Florida head coach Billy Donovan and Notre Dame head coach Mike Brey as those who used their schools’ football prowess to build their respective basketball programs.

If he winds up at Georgia, Vitale thinks Crean will be the coach who can “get them over that hump.”

“I think they need new life there,” Vitale said. “You hook up Tom Crean with Kirby Smart — are you kidding me? They would be a dynamic duo in terms of energy and enthusiasm.”