When Crean needs someone to talk to about coaching, he calls his brothers-in-law, both of whom know a little bit about the ups and downs of coaching: Baltimore Ravens Coach John Harbaugh and San Francisco 49ers Coach Jim Harbaugh. Crean is married to their sister, Joani.
“I talk to them all the time,” Crean said. “Sometimes I call them, sometimes they’ll call me just to let me kind of unload on them. John is great at making sense of things quickly. Jim’s different. He’s just a force of nature.”
One of Crean’s lowest moments was a game against Wisconsin in February 2010. The Hoosiers lost, 78-46, Indiana’s worst loss ever in Assembly Hall. Crean wasn’t around to see the end, having been ejected midway through the second half.
“I was frustrated, embarrassed, angry — you name it,” he said. “Right after I got into the locker room there was a knock at the door and it was John. He was in town for the [NFL] combine. He gave me a talking to, telling me not to be embarrassed and not to feel bad because I was standing up for my players. If he hadn’t done that I probably would have gone in after the game and apologized. Instead, I went in and said I’d never apologize for standing up for my team. Which was the right thing to do. Then John sat up with me until 2 in the morning, even though he had to go watch kickers at 7 the next morning.”
Crean often watches Ravens and 49ers games on tape in part so he can try to think along with his brothers-in-law but also because it is less emotional that way. “Watching a game live when my parents-in-law are in the house is pretty intense,” he said. “This weekend [when both teams have NFL playoff games] will be tense but a lot of fun.”
As difficult as Crean knows it will be for his team going into Ohio State — especially having beaten the Buckeyes already — he feels a lot more comfortable walking onto the court with a team he knows can compete.
“I really think the experience of the last few years made me a better coach,” he said. “Because I had no choice. I had to try to come up with creative ways to stay in the game, to find ways for us to compete. I had to keep my head down and stay focused on the process of getting better. I never thought we wouldn’t get it turned. But it’s very nice for all of us to see the work starting to pay off.”
Two wins, even huge wins, at home do not a champion make. But there’s no doubt the Hoosiers have come a long, long way. Even if their coach is still spending a lot of time on SR-37.
For more from the author, visit his blog at www.feinsteinonthebrink.com. For his previous columns for The Post, go to washingtonpost.com/feinstein.