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Alex Chilton died on March 17, 2010, at the age of 59.
March 17, 2018
This week, the University of Georgia Athletic Department hired Tom Crean as its new head men’s basketball coach. Crean, as smartly summarized by my friend and fantastic college sports reporter Seth Emerson, said in his opening press conference that he saw the Georgia job as one he could make “one of the most driven, energetic programs in the country. That can compete and play for national championship. To play for conference championships. To compete for anything that’s put in front of it.” As a head coach, Crean has won more NCAA Tournament games than Georgia has won in its entire history, and he gives the team and the school instant credibility in a sport in which even some of its most dedicated alumni tend to mock as unimportant and piddling out of some sort of strange desire to look like the Super No. 1 Georgia Football Fan, I guess. The guy coached and developed Dwyane Wade and Victor Oladipo. He’s a home run hire.
This is an exciting thing for me. I’ve had Georgia basketball season tickets for five full seasons now, right down there in the front row, caddy-corner on the opposite side of the opposing bench. (I always joke that I don’t have the Jack Nicholson seats, but I have the Dyan Cannon seats.) As someone who grew up more of a college basketball fan than a college football fan, I leapt at the opportunity to have season tickets for a major Power Five program whose games I can literally walk to from my house. I never miss a game I am in town for, and now I have three tickets in my row. They will have to crowbar those tickets out of my cold, dead hands. Illinois will always be my first love; if Illinois ever plays Georgia in any sport, I’m wearing my orange and blue. But I’ve grown to love this Georgia team, and Stegeman Coliseum, and all the friends who sit around me, and all the times the boys have gotten to high five Hairy Dawg after a Georgia dunk. I plan on going to the games with the boys’ grandchildren someday from those seats.
So I’m delighted by Tom Crean. He’s a big-time coach that shows the school is finally taking college basketball as seriously as I take it. I can’t wait to see what he does with the program, and not just down the line; he’s got a talented team next year, with a style that is infinitely more aesthetically pleasing than Mark Fox’s was. (And I liked Fox. But man that team was hard to watch this year.) As a season ticket holder, I approve.
But. My father, with whom I’ve watched more Illinois basketball games than is healthy, was in town when the Crean news landed and sniffed. “Ugh, we hate that guy,” he said. “I don’t care for him at all. I thought you hated him too.”
He was of course right. Crean coached at Indiana for nine years, and there is no species more hated by Illinois basketball fans than the head coach of Indiana’s basketball team. Forged in steel by Bobby Knight, every single one of them, from Kelvin Sampson to Tom Crean to now Archie Miller, has been on a Joe Maddon-level of repulsion in the Leitch family. (We gave Mike Davis a break, which was wise: Mike Davis is kind of awesome.) And we held out special dislike for Crean. There is a willful earnestness, an unabashed optimism, that Crean has that is surely wonderful if he’s your coach but excruciating to sit through if he’s coaching your rival. (This is also called Advanced Pat Fitzgeraldism.) Crean is so much fun to make fun of, whether it was the time he cut down the nets for winning the Big Ten Championship team even though his team had just lost, or the time he high-fived every fan at Assembly Hall after beating a middling Illinois team, or, of course, the Tom Crean Face.
This is the popular one:
But this one might still be my favorite:
I don’t even know how you get hair to do that.
We made fun of him all the time at Illinois, from those dopey faces to his piercing sincerity to his sideline demeanor. (It is recommended that all those sitting near the Georgia bench buy earmuffs for their children.) When he was fired, my Dad and I were glum because we liked seeing him suffer but happy we wouldn’t have to look at him anymore. We couldn’t stand him.
Crean only got fired one year ago. And yet, the minute Georgia hired him, I forgot all of it. He stopped being their guy; he became our guy. Suddenly: He’s great! My supposedly overwhelming, irreversible feelings about him reversed instantaneously. I didn’t just drop my ill feelings toward him. They vanished entirely.
This isn’t just sports in a nutshell: It’s life. It’s politics, it’s family, it’s work, it’s everything. (It’s apparently even religion now.) Everything we dislike can be something with cherish with a switch of circumstances and perspective. Tom Crean was the villain. Now he’s going to be a major source of my and my family’s personal happiness and productivity for the next half-decade. I like to think that I am a consistent person, who has a throughline of belief and values that carry me through all the ups and downs and confusions of day-to-day existence. But the minute my team hired someone who I’d actively mocked for a decade, I not only stopped ... I forgot I ever mocked him at all. Sports will make you crazy, people. The whole world will.
Oh well. Whaddya gonna do? Go Dawgs! Go Illini!
By the way: We are headed out this very second to see the Lady Bulldogs host Mercer in the first round of the NCAA Women’s Tournament. I think it’s pretty excellent that I can just go walk to a tournament game from my house, and coach Joni Taylor has a very exciting style of play that, frankly, the men’s team could use more of. Also, she’s in a workout class with my wife. Go Lady Dawgs!
Here is a numerical breakdown of all the things I wrote this week, in order of what I believe to be their quality. (This is an attempt to have an objective look at the value of my work in a way that I suspect will be difficult to sustain.)
1. Your NL East Preview, MLB.com. This was the best of these previews, I think.
2. The 10 Oldest Players in Major League Baseball, MLB.com. The yearly staple, making its debut on MLB.com. We are so old.
3. Debate Club: Great Child Performances, SYFY Wire. Not the Haley Joel Osment performance you’re expecting.
It’s good to take a breath during your kids’ spring break week, I think.
THE WILL LEITCH SHOW
Super, super fun show this week, with MSNBC’s Chris Hayes. You have to subscribe to SI TV on Amazon Channels to watch the show now, but I hope you do. I think it’s starting to get its sea legs a bit. Watch it here.
Grierson & Leitch, “A Wrinkle in Time,” “The Death of Stalin,” “Gringo” and, good lord, “The Boondock Saints.”
Seeing Red, Bernie Miklasz and I are getting the hang of this. If you care about the Cardinals at all, you have to subscribe.
Waitin’ Since Last Saturday, first show in studio in two months, previewing the very Tom Crean hire that was about to happen.
We were in Jupiter, Florida, this week, and had a wonderful time. The boys were ... relaxed.
Have a great weekend, everyone. Be safe out there.