John Beilein’s opening statement following Michigan’s 72-71 loss to Indiana Sunday afternoon at Crisler Center was reflective of his appreciation for the spirit of competition. “What a terrific basketball game,” he said.
While the post game spotlight should have shone upon the memorable battle and what Indiana did to win a strong Big Ten race, it focused instead on the awkward verbal attack Hoosier coach Tom Crean directed at current Michigan basketball assistant and former Indiana assistant, Jeff Meyer.
Cameras and microphones were at center court to catch a piece of the one-sided exchange. "You know what you did,” Crean yelled at Meyer. “You helped wreck the program. You helped wreck our program."
A day removed from the incident, Crean was remorseful for the outburst.
“The one thing I want to get out of the way, because I don’t want it taking away from the game at all is a professional misunderstanding I had with Coach Jeff Meyer after the game,” he said in Monday’s Big 10 conference call. “On the way to the plane I talked to him on the telephone. We discussed a couple of things, I apologized for that. In retrospect I wish I would have never addressed anything in the heat of the battle in a game.''
On that same call Beilein was unwilling to address Crean’s conduct directly, but indirectly he made clear his distaste for what took place.
"I'm not going to comment on another coach or another university,” Beilein stated. “I will say that Michigan is always going to win with class, and they're going to lose with class. We're never going to use victory or defeat as a platform for any frustrations we're going to have. I'm really proud of the way Jeff showed great poise and handled himself in the aftermath of the disappointment in that loss. He's a great coach and he's helped us rebuild this program brick by brick, side by side with me. I'm glad he's on our sideline."
While neither side will likely have any further comment, the reason for the “professional misunderstanding” is still unclear. A source on the floor indicated to GoBlueWolverine.com that the mix-up occurred during handshakes. A clearly excitable Crean apparently mistook words of congratulatory praise for a politically incorrect way of saying ‘go away.’
As Beilein alluded to Monday in his response regarding the incident, Meyer handled the spat with “class,” by not reacting to the situation in any way. It was a vivid example of the way coaches are expected to conduct themselves, a standard that CBSSports.com National College Basketball Writer and Analyst, Seth Davis spoke of during an interview this morning on the Michigan Insider on Sports talk 1050AM WTKA.
“We all know the background in terms of what Jeff’s role was at Indiana with the whole Kelvin Sampson thing,” Davis said during his interview with GoBlueWolverine’s Sam Webb. “I feel like I know Tom Crean pretty well. I feel like I know Tom Crean about as well as any college basketball coach.”
“Tom is a hard driving, high-energy guy who, in the heat of battle -- and that doesn’t necessarily doesn’t have to be in the context of the game -- it can be in recruiting, it can be in any context -- in the heat of battle, quite frankly loses perspective. And he is a guy who in his life, I think has a lot of perspective.”
Composure is a trait sometimes lacking among competitors. That’s why the regimented shows sportsmanship in the aftermath of competition are so important. After a win, take a moment to congratulate an opponent on a game well played. After a loss, set aside the negative energy for a split second to give the opposing team a nod and wish them good luck in the future.
According to Davis, this is something Crean continues to work through dating back to an incident a few years back with Ohio State coach Thad Matta and most recently with Wisconsin coach Bo Ryan.
“I’m really big with that post game handshake,” said Davis. “And a lot of this has to do with the fact that I’m a father now and I have three boys who all play sports.
“And it’s funny because I’ve talked to Tom Crean a lot about that and he acknowledged to me, ‘I got to get better at that,’ and sometimes he’ll have a game where he loses and he shakes the guys hand and he’ll send me a text message saying, ‘how was the handshake?’”
Sunday was one of those moments the accomplished coach who won a national championship as an assistant at Michigan State, built a strong program coaching Dwayne Wade at Marquette, and rebuilt Indiana to elite status – needs to get better from.
“He is aware of these things but it was a moment where he lost his perspective and he lost his composure and forgot his larger responsibility to the game,” said Davis. “Whatever his feelings about Jeff Meyer, that was a completely inappropriate time and place to express them. He was forced to apologize. And not to mention, unintelligent, which Tom is not, but to do it on a basketball court with a million cameras around and the world of twitter -- it just wasn’t smart.”
“I’d like to think he learned his lesson but Tom is a very emotional guy and these things are going to happen and in this case I think he was definitely wrong.”
Both programs now move on to the Big Ten tournament this weekend in Chicago and could setup a much talked about rematch in the semifinals on Saturday should both teams advance.