Dakich had replaced former coach Kelvin Sampson, who resigned after NCAA recruiting violations.Between Crean's hiring and the start of the 2008–09 season, freshman Eric Gordon opted to leave early for the NBA and star forward DJ White graduated.However, during this period Crean's recruiting classes progressively improved, most notably with the signing of five-star recruit and Mc Donald's All-American Cody Zeller, an Indiana native.
Crean spent two stints at Michigan State, first during the 1989-1990 season as a graduate assistant under then head coach Jud Heathcote at the behest of then assistant coach Tom Izzo, whom Crean had befriended on the summer camp circuit.
From 1990 to 1994 Crean served as the associate head coach under Ralph Willard at Western Kentucky.
Michigan State later went on to honor Crean with a 2000 National Championship ring; even though he wasn't on the staff at the time, he'd helped recruit and develop many of the players on the title team.
According to Crean, "Once Marquette became available, that's where my sights were.
Despite the long odds, Crean was known to approach games and practices as if Indiana could compete in each one and to continue stressing Hoosier Hysteria and the long tradition of success at the school.