By MICHAEL MAROT
AP Sports Writer
BLOOMINGTON -- Passion led Tom Crean to Indiana. Success could turn him into a statewide folk hero.
The former Marquette coach jumped right into the high-stakes game of Hoosiers basketball on Wednesday, accepting the challenge of rebuilding the school's tattered reputation and restoring its national appeal despite all the blemishes surrounding the program.
"This place, this university, this program, for as long as I can remember, has stood for class and integrity, doing the right thing and being the right way," Crean said during his introductory news conference. "We're not going to be overwhelmed by the challenges, we're going to embrace them."
To show he was all in, Crean went all out.
Before stepping behind the podium, he met with his new players, told stories and offered to have more meetings before he heads to San Antonio for the Final Four. The 42-year-old coach, who grew up in Michigan, even took a moment to shake the hand of football coach Bill Lynch.
"I haven't gotten a chance to work with a football coach in a long time," joked Crean, who spent the past nine seasons at a non-football playing school.
Crean also walked over to his family, kissed his wife, Joani, and two of his three children -- the 2-year-old ran off to find stickers. Finally, he held up a newly printed T-shirt that read "Crean and Crimson," a play on the school colors, cream and crimson.
Despite Crean's charming wit and enthusiastic personality, the honeymoon will be short.
He must deal with the taint of last season when Indiana's once-impeccable image for playing by the rules was shattered by allegations of Kelvin Sampson making impermissible phone calls. The NCAA accused Sampson of committing five major infractions, which led to Sampson's resignation Feb. 22.
The university's self-imposed punishment includes the loss of one scholarship next season.
And, of course, he must win.
So Indiana is giving Crean some extra time to clean up this mess.
He agreed to an eight-year deal worth $18.24 million, an annual average of $2.3 million -- believed to be the largest in school history. It's more than double what Sampson was scheduled to make last year, $1.1 million, and is a year longer than the contract Sampson signed in 2006. Sampson also accepted a $750,000 buyout to resign on Feb. 22.
While Crean pleaded for the patience of fans to right things, the coach who took Marquette to the 2003 Final Four acknowledged he will rely on his trademark recruiting skills to sign players who can meet the expectations of a school looking to cleanse its stained image.
"I'm going to look for people who understand why we wear the candy-striped pants and why we wear Indiana on our jerseys," he said. "Our eyes are wide open right now for Indiana basketball, and we can't wait to get started."
The Hoosiers can't wait to start over, either, after one of the bleakest seasons in school history.
Player suspensions, player dissension, the NCAA allegations and a midseason coaching change overshadowed everything Indiana did on the court -- won 25 games; was in contention for the Big Ten title; spent all but one week in the Top 25.
Then came the two-week coaching search.
The combination made players anxious, and they're hoping Wednesday's announcement will finally provide a respite from their turbulent six-month whirlwind.
"I think it helped to find a coach and get everything behind us," forward Eli Holman said. "It's like another chapter to a book."
Despite his enthusiasm, the new coach can't solve every problem.
Indiana is scheduled to have its hearing in front of the NCAA infractions committee in June, and there is no indication whether the school could face an even harsher punishment when the ruling is handed down.
Two players, starting guards Armon Bassett and Jamarcus Ellis, were kicked off the team by interim coach Dan Dakich on Tuesday, before Crean was hired. Athletic director Rick Greenspan said he would let Crean make the decision about possible reinstatement. Players said they were told Crean would meet with both players later.
Still, Crean, a longtime admirer of Indiana basketball, found the job attractive.
He said he made his decision between two phone calls from former college coach Eddie Fogler, who was a consultant to the school's 10-member search committee.
"This was a heart decision," Crean said, his voice cracking. "This was not a business decision or a legacy decision. I'd had other opportunities to walk away, and none of them felt like this. I'm going to miss those people a lot, but I'm excited to be here."
Somehow, though, the hiring of the most prominent employee at Indiana University -- men's basketball coach -- still got upstaged even in this basketball-crazy state.
Instead of holding the news conference on the Assembly Hall floor, as was the case for Mike Davis and Sampson, it was moved to a room underneath the football stadium because a Hillary Clinton rally was scheduled Wednesday afternoon in Assembly Hall.
The players were just happy it was over.
"It didn't seem quick enough, it's been horrible for us," Jordan Crawford said of the search. "It was a very long season, a lot of stuff happened, so it's good to start it over and have a better season."
The hiring of Crean, Indiana hopes, will make that possible.
"He's very excited about the job," Crawford said. "Indiana is a good job. If you're doing good, everyone talks about Indiana University as a big-time school, and he's very passionate about it. So he's going to work hard to get the job done."