Meet Joani Harbaugh Crean

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Meet Joani Harbaugh Crean

Tom, Megan, Joani, Ainsley and Riley Crean
Tom, Megan, Joani, Ainsley and Riley Crean

Georgia’s new basketball coach Tom Crean hit the ground running at work. The family is joining him in Athens soon and I had the opportunity to connect with his wife Joani to welcome her to the Bulldog Nation. We shared a laugh when discussing Coach Crean’s energy! With Georgia’s resources and recruiting base matched with Crean’s vision for UGA’s basketball program and enthusiasm on and off the court, the future looks bright! Enjoy getting to know Joani Harbaugh Crean better here …
Wife of a coach (Tom Crean, head basketball coach University of Georgia), daughter of a coach (Jack Harbaugh, longtime head football coach at Western Kentucky), sister to two coaches (Jim Harbaugh, head football coach at the University of Michigan and John Harbaugh, head coach of the Baltimore Ravens) – what is it like living in a coaching world? Explain the good and the bad.
The good certainly outweighs any negatives. The young men that have gone through our programs and became family are the #1 positive. They have been my kids’ first “heroes.” Each Crean child has had their favorite! We have met so many people at both Marquette and Indiana who have been so good to us as a family. I would say the challenge is the perception versus reality of fans! And instant ways to be critical of a team or coach. The coaching world certainly allows us to enjoy what our family loves … time together and also seeing lots of basketball!
The “friendly” sibling rivalry of your brothers is world renowned. Tell a story about its origins when you were kids growing up.
I would say it has been fun watching both of my brothers competing on an international stage, so to speak! They are both outstanding men and coaches. The story that always sticks out is car rides. I am the baby and really played my role well! The backseat was never big enough and I kept getting pushed side to side by both … each claiming the big square as their seat! So I just had enough and would sit up front with Mom and Dad! Back then you could do that! It always bugged them too!
Explain the question in your home growing up – “Who’s got it better than us?”
I believe it all started when dropping off my brothers to school. They, of course, would complain and my Dad would yell, “Who’s got it better than us? Attack the day with an enthusiasm unknown to mankind … and don’t take any wooden nickels!” I mean, who can come back with something negative after that?
Your husband’s enthusiasm is contagious, do you mind sharing some details as to how he won you over? 
Well, 25 years ago we were a bit more reserved! It took a bit for us to start dating. I think what really won me over was his caring for me. He was an incredible worker and passionate about what he wanted to do. It took a bit, but I finally gave in!! 😉
Your family had a year or so away from the demands of being a Division 1 NCAA coaching family, what did you gain most from it? And what did you miss most?
We gained some ability to just take some deep breaths. As parents, your first concern is how will this affect the kids. We wanted them to be comfortable and have stability. It was hard on all of us. To pour yourselves into nine years and be all in … it takes a lot out of you when it is no longer wanted! But we really rallied behind our daughter Megan, who graduated from Indiana University and getting her settled into chasing her dream, then getting Riley into what he wanted to do and making sure Ainsley had a place to be that she loved. It all worked out well. We all missed the family group we had in the staff and team. Tom missed having a team to work with each day. The kids and I missed the games. You really realize how much it is a part of your family life. But living in Florida was like a vacation! I wouldn’t change anything that happened … God has a plan and we really allowed ourselves to listen. 
Will you let the Bulldog Nation know five characteristics they can expect from a Tom Crean coached basketball team?
I don’t really have a set number of characteristics that he has or a mantra. Bulldog Nation can expect a tough minded, ready to run, defense creates offense type of team. The athletes themselves will be held to a high standard of respecting the school, fans and fellow students. It will be an honor to play for UGA and they will hopefully share Tom’s enthusiasm on and off the court!
I saw that your family recently attended the 13th Annual Dick Vitale Gala to support pediatric cancer research through the V Foundation, do you mind sharing y’all’s involvement with that incredible cause?
The involvement all starts with Dick Vitale’s pure enthusiasm for this cause. He has really rallied the coaching and sports community to support pediatric cancer. I believe we attended the first event and several since. We have met several kids that just touch your heart. You try to take that back to your community and do what you can. We support a young lady, Tatum Parker, who was doing great good at Riley’s Children’s Hospital in Indianapolis. 
Beyond the V Foundation, do you have other philanthropic endeavors that are near and dear to your heart?
Tom has a unique level of empathy towards others. A lot of what we do is usually done in private. He would often have people going through something come to practice, meet players after a game etc. You try to take a couple hours away from their struggles to have fun through sports. We are very supportive of our church and churches in general. I have done work with homes that help women in domestic crisis and also an organization that supports children who have been through abuse. 
Are you an athlete? If so, in what sports? 
I’m highly competitive … not sure that makes me an athlete though! I played a variety of sports. I really had a love for volleyball. I enjoy tennis now and racing my kids to do anything!!
What are your hobbies outside of sports?
We just got a rescue dog this past November, Cooper! He has become our fun hobby. We are working with a dog trainer and I have enjoyed learning how to raise a dog. I love to read, be outside and enjoy tennis. Really it all comes down to being with my family. Our kids bring us true joy …
Share some places on your bucket list for when you arrive in Athens.
I really think I need to compile that list! I sure can’t wait for the first football weekend! It will be fun to be a part of that tradition. I think as I learn more about the town and its history, I will start to explore and try to really learn more about Athens. We already have our ceramic dawg at our Florida house! I checked that off the list! 

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Cheri Leavy is a connector, cheerleader and marketing consultant for fellow entrepreneurs. Constantly on the lookout for the newest talent in the South, Cheri has a passion for helping entrepreneurs create and share their brand storytelling through her endeavors - The Southern Coterie • guide2athens • Bulldawg Illustrated