UNO fans and staff got the chance to meet new men’s basketball coach Chris Crutchfield during Monday’s introductory press conference.
Before the event at Baxter Arena, Crutchfield got the opportunity to meet his new team.
“He just told us he’s ready to win. We’re ready to win, too,” said freshman forward Frankie Fidler, who led the Mavs in scoring at 12.9 points per game this season. “He said lui just be ready to work and be ready for a big season next year.”
Crutchfield takes over the coaching reins from Derrin Hansen, who was the Mavericks’ coach the past 17 seasons. He was let go on March 6 after UNO had back-to-back five-win seasons.
Fidler called it “a crazy experience” for the UNO players to go through a coaching transition.
“I talked to (Athletic Director Adrian Dowell) a couple of times and he reiterated to just be patient, we’ll get someone here,” Fidler said of the hiring process.
Dowell said the man the Mavs brought in is “a perfect fit” for the program. Crutchfield is a UNO alum, having played football and basketball for the Mavs in the 1990s. And after spending most of his coaching career as a Division I assistant, Crutchfield now is a DI head coach for the first time.
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“This is really and truly a dream come true. In a thousand years, I couldn’t imagine coming back to Omaha and being the head basketball coach,” said Crutchfield, who was emotional Tuesday about returning to UNO, where his wife also is an alum. “In my mind, I’ve been at this podium a thousand times.”
Crutchfield comes back to Omaha with a reputation as an effective recruiter who also develops talent. He worked for former Creighton coach Dana Altman at Oregon this past season, and he also worked for Lou Henson at New Mexico State and, most notably, Lon Kruger at Oklahoma in the 2010s.
With the Sooners, he helped recruit and develop guards Buddy Hield and Trae Young, who have become stars in the NBA. Fidler said he’s impressed by Crutchfield’s recruiting and developing abilities.
“His time at Oklahoma is pretty impressive,” said Fidler, who sat with his teammates in the front row Monday. “He talked to me about Buddy Hield, how he helped kind of make him the player he is today. And I think Oregon had a pretty good recruiting class coming in this year.”
Crutchfield said one of his first priorities is getting to know his roster and “trying to find out what our needs are.”
He said he told the team he has compassion for them because he’s seen his share of players deal with coaching changes. He added that he also had a message for them.
“I want them to start thinking differently about their approach to being a Maverick,” Crutchfield said. “We want to turn this thing around right away. We don’t want to wait. I think we can turn this thing around right away.”
UNO’s rotation this season included four players from the Metro Conference – Fidler (Bellevue West), Nick Ferrarini (Millard North) and Omaha Creighton Prep’s Akol Arop and Kyle Luedtke.
Crutchfield said recruiting local players will be essential moving forward.
“We have to try to keep local kids here,” he said. “The way we do that is we get to them early and make them a priority when they’re freshmen and sophomores, and make it hard for them to say no to Omaha.”
And now that’s he’s back in Omaha, Crutchfield is ready to get to work.
“This is my school, and I believe in this school,” he said.