Shatel: Chris Crutchfield’s hiring could help heal wounds from dropping out of football at UNO | UNO

First downs and second guesses:

Sandy Buda, the long-time UNO football coach, has yet to set foot in Baxter Arena.

The old coach, like many former Maverick football players, disassociated himself after the school dropped football in 2010.

But now? Leave the light on at Baxter and save the man a seat.

“I’ll be coming to a lot of games,” Buda said.

That’s the impact of Chris Crutchfield’s hire as men’s basketball coach.

Yes, as “Crutch” returns to his alma mater — where he played both football and basketball — the focus is on hoops and when he can fill the building and take the Mavs to the NCAA tourney.

But an unintended impact of hiring Crutchfield might serve as the biggest impact of all.

There were a number of former UNO football players at Monday’s press conference at Baxter Arena.

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Meanwhile, UNO Athletic Director Adrian Dowell says he has “heard from a good amount” of former Mav football players the last three days.

“They say they are coming back,” Dowell said.

For all the progress that UNO athletics has made in this town, it’s happened without a good share of its alumni and, frankly, donor base.

That detachment was the cost of business when Trev Alberts ended the program, and though it’s been over a decade, the wounds still go deep.

Maybe Crutchfield, who says he has maintained friendships with several of his football teammates over the last 30 years, changes that.

Maybe it heals those wounds, brings some of that Maverick football beef back into the fold. Maybe UNO can become united in this town again.

The impact, particularly in donations, could be significant.

Wouldn’t that be something?

“It’s crazy,” Buda said. “I haven’t had that happen before and I haven’t heard of that happening before, that a former football player ended up being a basketball coach at his alma mater.”

If Crutchfield can get his old coach in the building, anything is possible.

New UNO men’s basketball coach Chris Crutchfield speaks after being introduced on Monday.


Other stuff from a big day at UNO:

» Buda tells the story of how he found Crutchfield, a tall wide receiver, at Anoka-Ramsey Community College in Coon Rapids, Minn., in 1989.

He said Crutchfield redshirted his first season at UNO, and that winter, Mavs basketball coach Bob Hanson lost two big men to injuries and needed someone.

“They had a dunk contest before a game or at halftime,” Buda said. “Chris won the contest.

“I guess he set up a table and jumped over the table and dunked the ball. Hanson saw it and asked him if he could consider coming out for basketball. That’s how he played basketball.”

Crutchfield said there was a little more to the story.

“I’m from Hopkinsville, Kentucky,” Crutchfield said. “That’s basketball country. I was a basketball player first. I was going to play basketball at Austin Peay University.

“I was a Prop 48 (did not qualify academically). The assistant coach at Austin Peay tried to hide me and another recruit at this juco in Minnesota. Then we would go back and play basketball at Austin Peay.

“I played both sports in Minnesota. The football scholarship (offer) came first. I took a visit here. Fill in love with the place. But Coach Hanson said he didn’t have room.”

The dunk contest story is true, Crutchfield said.

“I ended up jumping over a table,” he said. “Pulled some girl out of the stands (and jumped over her).” He (Hanson) said, “You can come play now.”

After his redshirt football year, Crutchfield played two years for Tom Mueller in 1990-91. And two years for Hanson.

The criminal justice major wanted to pursue a career in the FBI, but Mueller talked him into helping him as a graduate assistant.

After an eventual switch to basketball, the rest is history.

» Crutchfield said a new practice facility is in the works, as is an increase in scholarships to match the cost of attendance. On deck: an NIL plan.

The former ace recruiter at Oklahoma (Trae Young, Buddy Hield) and Oregon plans to hit that angle hard. He said both Ducks head coach Dana Altman (Creighton) and assistant Kevin McKenna (former UNO head coach) told him the UNO job had “unlimited potential.”

“I want us to compete for Summit League championships and NCAA tournaments year in and year out,” Crutchfield said. “I think it’s possible. So many things make this job great. Over 70,000 alums in this area. I can sell this place.”

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UNO Athletic Director Adrian Dowell, left, and new men’s basketball coach Chris Crutchfield listen to University of Nebraska President Ted Carter talk about the hiring of Crutchfield on Monday.


» While athletic director Adrian Dowell will upgrade some aspects of the program, the “buy” games with high major teams will not all go away.

“Buy games are part of the business at this level,” Dowell said. It’s not a unique issue at UNO. We’ll always play some. But if you can go from four to three and raise the money to get a home game, that’s what we want.”

Crutchfield said; “Until we get this place filled every night, then maybe we can stop playing those games. But that’s the job.”

» Maybe urgency is what is needed to get the Nebraska baseball team going. Urgency arrives this weekend in the form of Michigan baseball. It looms as a pivotal series for the rest of the season.

» Much like Scott Frost, Fred Hoiberg is so loyal to a group of coaches that I wonder who he knows in college basketball _ and can bring to Lincoln.

The additions that Frost lured have to give Hoiberg some hope. But perhaps the biggest change Hoiberg must make is to immerse himself more into the recruiting process.

» And if NIL is as good for Husker football as Casey Thompson says, it needs to be a big factor in helping Hoiberg bring some talent in.

» Viva Las Vegas, Isaiah Saville. UNO’s excellent hockey goalie leads a group of former Mavs into the pro ranks. For coach Mike Gabinet, it’s good to have that legacy to sell, and always hard to replace.

» Jim Flanery and the unsinkable Creighton women’s basketball team have been doing their thing in the shadows of our hoops season. Now they take center stage. Well done, ladies. More on them later this week.

One more and I’m outta here: Hey there, Maddie Krull. The pride of Millard South and redshirt freshman at South Dakota helped the Coyotes to a massive win over Baylor on Sunday. Keep it going this week in Wichita.


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