The day after the Omaha men’s basketball season ended, Omaha Athletic Director Adrian Dowell announced he was making a coaching change. Less than two weeks later, Dowell had his guy, and it’s someone Dowell calls the “perfect fit” for the program — Chris Crutchfield.
“It’s an honor and it’s a humbling experience to be able to come back to your alma mater,” said Crutchfield, who was a two-sport (basketball and football) athlete at UNO in the early 1990s. “To come back to a place that you’ve kept close to your heart for so long, and I’ve always kept my eye on the program.
“I’ve interviewed for a lot of jobs, and I really feel like God wanted me to be here eventually. It worked out the right way.”
Crutchfield becomes the 22nd coach in program history, and he’s no stranger to college basketball. He brings a wealth of experience back to the school where he once played and started his coaching career. To be exact, he has more than 25 years’ worth of experience.
Crutchfield served as an assistant coach at Oregon this season and has made previous stops at Oklahoma, Arkansas, New Mexico State, Oral Roberts and TCU along the way. However, he takes over a program that has always had a special place in his heart.
“In a thousand years, I couldn’t imagine coming back to Omaha and being the head basketball coach,” Crutchfield said. “It’s something that I’ve dreamed about a long time and now that it’s true it is so, so surreal.”
The Kentucky native stood at the podium in front of family, friends, media and his newest coaching cohorts during his March 21 introductory press conference. There were also several of his former coaches and teammates in attendance, many of whom had drifted away since the university cut football in 2010.
That support from the Omaha community is part of what makes returning to his alma mater so special. Crutchfield even referred to his return to UNO as “surreal” and “a dream come true.”
Crutchfield, who has developed a reputation as a respected recruiter throughout college basketball, reiterated multiple times that he believes he can sell the program and the city of Omaha to recruits. He also has the track record to back it up as Crutchfield was instrumental in the development of Buddy Hield and Trae Young, among others.
While meeting with The Gateway and a group of media before that introductory press conference, the Mavericks’ new head coach talked about a variety of topics: community support, funding, a practice facility, NIL, Baxter Arena — the list goes on.
Throughout that entire sit-down conversation, there was clear excitement in his voice. But there was also a clear sense of pride.
“He wants to see his alma mater do well,” Dowell said. “He wants to see the kids do well and he wants to see the city be engaged, because he’s been here. He’s done it, and it means a little bit more to you when it’s a place you went to school.”
From Crutchfield’s standpoint, it’s a great opportunity, as this is his first head gig at the Division I level. It’s also a perfect fit from a personal standpoint too. His wife, Jodi, is also a UNO graduate and is from Omaha. The two even got married in Omaha.
But all these years later, it’s come full circle.
“At the end of the day, it’s a win-win for me, my family, and I think I want to be the one to take this program to the NCAA Tournament,” Crutchfield said. “I can’t think of another situation or a program like this and I’m excited for that challenge.”