Jim Crews was the right hire for Saint Louis University men’s basketball team, but…
Crews was named interim head coach at the beginning of the 2012-13 season when it was announced that Rick Majerus would not coach this season. Crews led the Billikens to a school-record 28 victories (28-7), Atlantic 10 Conference regular-season and tournament championships and a second straight NCAA Tournament bid.
For his leadership, Crews earned national coach of the year awards from the Sporting News and the National Association of Basketball Coaches (NABC). He was one of four finalists for the Naismith Coach of the Year award. In addition, he earned his fifth conference coach of the year honor when he was named A-10 Coach of the Year.
So, naturally, why search for one of the most celebrated coaches of year when he’s in house?
Let’s be honest. Crews is the natural, dare I say perfect, choice to lead the Billikens. He led a group of young men through perhaps the most arduous period of their lives — unexpectedly losing someone who was more of a father figure than a coach. But not only did Crews lead them, he was also masterful in creating a seamless transition from Majerus’ resignation to the NCAAs. To you and me, Crews’ role as head counselor of the Billikens may not seem like much, but don’t overlook how it will look to a high school senior’s mother.
And beyond the off-the-court standards — treating the SLU community with respect, taking school seriously, being a good citizen — which Crews demands, his on-the-court game plan is exactly what this group of players has executed so well for the last two seasons. Why mess with a well-oiled machine? For you basketball aficionados, the new head coach of the Billikens runs essentially the same style of man-to-man defense that Majerus was a maestro of. Crews will look for the three and four position to be dominant and complement those players with a smart point guard and outside shooters. Sound familiar? It should.
Dwayne Evans is your current three-man. Cody Ellis re-defined the four position at SLU. Kwamain Mitchell was one of the best point-guards in the A-10 and Mike McCall one of the conference’s most prolific outside shooters.
But that’s what worries me. Jim Crews works well as the head coach of the Billikens now. What about the “figurative tomorrow,” though?
I have three main concerns going forward and it may take years to figure out the answers.
1. Will Jim Crews maintain the Majerus system or will he begin to implement his own system?
2. Will he be able to recruit the appropriate players to fill the needs of that system?
3. What did SLU do to make sure that hiring Crews wasn’t just a safe choice but the right choice?
The first question gives me the least concern. It’s Crews’ team now, so he is free to throw out the Majerus playbook and start with his own. Yes, they have similar systems, but Jim Crews is not Rick Majerus. And, let’s just say it, Majerus is gone. Maybe it is time for SLU to move on and embrace the styles of their new head coach. This could also be more of a formality than a real concern. We’ll see next fall.
Crews has previously lamented the time and effort it took to recruit players. It is an incredibly taxing job, but nothing could be more vital. So far, he has landed a touted recruit in Reggie Agbeko; so the arrow is pointing up. My opinion is that it’s not imperative that he lands the top recruits in the nation, but rather players who are the perfect fit for his style. It’s worked here before.
And finally, what exactly did SLU ask before offering Crews the job? Who did they talk to? What outside opinions were given? Before coming to SLU in 2011, Crews had last been on the coaching staff — as head coach — of an NCAA team, Evansville, in 1999. He went 10 years without an appearance before joining Majerus’ staff as an assistant. Is that an indicator of things to come?
SLU has finally turned the corner of national prominence. A Big East invitation could be in the mail any day. Crews is the captain of the ship now. I have faith that he will keep the program sailing in the right direction.
Only time will tell.