When Tim Crutchfield took over as the 16th head coach of the West Liberty basketball program in 2004, the Hilltoppers were coming off an abysmal 4-23 campaign in 2003, and went 11-16 the year prior to that. In fact, the season statistics on WLU’s official basketball page stop in 2002.
Probably with good reason.
Before Crutchfield, West Liberty had just two 20-win seasons in over 80 years of basketball.
But over the past seven years, Crutchfield has transformed WLU into a perennial power, posting at least 20 wins each season. This past year, the Hilltoppers were undefeated heading into the Division II tournament, before falling to BYU-Hawaii in the national semi-finals.
Disappointing? You bet. “We did have a chance to win [a national championship!” Crutchfield said on Talkline with Hoppy Kercheval. “If we would have played well, we had a legitimate chance to win a national championship.”
Still, a loss in the national semi-finals shouldn’t be the lasting impression for what was otherwise a once-in-a-lifetime kind of year. For his effort, Crutchfield has already won the Basketball Times Division II Coach of the Year and is a finalist for the National Association of Basketball Coaches National Coach of the Year.
Well deserved honors to be sure, but Crutchfield is trying to keep it all in perspective.
“Right now we’re just enjoying the season we had and trying to get through the one loss we took,” said Crutchfield.
“I realize I’ve lost touch with the rest of the world. Obama is still president and [Joe] Manchin is no longer governor, right?” Crutchfield joked.
Well, one would hope, anyway.
Crutchfield should know about state politics and issues; he’s a West Virginia guy. Crutchfield grew up in Clarksburg, and being a self-admitted “small guy”, played guard at what is now Robert C. Byrd High School.
Crutchfield found a job coaching Cameron High School in Marshall County, where the coach posted a sub .500 record.
“[It was] a tough place to win there. It’s a small school where wrestling has kind of been king there, and it was a great town to coach, but it was tough place to win.”
Eventually, though, Crutchfield found his way to West Liberty and achieved paramount success. With that success, though, comes expectations. The pressure to win is greater than ever before. At least one other guy in West Virginia knows what that’s like.
“The day the Mountaineers were announced to be in the NCAA tournament as a five seed, I heard someone say ‘The Mountaineers were down this year. They had a rough year,’” said Crutchfield. “Huggins has created a monster for himself down there in Morgantown. They had a great year.”
High expectations can wait until the season starts. For now, Crutchfield will graduate four seniors, visit some AAU camps and – maybe – try and visit his beach house. All the while, he’ll try to find a balance between enjoying the moment and keeping his feet on the ground.
“I still take out the garbage at home, but I’m soaking up as much of this as I possibly can”