WEST LIBERTY - Having grown up in Clarksburg, Jim Crutchfield knows what it means to be a West Virginian. So when he was informed the West Virginia Sports Writer's Association had voted him the winner of the Furfari Award/W.Va. College Coach of the Year for a third straight year, the significance was not lost on Crutchfield.
"It's flattering and there's no doubt about it, it means something to me,'' said Crutchfield, who is the second coach to win the honor three times in a row (WVU's Bob Huggins from 2008-2010), surpassed only by former Marshall football coach Bob Pruett's four-year run from 1997-2000. Legendary Fairmont State men's basketball coach Joe Retton holds the overall record for being honored, with five awards to his credit.
The fact Crutchfield will receive the award for the second time in his hometown as part of the 67th annual Victory Awards Dinner on Sunday, May 5 at the Village Square Conference Center, is pretty special.
"The location does mean something. It's right there in the middle of where I used to hang out as a kid,'' Crutchfield said. "That used to be the bowling alley and I spent tons of days there.
"The tennis court, the gym, I spent a lot of time there.''
Crutchfield beat out a star-studded cast for the award. West Virginia women's soccer coach Nikki Izzo-Brown, who led the Mountaineers to their first Big 12 crown, finished second in the voting, followed by WVU rifle coach Jon Hammond, whose team won a national title, and Glenville State women's basketball coach Bunky Harkleroad, whose Pioneers won the West Virginia Conference regular-season title (27-4) and led the nation in scoring (95.3 ppg.)
"When you get an honor like this, you're representing the whole program. I am just the one who gets it,'' Crutchfield said. "That is the way it works.
"Not just with this award, but that is also how I present it to my guys when they get an award.''
Crutchfield has taken the Hilltoppers to new heights. This season they set a school record with 34 victories against two defeats and made their third straight appearance in the NCAA Division II Elite Eight, qualifying for the Final Four for the second time in three seasons. They have won 30 or more games three times in a row, and are four-time defending WVC Tournament champions, marking just the second time that has, or will, happen since the conference is disbanding next year.
During Crutchfield's three Furfari Award-winning seasons, West Liberty has a 99-6 (.943) record. Crutchfield leads all active NCAA coaches - any division - by a wide margin with a winning percentage of .843 (241-45).
"I know we've had a good run over this nine-year period," Crutchfield said. "Could have been (national champs) this year.
"But you can't get caught up in the inside of it. I don't think about it, but everyone knows who we are now, either by coming to the games or watching them on TV. I went to Lowe's recently and there were people who wanted to talk to me about our team.
"I'm almost embarrassed by it."
Crutchfield's team led the nation in scoring for the seventh time in eight seasons (104 ppg.), outscoring every other men's or women's NCAA team - all divisions - by more than 700 points. Ironically, the Glenville State women were a distant second.
The Hilltoppers captured an unprecedented third consecutive Atlantic Region title, winning all three games by an average of 23 points. And Crutchfield is partly responsible for the maturation of the D-II National, Atlantic Region and WVC Player of the Year, Alex Falk.
Crutchfield also earned his second Basketball Times NCAA Division II National Coach of the Year, along with third consecutive NABC Atlantic District Coach of the Year and a record fifth WVC Coach of the Year. The Hilltoppers boss was also a finalist for the John McLendon National Coach of the Year award that went to Georgetown's John Thompson III, as well as the Clarence "Big House" Gaines NCAA Division II National Coach of the Year, which was awarded to Augustana College's Tom Billeter.
In addition to Falk, West Liberty also loses fellow seniors Tim Hausfeld and Chris Morrow, the second-most prolific scoring class in the school's history - bested on by its predecessor - with a combined 4,415 points. That will be tough to duplicate, but Crutchfield feels as though he may have the pieces in place to contend again.