Saint Louis Billikens Relieve Jim Crews of Head Coaching Duties

Jan 10, 2016; St. Louis, MO, USA; Saint Louis Billikens head coach Jim Crews reacts against the Virginia Commonwealth Rams during the first half at Chaifetz Arena. Mandatory Credit: Jasen Vinlove-USA TODAY Sports
Jan 10, 2016; St. Louis, MO, USA; Saint Louis Billikens head coach Jim Crews reacts against the Virginia Commonwealth Rams during the first half at Chaifetz Arena. Mandatory Credit: Jasen Vinlove-USA TODAY Sports /

After two straight losing seasons, Jim Crews has been fired as SLU’s head basketball coach.

After an impressive victory over George Mason in the first round of the Atlantic 10 tournament, the Saint Louis Billikens were eliminated from the tourney (and by extension, any chance of postseason play) with a 73-65 loss to George Washington on Friday. After the loss, SLU AD Chris May wasted no time in determining the future of head coach Jim Crews. As CBS Sports’s Gary Parrish first reported on Thursday, Crews will not return as the Billikens’ coach next season.

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As May said in the school’s official release on Thursday, ““Jim Crews took over as head coach during a very difficult time and has led the men’s basketball program with great class and dignity,” May said. “Jim has represented our University well and has helped the program achieve success on the court and in the classroom. His character and commitment are exemplary, which made this decision ever more difficult. However, the last two seasons have not been as successful as we had hoped, and we believe new leadership is needed to move the men’s basketball program forward.”

Crews, who took over on an interim basis due to the illness (and subsequent death) of Rick Majerus in the fall of 2012, was given the official head coach title in the spring of 2013. His first two seasons were nothing less than magical by Billikens standards. He led the Billikens to a 28-7 (13-3 conference) record in 2012-13, winning both the A-10 regular season title and postseason tournament, which earned the team a 4 seed in the NCAA tournament. They picked up a victory over New Mexico State in the round of 64 before suffering an upset loss to Oregon two days later.

Though he had to deal without two of the senior anchors of that team, guard Kwamain Mitchell and forward Cody Ellis, Crews oversaw a Billikens team that soared to even greater heights in 2013-14. They went 27-7 (13-3 conference) while going on a 19-game winning streak between December 3 and February 22. That netted them the regular season A-10 title again, and though they lost in the first round of the conference tournament, they rebounded to collect a comeback overtime victory against NC State in the first round of the NCAA tournament that will go down as one of the best wins in school history. Crews’s Billikens also played the highly-regarded Louisville Cardinals hard in the second round before ultimately suffering a 66-51 loss.

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After losing five seniors–the group that most commonly comprised his starting lineup during 2013-14–Crews’s fortunes significantly changed course, though. The Billikens went 11-21 (3-15 conference) last season, finishing in last place in the A-10 and missing the NCAA tournament for the first time in three years. Crews’s Billikens showed no signs of improvement during 2015-16, going 11-21 (5-14 conference) with sophomore Milik Yarbrough taking a major step back after looking to be Crews’s most encouraging recruit last season, so it’s safe to say that his initial momentum had evaporated.

When he was simply tasked with leading a group of Majerus recruits, anchored by Jordair Jett, Dwayne Evans, Rob Loe, and Mike McCall, Crews thrived.  But an inability to recruit his own players–coupled with a no-nonsense, perhaps abrasive attitude that led to feuds with his existing players–spelled Crews’s fate at SLU. Crews and his staff were directly responsible for the departure of Majerus’s final recruiting class in 2012-13. Point guard Keith Carter left during his freshman year after feeling pressure to play injured while dealing with a foot injury, and in a story that created plenty of negative headlines, forward Jared Drew had his scholarship pulled by Crews after the season. Two additional Majerus recruits, guard Austin McBroom and forward Grandy Glaze, as well as one of Crews’s own, forward Tanner Lancona, transferred from SLU following 2014-15 due to feuds with the coaching staff. His failure to mesh with players hasn’t exactly been surprising, considering rumors that Crews was fired for physically and verbally abusing a player while he was the head coach at Army in 2009.

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Due to Saint Louis University’s status as a private institution, Crews’s salary has never been publicly released, but he has three years remaining on the five-year deal that he signed after the 2012-13 season. Via the Billikens’ news release on Thursday, “SLU is looking for a coach with a history of success and who understands the Department of Athletics’ commitment to the strategic objectives of educating, competing and building community.”