“I have had to buy a house, sell a house and get started here,” Crawford said on Friday as renovations to the Blue Raiders’ field house were in full swing.
“I really thought April and May would be a good chance to get started and get caught up on some things, but I found out that a lot of people wanted to talk about Cleveland football. I was kind of like the new puppy. They wouldn’t put me down.
“But, I also think that is a great sign, that people want to talk about Cleveland football. It was a great time for me to listen and hear what people thought. It was a great learning experience.
“Every day is an experience. I’m just trying to put both feet on the ground every morning, put one foot in front of the other and trying to learn the kids, the system and the expectations. Everybody has been great to me. It’s going to be a fun challenge.”
The new coach, after all the handshakes and howdies played out a bit, was finally able to settle into figuring out just how the engine operates on the East Tennessee end of the map. Still, with three months’ experience he said there is a long way yet to go.
“I’m not even close,” Crawford said with a laugh.
“I’ve been in Middle Tennessee for years. I don’t have a great feel for the way things are done here. Things are done quite different. You would think two hours away, we would all be thinking the same way, but that’s not true. From freshman games to junior varsity games, everything is done differently. I don’t know any of the officials and I don’t really know any of the opponents so the biggest thing for me is trying to learn our kids and our coaches because they are all new to me.
“Really, every day I learn something new. You stamp out one fire and another one pops up. Every day has been a challenge, that’s for sure. It has been interesting.”
With the learning process still in full swing, Crawford is already in the process of replacing his first vacancy on the coaching staff after the departure of defensive line coach Gary Murray.
But, Crawford will not be a lonely coach in totally unfamiliary territory. A couple of familiar faces in the forms of Benny Monroe and Leon Brown — both former CHS head coaches — have been in the field house and that may have Blue Raider faithful even more excited about the upcoming season.
“I have been a huge admirer of coach Monroe for many, many years. That is due not only to his coaching acumen, but the kind of person he is. He was instrumental in my coming here. Coach Leon Brown has been out of (coaching) for a while. He is going to come back and help us. He is going to be my assistant head coach. He is going to be the guy who helps me understand how things have been done and what needs to be done. I don’t want to say right-hand man because we are going to kind of do this thing arm-in-arm. I want him to be a big part of it. I’m so excited to have him come back,” said the coach.
The new coach laughingly hedged a bit when asked if Monroe would be on staff. “He told me he is retired. But, we are going to find something for him to do. That is for sure.”
Former Blue Raiders veterans Matt Ingram and Heath Ware are also coming back to be a part of the new Cleveland look.
In the middle of it all, Crawford has been making plans for the beginning of his first season as Cleveland’s coach. Serious training begins Monday putting, an end to the dead period and a month of only running and weightlifting.
“We will start teaching football. It is the first time you can get a football out. We will continue our weightlifting, continue and do some football instruction as well,” he said.
Crawford familiarized himself with the Blue Raiders during eight days of spring practice and will continue the process beginning with the first organized practices. The team will be forced, for a few days, to live with field house renovations currently under way.
“It’s been something our administration had done for us to make this an enticing place. We have repainted the entire field house. We have new flooring going down in the weight room and new equipment coming. We are excited about that,” he said. “We have been talking to kids about it and it is about to come to fruition for them to see.”
With all the renovations and introductions still taking place, Crawford is ready to get the ball rolling. The veteran coach hopes he will soon shake the “new coach” label and quickly become the leader of a winning football program.
“The kids seem excited. It’s new to them. We have been in a dead period but we had an otherwise great June, for the most part. There are obviously those guys who need to be doing more that aren’t. But, there are some guys that don’t miss a day and do everything you ask them to. Setting a standard and not deviating is going to have to be kind of where we start this thing,” he said.