ST. LOUIS (AP) — Just days removed from the start of fall practice in 2011-12, Rick Majerus needed an assistant coach — fast.
Jim Crews had 24 hours to decide.
“He said, ‘I think we’re going to win a lot of games, we’re going to eat well and we’re going to laugh a lot,’” Crews remembered. “A great trifecta.”
Saint Louis hired Crews on Friday, stripping his interim tag and making him the official replacement for Majerus, who died last December.
The official step came after a record-setting season and nearly three weeks after the Billikens were eliminated in the NCAA tournament. But Crews has known he was staying put for quite a while.
“We knew were going to get to this point,” Crews said. “It just took time.”
Crews accepted blame for the pace. He did his own negotiating before the final stages, when an attorney guided him through the fine print, and said with the exception of the decision to join Majerus, he’s very deliberate about major decisions.
“Well, I am slow,” Crews said. “I dated my wife for six years.”
Crews didn’t act much like an interim coach, doing a lot of recruiting. He thought he may have lost a prospect or two given the uncertainty, just as the school did when Majerus became ill, but has been pleased with the response.
“Actually, I think it’s been pretty darn, I think the kids have been very receptive,” Crews said. “I think kids probably have a pretty good education into volatility in coaching, so I don’t think they get too worked up about it.”
Crews said negotiations had nothing to with him having a long wish list, and anticipated the coaching staff would return intact.
Athletic director Chris May said the talent level of the prospects is the best he’s seen in five years.
“Jim Crews is the perfect fit,” May said. “I could not be more encouraged about where we sit with the program.”
Counting last season, Crews has been a college head coach for 25 years with a 382-355 record at Evansville and Army. This is by far his highest-profile job.
Crews had been doing TV work and youth coaching before joining the staff for what he believed would be a one-year assignment before the 2011-12 season. He made a quick transition from assistant to interim head coach last summer when Majerus was hospitalized with heart problems.
Crews led the Billikens to a 28-7 record, the most victories in school history. They were No. 13 in the final rankings.
“How happy he is,” said Rev. Lawrence Biondi, the school president said of Majerus. “Rick Majerus had the foresight to choose Jim.”
Saint Louis was the Atlantic 10 regular season and conference tournament champion and was a No. 4 seed in the Midwest Regional before losing to Oregon in the third round. Forward Dwayne Evans, the A-10 tournament MVP and the team’s top scorer and rebounder, is among four regulars back along with center Rob Loe and guards Mike McCall Jr. and Jordair Jett.
Given the timing and nature of the success, both sides agreed to postpone talks until the season ended.
Crews was runner-up for AP’s coach of the year and was named national coach of the year by The Sporting News and the National Association of Basketball Coaches as well as A-10 coach of the year. As assistant coach in 2011-12, Crews helped the school go 26-8 and end a 12-year NCAA tournament drought.
Crews gave the credit to his players, who sat in the first two rows until he freed them for an offseason workout, for adjusting on the fly to the coaching change and injuries during the season.
“I’ve always felt the best success is shared success,” Crews said. “They showed unbelievable resolve.”