Williamsport’s Chuck Crews Sun-Gazette Coach of the Year

MARK NANCE/Sun-Gazette Williamsport Football Head Coach Chuck Crews, left, and starting quarterback Isaiah Hanks are decked out as Mr. Millionaire after they were named as the Sun-Gazette Coach and Player of the Year.

Chuck Crews knew he could coach and had the pedigree that proved it. Williamsport thought it could compete and had the athletes that could potentially prove it.

What Crews needed was a place where he could simply coach and not have to handle every aspect of the football program as he had to do at Chester. What Williamsport needed was a coach who could tap into that unfilled potential, convince the players they could do great things and change the program’s culture.

Crews needed Wil­liamsport and Williams­port needed Crews. And what a match it has become.

In only his second season, Crews led Williams­port to one of its best seasons in program history. The Millionaires (12-2) tied the program-record for wins in a season, captured their first district championship since 1995 and made their deepest state tournament run ever. It has been a remarkable turnaround and Crews has helped lead the way, making him the unanimous choice as the 2016 Sun-Gazette Coach of the Year.

“Coach Crews is the man. He believed in us when we didn’t believe in ourselves,” Williams­port quarterback Isaiah Hankins said. “He told us what we can do and what we can accomplish and made sure that’s where we were going. Whatever we needed on and off the field, he was there for us. He taught me a lot on and off the field and it’s a great blessing that he came here.”

Crews feels the same way. The former college lineman and assistant coach faced a stacked deck in his first head coaching run. Competing in a loaded District 1 field was tough enough. Doing it with little to no administrative support is near impossible. In­stead of being able to focus on the next opponent, Crews had to manage just about every off the field detail there was.

Coming to Williamsport of­fered not just a new opportunity, but a chance to simply coach. Williamsport has a strong administration and wanted a leader who could produce results on and off the field. Crews has more than met its expectations.

“I had to do everything (at Chester) just because if I didn’t do it it didn’t get done,” Crews said. “Being here, (athletic director) Sean McCann has my back and it’s truly been a blessing. I can just worry about football and create an environment in which the coaches are able to do their job and not worry about anything else. That was the big difference.”

Before coaching any games, Crews first assembled a strong coaching staff. Offensive coordinator Kevin Brown and line coach Keith McCabe helped the offense average 510 yards and 48 points per game this season while defensive coordinator Doug Thiel and line coach Ben Mayer helped the defense shine late in the season and become a good run-stuffing unit.

Together, Crews and his staff, starting young and working up, have built a true program. Do not expect Williamsport to be a one-year wonder. The Million­aires appear built to last.

“People want to look at a Coach of the Year Award and think that it’s a singular person but in actuality, it should be a coaching staff of the year award,” Crews said. “The offense doesn’t work without Brown and McCabe being on the same page and the defense doesn’t work without Thiel and Mayer on the same page. It goes down to our freshmen and junior high programs too, who are doing outstanding work. Top to bottom, everything is taught the same way and every coach is making similar sacrifices.”

Crews and his coaches started turning things around last year as Williamsport made a four-win improvement, went 6-5 and reached the postseason for the first time since 2010. It was only Williamsport’s third winning season since 2002 and it was just the kind of spark Wil­liamsport needed with nearly every starter returning in 2016.

Williamsport had featured talented individuals for years. It was putting everything together that was missing. Crews not only had to make sure the Million­aires played more fundamental, disciplined football, he also had to convince the players they could become serious title contenders. That might have been his toughest task since Wil­liamsport was 8-32 the previous four years.

Everything Crews preached came bursting out in his debut as Wil­liamsport throttled Central Mountain, 48-30 a year after losing late by one point against the same team. The Millionaires had a taste of early success and have really not turned back since.

“It was 50 percent salesmanship and 50 percent fundamentals. I’m so glad that Central Mountain game went the way it did because it validated everything we had done and had been telling them,” Crews said. “We were fresh, we were aggressive, we were hungry and we were going up and down the field and they had no answer. It showed them everything we had been telling them would work and from that point forward it was just a matter of ‘we can do this and now we can do more.'”

The trust between Crews and his players was built before the offseason training even started that first year. Crews related to his players so well. He reached them not just on a coaching level, but on a personal level.

“It felt like a different type of energy. Before he even coached, he wanted to get to know us as people and as he got to know us, playing football became easier,” Hankins said. “It was a good connection before he even started being our football coach. That was the turning point because we knew he cared about us. It was a great feeling.”

The good feelings continued throughout the 2016 season. Williamsport became one of the state’s top eight teams and often dominated opponents. The Mil­lionaires romped to their first Wyoming Valley Conference championship of the 2000s, clinching it with an emphatic, 56-23 mercy-rule win against former nemesis Berwick at Crispin Field. Williamsport then routed two straight district opponents, avenging its only regular-season defeat and pounding Delaware Valley, 55-21 in the final.

State perceptions often are based on what has been instead of what is, so the rest of the state was slow to come around on how good Williamsport was. That changed when the Millionaires beat perennial power State Col­lege, 35-28 in the opening round of states. What once seemed unfathomable had be­come reality. Williamsport suddenly was one of the state’s elite teams.

“It was really good for me to be a part of, but the best part about it from my point of view, was seeing the guys who had toiled in the lean years, both the coaches and players experience this,” Crews said. “We want to make it a tradition now. We’re working on some positive win streaks: two years of consecutive postsason play, the first senior class to leave with a winning record in a while. Each year, we want that bar being raised.”

How far that bar goes remains to be seen. But whatever the fu­ture holds, Wil­liamsport certainly found the right man for the job.

“Coach Crews made sure we reached our full potential and became better men and better football players,” Hankins said. “He is a heck of a person and a heck of a man.”