HAMMOND |When Matt Crawford took over at Kouts, he knew what he was getting into.
He was replacing Marty Gaff, a likeable, successful coach who had become as much a part of the community as the Koffee Kup over three decades.
But the perceived pressure of replacing a south county hoops legend was something he embraced rather than feared.
"One thing that really intrigued me about Kouts was that somebody wanted to stay there 30 years," Crawford said. "It had to be a nice place or he wouldn't have stayed. You have a sense for how interviews go and it's nice to come in these kind of expectations. It's nice to have that kind of culture. When you have (high) expectations, it leads you to do a better job. You expect more out of yourself."
Crawford came from Oregon-Davis, where the only expectations came with the girls program, a perennial Class A state power. His 8-33 record in two seasons may not have seemed like much of a resume builder, but Crawford knows he wouldn't have been ready to make the jump to Kouts without the experience.
"There's so much more time taken up by things that aren't on the basketball court," Crawford said. "I thank the administration at O-D for giving me the opportunity to get into the profession. It's tough to get into."
It can be even tougher to stay if you don't win. A strong senior class that has known nothing but success has extended the honeymoon period for Crawford, whose Mustangs improved to 7-0 on Wednesday. A staff including veteran assistant Kevin Duzan has also been an invaluable asset in familiarizing Crawford with his new territory.
"It's a great set of kids," he said. "They're fun to be around. It's always tough to change and they've handled themselves very well. I have a great staff. Having a guy on the bench like Kevin, who knows all the kids, who's coached a long time, who's been a head coach, is huge."
Crawford allayed initial anxieties by being up front about his plan. He had no intentions of fixing something that wasn't broken. He did plan to tweak it to make it even better, bringing a youthful enthusiasm that contrasted Gaff's laid-back approach.
"There was three, four months of speculation on who it was going to be," senior Matt Stewart said. "We knew no matter what, we were going to still be the Kouts Mustangs and bring it every night. I love Mr. Gaff, but I was totally open to change."
The transition has gone as smoothly as either side could have envisioned.
"He wanted to be a part of this," Stewart said. "He picked up where we left off and ran with it. We liked him immediately. He made it crystal clear right away that this isn't just about basketball, it's about life. I'll be taking this with me to college."
Crawford learned from Stan Daugherty, his coach at Goshen College, that if you put players in position to be successful, they will respond with trust and effort. He also found out from his Maple Leafs mentor that the court is an educational tool for things other than a 2-3 zone.
"You're around kids a lot. You spend a lot of time with them," Crawford said. "It's nice to win, but basketball is a great avenue to help kids become successful people, to teach them about life."
Currently renting a home a block from the high school, Crawford and wife Samantha are looking to buy or build in Pleasant Township. It may be far-fetched to think he'll be held in the same esteem as Gaff around Kouts come 2044 but so far, so good.