After a four-year hiatus from Alaska, Nick Crawford is returning to Fairbanks to take over as the new head nordic and cross-country running coach at University of Alaska Fairbanks (UAF).
Originally from Hawley, Mass., Crawford skied for Bowdoin College in Brunswick, Maine, and spent two years in Fairbanks from 2009 to 2011 as the assistant coach for Fairbanks Cross Country and head coach at Lathrop High School. While at Lathrop, he coached Logan Hanneman to the Alaska state Skimeister title in 2011. Hanneman swept the individual freestyle and classic races that year.
Crawford, 28, recently finished a master’s degree in exercise science from Boise State University and applied for the opening at UAF in April. In addition to his studies, Crawford was head coach and program director of the Bogus Basin Nordic Team in Boise, and oversaw its youth ski programs.
“This is really perfect timing for me to return to Fairbanks because it’s a place I really love to be a skier, an excellent community and a fantastic program with Alaska Nanooks,” Crawford said in a phone interview last week.
The coaching position opened suddenly, as Scott Jerome, head coach of the Nanooks’ nordic and cross country teams for 10 1/2 seasons, was put on administrative leave shortly before the 2015 U.S. Cross Country Championships took place in January. His contract expires June 30 and will not be renewed.
Citing confidentiality policies regarding personnel, UAF officials did not comment on the circumstances surrounding Jerome’s departure. In January, UAF spokeswoman Marmian Grimes told the Fairbanks Daily News-Miner that his leave was not a result of NCAA eligibility sanctions placed on UAF last November.
“It’s not related to the past NCAA violations; it’s not new violations that prompted this issue,’’ Grimes said. “It was just us [UAF] needing to go in a different direction with coaching for these teams.”
During his senior season on the team, Jonas Lӧffler told the Nanooks’ Sun Star in February that the skiers themselves vocalized a need for a leadership shift.
“We athletes were involved in the whole process of Scott leaving. We were the initial people to say we needed change,” Lӧffler said.
Jerome was one of several switchups in the UAF athletics department. Also this past winter, volleyball head coach Mallory Larranaga was let go after two seasons “following the self-reporting of violations of NCAA rules on Jan. 13,” according to the Star.
“There are many rumors swirling on why Larranaga was fired on Feb. 12, from the less than stellar record of 7-48, to the NCAA violations that happened with a recruit this past summer [of 2014], which included the filming of visits and practices,” the Star stated.
As of mid-May, UAF was looking to fill the vacancies left by its outgoing women’s basketball assistant coach Greg Bruce, who retired in April after 30 years with the program, and sports information director Drew Desrosiers, who planned to step down when his contract ends June 30, the News-Miner reported.
Jerome, 44, coached 17 All-Americans, including Marius Korthauer, who became the Nanooks’ first national champion at 2008 NCAA Skiing Championships in the men’s 20-kilometer classic race.
More recently in 2014, senior Max Olex placed second in the 20 k freestyle at NCAAs and Nichole Bathe finished fourth as a freshman at the championships. Before joining UAF in 2004, Jerome spent four years heading the nordic and cross-country teams at Gustavus Adolphus College in St. Peter, Minn.
In an email to FasterSkier, Jerome wrote that he was still in Fairbanks and had “begun a PhD program in biochemistry at UAF focusing on human performance, specifically overtraining syndrome.”
Following his departure in January, assistant nordic coach Christina Turman took over as interim head coach, with support from Josh Eide, of Marquette, Mich. She will remain in the position until Crawford officially starts in July.
Turman, 27, did not apply for the head-coach position, but said she felt pressure from university’s administration, friends, family, and athletes to do so. She explained she preferred to remain an assistant, to work and learn under someone else to develop as a coach while preserving time for her family. She will remain assistant coach.
“I’m delighted to have her stay on,” Crawford said. “I think the program has done really well under her tenure as interim head coach. I look forward to working with her. ”
For Turman’s part, she’s excited for the future of the team.
“I think the future is bright. I’m excited to be back with the program for a third season next year, we have some really solid returning athletes and some good ones coming in,” she said in an interview in her UAF office. “There’s no reason UAF shouldn’t have one of the most competitive teams in the nation. We have the resources, we have the trails, we have the climate for it, so I look forward to continuing to be with the program and watch it build and become more and more successful.”
“There’s no reason UAF shouldn’t have one of the most competitive teams in the nation.” — Christina Turman, assistant coach entering her third season with the UAF nordic team
UAF has a young team, with most of its returning women being either sophomores or juniors, and a lot of depth in the men’s team as well. This season, they picked up incoming freshmen Max Donaldson, three-time Alaska state Skimeister and 2015 Junior National champion. Turman coached him while head coach of West Valley High School before starting at UAF.
As for Crawford, he said that he is joining a successful program and doesn’t want to change too much too soon. Both he and Turman said that they have already discussed working together on what to tweak and what to keep the same in order to continue to build on the Nanooks’ success.
“You really want to make sure you have a good philosophical fit with the program,” UAF Athletics Director Gary Gray said in an interview at UAF, referring to Crawford. “It’s also important – this happens sometimes – we’ll hire someone from the lower 48, and in a year they’re homesick. And that’s not completely unusual. So it’s trying to find someone that is that right fit, of someone that we think is going to give that stability to the program.
“Things that attracted us to Nick included his familiarity with this community,” Gray continued. “He has coached here, he has recruited here. He had some successful results with his club program in Boise. … The fact that Nick has been here before and was part of this community, that seems to speak well of his fit to Fairbanks.”
“The fact that Nick has been here before and was part of this community, that seems to speak well of his fit to Fairbanks.” — UAF Athletics Director Gary Gray
Crawford is also a close personal friend of FasterSkier’s former editor, Nat Herz, who also skied for Bowdoin.
“Nick’s decision not to use me as a reference has clearly paid off again,” Herz wrote in an email. “I look forward to testing his mettle when we both race in next year’s Oosik Classic in Talkeetna. Also, his athletes should ask him about that time he tried — and failed — to complete the gallon challenge when we were in college together.”
— Alex Kochon contributed reporting