By Thomas Corhern, TTU Sports Information
LOS ANGELES – Six months ago, Carter Crutchfield was opening a whole new chapter to his football career. After years of working with Chattanooga, Austin Peay and Charlotte, an opportunity came open.
He had already been working with one of the top young coaches in college football with Will Healy, but when the opportunity arose to work with one of the top young coaches in professional football in Sean McVay and the Los Angeles Rams, Crutchfield knew he had to take it.
Fast forward to present day and Crutchfield, in his role as special assistant to the head coach, is helping the Rams and McVay prepare for the biggest game in the sport – Super Bowl LVI – against the Cincinnati Bengals.
"It's truly a blessing," the Dalton, Ga., native said. "It's really incredible. I think about my path from being a high school player at Dalton High School, then spending four years at Tennessee Tech, and not really knowing what I wanted to do as a career. I explored options in football and I knew I didn't really want to coach, so I felt it out as I went until I found an opportunity in football operations. When I think back, eight, nine years ago, I was back in Chattanooga – year one in my career as a football ops guy – now fast forward nine years and we just got off the practice field getting ready for the Super Bowl, it's just a dream come true."
Crutchfield knows a little something about what it means to win a championship. Back in 2011, he was a sophomore member of the Tennessee Tech football team that raised the Ohio Valley Conference championship trophy high in the air after claiming the league title at Tucker Stadium.
Granted, a conference championship on the Division I Football Championship Subdivision level probably seems like small potatoes compared to lofting up the George Halas Trophy just over a week ago against former conference foe Jimmy Garoppolo and the San Francisco 49ers – though Crutchfield and the Golden Eagles topped Garoppolo and the Eastern Illinois Panthers 31-20 in 2011 en route to the league title as well – to say much less than the opportunity to raise up the Vince Lombardi Trophy on Sunday with a win over the Bengals at SoFi Stadium.
"Football is football," he said. "That's probably what makes this game so special – each year, it's its own entity. I still remember 2011 like it was yesterday and the special group that we had. We overcame a lot of adversity. We hadn't won a championship in a long time at Tennessee Tech. It takes a special group and the ball just falls your way. It tends to when you have special years like this. Championship teams, no matter what level, are really special. Those come with bonds and relationships that last a lifetime."
Crutchfield isn't the first Tennessee Tech connection to the Super Bowl. Lonnie Warwick played for the Minnesota Vikings in Super Bowl IV against the Kansas City Chiefs and Jim Youngblood for the Los Angeles Rams in Super Bowl XIV against the Steelers.
"I've had a lot of family and friends that have reached out," Crutchfield said. "They have been so supportive in this process. That's been the coolest part – they were all so excited for me when I got this opportunity back in September and have followed along throughout the season. Now it's a little more fun to cheer for the Rams because we're playing in the Super Bowl. It's been really cool to feel the support from everyone. It's just been unbelievable."
Unbelievable is an understatement, especially with how it has all developed in such a short amount of time as he took a gamble on an opportunity and watched it grow into fruition.
"I was hired a week before the season, which was a whirlwind in itself," Crutchfield said. "It came out of nowhere and really wasn't sure what the job was going to be. It kind of morphed into being an assistant to the Head Coach. I'm hoping it will continue to evolve a bit, but at the start, it was kind of 'how do I fit in?' My job is being the voice of Coach McVay to the rest of the building. His happy place is watching tape, building people up and working with the coaches. For me, it's really taking his vision, sharing it and acting it out as best I can."
Crutchfield knows those roles well. After graduating from Tech in 2013 with a marketing degree, he joined the staff at Chattanooga that year, handling recruiting and operations to pull together the top FCS recruiting classes in 2013 and 2014. He joined Healy's staff at Austin Peay in 2016 and brought together three Top 5 FCS recruiting classes in that time. When Healy made the jump to the Football Bowl Subdivision level at Charlotte, Crutchfield was there too.
Working with Healy and McVay has taught Crutchfield some lessons over the years.
"The main thing I've taken from both of them is just how they treat people," Crutchfield said. "Honestly, there's a bunch of ways as a coach to motivate people, but the constant with both of them is they know how to treat people. People want to work for them, they know how to motivate people, but they treat people the right way. They understand that relationships win and matter. When the people around you understand that you care about them, they want to play hard for you, they want to work hard for you. That's really the sign of a great organization."
Crutchfield learned about the job through another Cookeville connection: Tyler Wolf, who played at the University of Tennessee, coached at Tech when Crutchfield was playing there, and has worked with the Jacksonville Jaguars since 2013 as an assistant to the head coach and later director of team administration.
"He's been one of my mentors with his path with the Jaguars," he said. "I've kept in touch with him ever since I was a player. I knew I ultimately wanted to work at the highest level. He connected me with Jacques McClendon, who played at Tennessee and is out here as our director of player affairs. I was lucky that Jacques thought enough of Tyler and trusted him enough to give me a shot. It's one of those deals where if I'm the right fit, it'll work, and if not, it wasn't meant to be. Luckily, they gave me the chance and it's worked out."
There's no question that the last few weeks in the postseason and even more so now heading into the Super Bowl have been hectic.
"It has been, but in a good, fun way, you know?" Crutchfield said. "With this being my first taste of the NFL Playoffs, you try to treat it like you do every week. It's a long season – I think this is like Week 22 for us. In college, I'm used to being done after Week 13.
"But it's been good. We try to approach it like we would any other week and we've stayed very consistent in our scheduling and what practice looks like. The chaos comes from outside – the Super Bowl is kind of its own animal with all the logistics that go into it. It's been a fun process so far just learning everything on the fly."
Of course, there is the added bonus this year of having the game on their home field – the second consecutive year that has happened in the Super Bowl after never happening in any of the previous games.
"It's been extremely beneficial for me being with a bunch of people who experienced this just a couple years ago in Atlanta," Crutchfield said. "They explained to me how you get most of the work in this first week, then it becomes the entertainment that it is – you can't expect to have a normal week because of all the other things going on. It's been beneficial because we can treat it more like normal. With COVID, media days are still virtual, so it's been a pretty normal week aside from guys doing photos and a few more interviews than they normally would."
When any kid straps on the pads for the first time, the dream is to step foot on an NFL field and be a part of it. Crutchfield has made that dream happen. Even though he's not the one playing, he's playing an active role in the team's success and getting to hang out with some of the greatest players in the game today.
"That's one of the coolest things that I've gotten to experience," he said. "Obviously, we have a lot of star power here between Matthew (Stafford) and Odell (Beckham Jr.), Von Miller and guys like that, guys that have been in the league for a very long time and played at the highest level. You just come to know that they're just normal guys, just like we are. They're put on a pedestal because they play on Sundays, but they want to be normal guys. It's been really cool to get to know them, see their work ethic and see some of the things the fans don't really get to see.
"These guys, they're going about their business the right way, they're great human beings, great people and they've been nothing but really, really good to me. It is fun to hear their stories and their process because they are the best to do it. They are the best of the best. To get some small information on how they approach their process, it's been really cool."
Going from Cookeville to Chattanooga to Clarksville to Charlotte, going to LA – even just the area outside it for the most part – had to be a little bit of a culture shock.
"Honestly, it was a little intimidating when I first got the phone call," Crutchfield said. "It was 'Hey, we're moving to LA.' I had just gotten married before we moved to Charlotte. My wife's from Nashville and she went to Tennessee Tech as well, so Tennessee has always been near and dear to our hearts. Going to Charlotte was a bit of a change because we were moving hours away to a city that's pretty big and we didn't know a lot about to suddenly we're moving to LA. It's a pretty big deal.
"Honestly, we felt pretty passionate about it. We had to do it. I really only knew one person in this building, so that added to the anticipation a bit. What's been the coolest part is just how good the people are in this organization. They've been great to me, welcoming to me and Sarah and that's made the transition a lot easier. Yeah, LA's a bit overwhelming when you go downtown. Luckily, our facility is about an hour outside of the city, so it's a little slower paced out here. It's still the second largest city in the country and we've had a lot of family and friends come out and do a lot of really cool things with them. It's just been a really special process for me and my wife, really because of the people here."
It's proof that anyone can go from Tennessee Tech to working at the highest levels in their career fields.
"Absolutely," Crutchfield said. "Everybody's career path is different. I've been on a lot of different levels and I still consider myself an OVC guy from working at Austin Peay and playing at Tennessee Tech. You've got to be connected to the right people. It's cliché, but put your head down and work hard. A lot of people are always looking for the next job, but if you make the most out of the job as you can wherever you are, people tend to find you and work your way up.
"It's just been a blessing to me. It's about relationships that I've built and I've been lucky that people have given me a chance. Those relationships are what I credit my success to. They're good people."
Photos | LA Rams Media Relations