FREMONT — Jeff Jamrog immediately noticed a positive trait of his new assistant coach.
He brought a notebook to his first staff meeting.
“He had it ready to go, and he takes great notes,” says Jamrog, the third-year Midland University head football coach.
Friday, the new assistant coach, Eric Crouch, walked into Jamrog’s office wearing a bright orange T-shirt and sporting a backpack that included his notebook.
He was all set for another staff meeting.
“I’ve always been a writer,” the former Nebraska quarterback great says. “From high school and college, I’ve still got planners for each year. Day by day, I knew what my goal was or anything that was due. I’ve still got them in a box at home.”
He also keeps his Heisman Trophy boxed up at home, taking it out of its case perhaps once or twice a year for special occasions.
One might surmise that the greatest athletes — i.e., Heisman winners — rise to the top by setting goals, by being exacting, persistent and, yes, by taking good notes.
“The best people I’ve ever seen in coaching are people who take phenomenal notes,” says the 53-year-old Jamrog, making his seventh collegiate coaching stop.
For Crouch, 39, Midland marks his first collegiate coaching job. He’ll guide running backs and help with special teams, but he’s unsure how far he wants to go in the profession.
“I told Jeff that I really don’t know what that goal might be. I guess I could see myself being a head coach someday,” says Crouch, sitting on a black leather couch in Jamrog’s campus office, backpack resting at his feet. “But I haven’t really looked that far into the future. It’s kind of like, let’s just see if I can work this into my life. I have a lot of stuff going on. I have a business (Crouch Recreation), my family, and things are established.”
His business has eight employees. He thinks about how his coaching might affect the lives of those folks. He’s careful in that regard.
He has a wife, Nicole, and a daughter (Alexi) who will be a sophomore this fall at Nebraska, as well as a son (Carsen) who will be a freshman at Elkhorn South. He’s coached his son up to this point. But he’ll turn him over to the Storm's coaches now.
“I’m just to the point now where my business has done well, I’ve got a son who’s going into high school, and I’m done coaching his team,” Crouch says. “I’m looking to stay in the game.”
In that regard, his decision to enter coaching makes sense. But when it’s suggested that in other ways it makes little sense — a 39-year-old jumping head-first into a demanding profession when he already has a business to run — Crouch counters:
“I’ve had a life that’s been molded around football,” he says. “I mean, let’s not forget that part. There might be one year of my life, maybe two, when football wasn’t a part of it.”
That was in 2009 and 2010. He was set to play for Team Texas in the All-American Football League, but the league never got off the ground.
He turned his focus to his business. But then the Omaha Nighthawks of the United Football League came calling. He made the roster in 2011. But he suffered a knee injury, and the league suspended operations in 2012.
He began work as a college football analyst for FOX and CBS. He liked interviewing players and coaches. But somewhere along the way, his mindset shifted. He did a self-assessment of sorts and came to a conclusion: He liked teaching the game. Why not try coaching?
So, here he is. Midland is a 25-minute drive from his home in Elkhorn, and Jamrog's program is in an exciting period.
After a 1-10 finish in 2015, the Warriors were 7-4 in 2016 and 6-4 in 2017.
“I’m excited to be part of this because I think it’s great what coach Jamrog is doing here,” Crouch says. “You can really tell he’s affecting the culture. I agree with a lot of the philosophy he has. I say it’s kind of military style. You’re going to work your butt off, and it’s going to work, and you’re going to make it work. That’s how we were at Millard North. That’s how we were in Lincoln. We work hard, and we reap the benefits of kicking butt.”
Crouch didn’t jump into this on a whim. In mid-January, he made a list of 40 people whose brains he could pick regarding the possibility of entering the profession. He dialed up Tom Osborne, Turner Gill, Frank Solich, Joe Moglia, Mike Leach, Ty Detmer … several big names in the business.
“Turner said your wife’s got to be bought in,” Crouch says. “He said that multiple times.”
It makes sense.
“She’s going to take care of the house, the kids, the dogs, the schedule, everything else,” Crouch says. “If she’s not in on all that, it’s going to be really difficult.”
Jamrog was one of the first coaches on his list.
“I was calling Jeff the first time really just to get his thoughts, and he’s like, ‘I think I have a spot here for you,’” Crouch says.
“I’m always recruiting,” Jamrog says with a laugh.
Jammer reeled in a big one. Crouch is all in. As the humble Heisman winner talks about ways to get through to athletes — sit down right next to them and look them in the eye, he says — you perhaps flash back to his playing days at Nebraska, or maybe even December of 2001, when he edged Rex Grossman of Florida 770 points to 708 to become the 67th winner of the trophy that honors the nation’s top player.
Gill beamed with pride that night in the Big Apple.
“Eric raised the level of people around him, all the players, and even the coaches,” the former Husker quarterbacks coach said then, a portend of sorts.
Gill, in fact, called Crouch the best player he ever coached, a strong statement considering Tommie Frazier, Scott Frost and Brook Berringer were among his pupils.
“The big thing Eric has over them is his speed,” Gill said.
There was at least one other thing.
Crouch took good notes. Still does.