His name sets him apart from other college basketball coaches.
Chad Kills Crow, Haskell Indian Nations University men’s basketball coach, doesn’t have to explain his background to impart the obvious to Native basketball players. Not that he minds tracing his roots. He doesn’t. Ask him the origin of his name, and he’s ready with an abridged version.
It dates back to his great, great, great, great grandfather, whom he refers to simply as his grandfather when telling the story.
“When the Lakota men would go off to hunt and gather, sometimes the women and children were left alone with some of the elders,” Kills Crow started. “The Crows, being the great scouts that they were — and needing to do so for their own survival — they would tell the Calvary where these little bands were, and the Calvary would come in and wipe us out, and this became a pattern.”
Kills Crow said his great, great, great, great grandfather was one of five children of 12 or 13 years, left behind to figure out who was scouting them.
“My grandfather, the story goes, took it upon himself to take care of these Crows when the scouts came back,” he said. “He killed all five of the Crows with a knife, took their scalps back to the camp and showed the elders and showed the men when they came back. From that day forward, they called him Kills Crow. That’s where we got our last name.”
He sometimes tells this story on recruiting trips.
“It depends,” he said. “If I go up to Montana and I’m recruiting some Crow boys, absolutely I don’t. Then I change the Crow to a bird.”
He doesn’t really claim he’s named after a bird.
“But you have to be a little bit delicate about it up there,” he said. “Most everybody laughs and realizes we’re all Indian, regardless of what tribe we are. Being the Haskell coach and having the traditional last name ‘Kills Crow,’ that’s influential in getting families to open their doors for me.”
Before being promoted to head coach, Kills Crow assisted departed Ted Juneau for the last two of Juneau’s three years as athletic director and basketball coach. He left a high school coaching job in Colorado to return to Haskell, the school for which he played one season (1994-95).
Kills Crow doesn’t have a life-threatening challenge as did his great, great, great, great grandfather, but in some ways it’s as daunting. The pull of reservation living, and the homesickness that overcomes those who leave it for the first time, is too great for many to resist. Teachers and coaches alike cross their fingers during holiday breaks, hoping their most promising students and athletes return. Too often, they’re disappointed.
To counter that temptation, Kills Crow, who grew up on the Pine Ridge Reservation in South Dakota, tells the story of his life, not of the origin of his name. He received an undergraduate degree, and at the urging of Juneau, a master’s in adult education from Phoenix University.
“I’m trying to teach these kids it’s OK to come from a reservation, earn a degree and earn a master’s degree,” he said. “It’s OK to be drug-and alcohol-free. If I can do it, you can do it.”
He’s excited about five talented freshmen and can’t say enough good things about Joe Thompson, a 6-foot-9 transfer from Northern Oklahoma College.
“Joe has a very good academic background, and he’s drug- and alcohol-free,” Kills Crow said. “Joe is the model player for me. And it’s contagious.”
Kills Crow said before a preseason practice started, a couple of the talented freshmen came to him, told him they wanted to apologize for bad choices they had made.
“One of them was even a little teary-eyed,” Kills Crow said. “They told me they were drinking at a party. I told them I appreciated the honesty. One of the leaders came to me and said, ‘Coach, this freshman class just made a pact that we’re going to graduate. We want to see you through for four years.’”
Haskell history says the odds are against that happening for the entire class.
“We’ll see,” Kills Crow said. “We’ll see. Things can change, but this is a great group of kids.”
The odds were against his great, great, great, great grandfather, too.