Crestview’s basketball programs just got a much-needed shot in the arm.
Hiring a state champion will do that. As will bringing back the man who led the Bulldogs to back-to-back elite eights in 2014 and 2015.
Steve Williams, the man who guided Paxton to a state title in 2014 and back-to-back final fours before leaving to be closer to family, will take over the girls program that Kathy Combest left for Baker.
Greg Watson, meanwhile, returns just a year after leaving to coach at Foley High School in Alabama.
Two big names. To big hires.
On Williams, Crestview athletic director Tim Hatten spoke of a man whose reputation precedes him.
“He’s got a lot of credentials,” said Hatten, who said three finalists were interviewed for the position vacated by Combest a couple of weeks ago. “His reputation speaks for itself. Obviously he brings 30-plus years of experience and he knows what he’s doing.
“Just his philosophy on athletics in general and how he treats kids, how he treats the program and his relationship with the community … we’re just happy to hire him.”
And Williams, who has around 450 wins and a .610 win percentage as he enters his 32nd year of coaching, is glad to return to his hometown after leaving last year to help care for his now-healthy father-in law.
“I moved up here for family,” said Williams, “and now I’m moving back for family.”
His family still owns a house in Crestview, and his son, Zach, will continue to go to Paxton while his older son, Connor, moves on to the University of West Florida after graduating as a basketball letterman Bobcat.
“I’m excited to be back in town,” Williams said. “I live right behind Crestview High School, so It’s going to be a great move for us, for me coming home. I drove 55 miles one way to get to work (Rhea County High). Now it’s down to three.”
He’ll return Monday and, as he puts it, “hit the ground running.”
“I’m just excited to get in and meet the kids that are there,” said Williams, who led Rhea County to a 15-15 record despite seven seniors graduating the year before. “I’m just looking to put my stamp on the program. I know that Kathy did a great job there and took them to the elite eight and I just want to try and build on that. The biggest part of all this is I’m excited to be a part of the community. Connor and Zach grew up in the (Crestview youth basketball system), so I can’t wait to embrace being a Bulldog.
“I’m appreciative of Dexter Day and the administration for giving me a chance.”
Watson, meanwhile, replaces George Stakley after the Bulldogs went 15-10 but lost to district champion Choctaw in the district semifinals.
During his two years at Crestview, Watson helped restore a winning tradition with back-to-back 20-win seasons and district championships. His Bulldogs went 43-18 and advanced to the 7A elite eight each year to mark Crestview’s best finishes since the mid-1980s. He wasn’t able to emulate that success at Foley, though, where his Lions went 7-20.
“We’re glad to have Greg back from Alabama,” Hatten said. “He was really, really happy here and he left on a high note. We understand why he left, but we’re glad to have him back. We know the kind of job he can do and we now he can build a competitive program.”