South Walton’s 53-44 win over Franklin County High was more than just a district victory; it was the 700th career win for Coach Kevin Craig as a basketball coach.
Craig, 58, now in his 33rd year as a head girls basketball coach joins about 15 other coaches in the state that have accomplished such a feat.
“This was never ever something I thought about, I just like what I do,” Craig said on the bus ride home from Tuesday nights win over Franklin.
“I told the girls in the locker room, I love to win, but I fear losing more. That’s what motivates me more, I hate to lose. I absolutely hate to lose.”
“When you surround yourself with enough people that hate to lose, players and coaches, then you’ve got something going,” Craig said.
“It’s not something you can invent or make … they have got to have that strong desire to win and to hate losing. That’s me in a nutshell,” he said.
And losses have been few and far between for Coach Craig. He’s tallied up 700 wins and 269 losses in his career as a coach, along with three state titles, two at Fort Walton Beach and one at South Walton, as well as six trips to the Final Four.
But Craig admits he hasn’t done it alone.
“I want to thank the commitment of the players and all the players I have had over the years. And I really appreciate it when they come back and want to see me and the teams play. That means so much to me.”
Craig has also had help from others such as Bill Knox, Tony Anderson, Holly McDaniel, Frank Kubitz, Diana Lister and Chip High.
“There’s a big void for me this season without Chip being here,” Craig said. Chip High has been out this season due to illness. However, Anderson and Knox, who sat along side Craig at Fort Walton Beach have tried to help out when they can this season at South Walton.
“When Bill (Knox) said he was going to make it today I was very excited because he’s been part of this, and Tony’s been part of this. It’s very important that they are here. It’s very important that Barb is here,” he said, noting Barb Stratton has been by his side since he walked through the doors at South Walton about 10 years ago.
“They’ve been with me through some of the biggest achievements of my career and I wouldn’t have done it without them there,” he said.
The admiration amongst the coaches and friends is mutual.
“You have your mediocre coaches and you have your excellent coaches and Kevin is one of those excellent coaches,” said Anderson, who has coached along side Craig for more than 20 years. “You don’t just get all the rewards and notice that he’s getting as a Hall of Fame coach in high school basketball … they don’t just pull a name out of a hat. You earn those.”
In 2013 Craig was inducted into the Florida Association of Basketball Coaches Hall of Fame, and earlier this year into the All Sports Association Hall of Fame.
“Just the other day I told the girls how lucky they were to have a man in their program that has the knowledge that he has,” Anderson said.
And more than knowledge, Craig knows how to get the most out of his players.
“He gets the most out of them. They may not have the most talent but the thing is they will run through a wall for him. That makes a difference.”
And Craig appreciates the commitment of his players.
“The kids are great kids,” he said.
“This is one of my favorite teams as far as kids go at South Walton. They all get along. They are just young and immaturity spills out at times … and knowing how to handle me is a trick they’ve got to learn yet,” he said.
“It’s not easy to play for me, but I hope they know I care about them. I care about all the ones that have ever played for me. That’s what it’s all about. There’s nothing I wouldn’t do for them because I know how hard they work and how committed they are.”
How long does Craig look to keep coaching?
“It’s been a very tough year for me,” he said, with Coach High out and noting the loss of Patrick Harrington at Northwest Florida State College.
“There are days when I’ve had it. But that’s been going on for 33 years,” he smiled.
Craig said he plans to take a little time off in March and April and “let the dust settle,” and see.
He has taught and coached for 37 years, of which 33 years were spent as head coach of girls basketball.
“I’ve never had a year where I didn’t coach. I’ve never had a Thanksgiving or a Christmas where I didn’t have to practice or play games,” he said.
Just a few days from his 59th birthday, Craig posed the question, “Do I want to do this when I’m 60? I’ve said before that I don’t. But I’m just going to take it one season at a time.”
So, will there be an 800th victory in his future?
“I can promise you there won’t be an 800,” he said.
WORD FROM THE PRINCIPAL
“Of course Kevin’s success in girls basketball and his notoriety as a Florida Hall of Fame member brings great credibility to our schools athletic program. His 700th win tonight exemplifies his tremendous commitment to his players, the school and the game. It is a tribute to his professionalism, knowledge of the game and competitive spirit. South Walton is proud of Coach Craig, his players and his winning record. He is a role model for students in his willingness to sacrifice his time, energy and resources far beyond what is the minimum expectation for a much greater good. Our school is much richer for his presence and we congratulate him on his 700th win in basketball.”
Principal, South Walton High