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Cotey: Call him nuts, but don't question his devotion

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Mon. January 17, 2011 | John C. Cotey | Email

Cotey: Call him nuts, but don't question his devotion

Kenny Crawford has been told he’s crazy so many times in the past three years that he might start thinking he’s, well, crazy.

He was crazy for taking the Pinellas Park High football head coaching job, crazy for thinking he could win there, crazy for thinking he could contend for the playoffs there.

Now he’s crazy for not trying to leave Pinellas Park, crazy for thinking he’s actually turned a corner, crazy for thinking he has it headed in the right direction.

Crazy, crazy, crazy.

Or maybe Crawford is just different.

Maybe he never intended to use Pinellas Park as a stepping stone, and he really does care about the kids, and he really is intent on building the Patriots into one of the top programs around.

How else do you explain Crawford passing on a job at his alma mater, Boca Ciega, a few blocks from where he grew up, a job that for years was the one he was waiting for?

Well …you can’t.

No one ever takes a job and says, “But you know, if I turn this program around and a better school comes calling, or my alma mater wants me, I’m out of here.”

Not out loud, anyway.

But everyone has a price, a reason, a dream job.

Pinellas Park watched basketball coach Allen Carden jump to Clearwater after turning the Patriots around in four years and taking them to their first region final.

Too much potential at Clearwater, he said.

Yusuf Shakir said all the right things when he took the Gibbs football job, but when alma mater Tallahassee Lincoln called, he was gone after two seasons.

It’s nice to go home, he said.

James Harrell took the Freedom football job, led it to its best season ever, then headed off to Jesuit after one year.
Jesuit is very dear to my heart, Harrell said.

There is no question all three guys made the right decision — Shakir won the Class 4A state title in December, for example — but they also made the easy one.

Crawford is making a hard one, because Bogie has potential, is home and dear to his heart.

“If I said it didn’t cross my mind (to apply), I’d be lying,” said Crawford, and when he thought back to that 1992 season, how he helped lead the Pirates to a 9-2 record as a scrawny little left guard before being knocked out of the playoffs by Ray Lewis’ Lakeland Kathleen team, the decision seemed even harder.

You couldn’t have blamed him for leaving.

Crawford, 35, inherited a Pinellas Park program that was 11-59 in seven seasons before he got there. And it wasn’t just the record, it was the environment. Kids weren’t coming out, parents were complaining, and the whole Patriots network was nonexistent.

After his first 5-5 season, people were already asking him where he was going next. Clearwater, maybe?

After his second 5-5 season, friends started packing his bags for Bogie when the job opened before Christmas.

But Crawford thought about the job.

There was no extra money in it; all county public school coaches get the same supplement of around $3,500. He might have more athletes to choose from. But was it that much better? And since it wasn’t really a promotion, would he just be chasing a few extra wins by leaving? What would people say? What would his players say?

“I had some people tell me I could always play the alma mater card,” Crawford said. “But this isn’t a game.”

Crawford is as competitive as the next guy. He likes winning as much as anyone. He wants to do at Pinellas Park what Rick Rodriguez has done at Largo. Rodriguez took over the Packers in 2000 after the team had gone 19-42 in the previous six seasons. Now he has what may be the top program in the county, with a pair of state semifinal appearances to his credit.

If this had been his fifth year, his seventh year, his 10th year, maybe Crawford goes for Bogie, which likely will name a coach this week.

But he just finished his second. And this isn’t about him.

He made promises to the administration.

He made promises to the kids.

He promised to plant roots in the community, and 6-year-old son Corbin is playing Pinellas Park youth league football.

By passing on his dream job, he backed those words up.

“I’m not ready to leave Pinellas Park; we still have work to be done,” he said. “I’m kind of old school. I thought I’d lose a lot of credibility if I applied.”

He doubts his players know his background. They still consider him a Northeast guy, which is where he earned his stripes as a top assistant before coming to the Park.

But they should know, if they are ever tempted to look for greener pastures or a better team or more playing time elsewhere, that when Coach had the chance, he chose loyalty.

That’s not crazy at all.

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