Make us your home page

Today’s top headlines delivered to you daily.

(View our Privacy Policy)

Epilogue | George K. McCrossin

Longtime SPJC basketball coach George McCrossin was intense but fair

ST. PETERSBURG — Close-ups of basketball coach George McCrossin, tucked away the past two decades in a newspaper photo library, suggest urgency and anguish. His fingertips flatten his cheeks as he yells over a thousand noises, or unite in the steeple position as he resigns himself to watch. He is by turns an enthralled moviegoer, a bystander looking up at the Hindenburg — or, occasionally, a proud father.

Mr. McCrossin, who coached basketball at St. Petersburg Junior College for 35 years, the second-longest tenure of any junior college coach in the nation when he retired in 1987, died Jan. 23. He was 85.

"He did as much with what he had as any coach in the country, as far as I'm concerned," said Ed Davis, 79, who coached baseball at SPJC while Mr. McCrossin was there.

His accomplishments in golf were equally storied. The school, now called St. Petersburg College, did not have a golf team before Mr. McCrossin started it in the early 1960s. He took the team to two national championships and was named the 1969 National Junior College Coach of the Year.

Usually, he succeeded with players the bigger schools did not want, believing that proper execution beats talent.

"Where he was stubborn is that he ran the same plays from 1950 to 1970 to 1980. It was basically challenging the other team to stop us," recalled Lars Hafner, who played basketball under Mr. McCrossin from 1979 to 1981.

At the same time, Hafner, 48, called Mr. McCrossin a "groundbreaker" who welcomed the merger between SPJC and Gibbs Junior College at the beginning of sports desegregation.

"He really took that seriously, and really helped break down those barriers through his coaching and his willingness to embrace change," said Hafner, who is now the president of the State College of Florida.

"He was one of the first in Juco ball to actually play an integrated team," said Terry Byrd, 61, a SPJC player under Mr. McCrossin. Byrd, who is black, directs law enforcement training at SPC.

"There's just nothing like coaching junior college," Mr. McCrossin said in 1969, his 19th year of coaching. "The maximum time we have a player is two years. We can't afford to spend a minute on fundamentals. Either a player has them when he gets here, or he doesn't. But he doesn't have time to learn them."

Jim Harley, 76, a retired Eckerd College basketball coach, met Mr. McCrossin 40 years ago, while Harley was athletic director at Miami-Dade Community College.

"In meetings (on the court), I quickly learned that he was a classy person with a fairness about him. His teams were always competitive and difficult to beat, so I had a dual respect for George McCrossin."

His passion for the game stemmed from childhood. He was orphaned at age 4 and grew up in an orphanage and foster homes. Basketball was an outlet, and he never lost that hunger.

After serving with the Marines in the Pacific during World War II, he returned to the sport in college at the University of Pittsburgh.

He coached in Pittsburgh for a few years, then signed on at SPJC in 1952. As coaches go, he was quiet.

"He would get really intense in terms of really getting involved in the game, directing players who they should cover and where they should go, or yell at them to get back on defense," Byrd said. "But in terms of abusing players or using profanity, no."

Those courtesies did not extend to referees. In 1966, Mr. McCrossin famously questioned a no-call on what he thought was an obvious goaltending violation by Brevard Junior College. After a referee handed him three technical fouls, Mr. McCrossin told him, "I don't care about the technical, but it's still goaltending."

"I'll give you two minutes to get off the court," the ref said.

"If I'm leaving, I'm taking my boys with me," he replied.

The team walked out, forfeiting the game. With 12 minutes left, the Trojans were up by 6.

The team went 22-5 in the 1965-66 season, missing the junior college Final Four by one game.

Janice, his wife of more than 55 years, died in 2001. The next year he found romance again with Jean Burks, who had met him as a home health volunteer. They traveled to Biloxi, Miss., and Las Vegas.

A wide circle of former players, coaches and sports fans are mourning his passing. On and off the court, Hafner said, "There is no doubt that we were in the presence of somebody special."

Andrew Meacham can be reached at (727) 892-2248 or


George McCrossin


May 21, 1924.


Jan. 23, 2010.

Survivors: one niece; two nephews; and longtime companion Jean Burks.

Longtime SPJC basketball coach George McCrossin was intense but fair 01/30/10 [Last modified: Saturday, January 30, 2010 6:44pm]
Photo reprints | Article reprints

© 2017 Tampa Bay Times


Join the discussion: Click to view comments, add yours

  1. 'Garbage juice' seen as threat to drinking water in Florida Panhandle town


    To Waste Management, the nation's largest handler of garbage, the liquid that winds up at the bottom of a landfill is called "leachate," and it can safely be disposed of in a well that's 4,200 feet deep.

    Three samples that were displayed by Jackson County NAACP President Ronstance Pittman at a public meeting on Waste Management's deep well injection proposal. The sample on the left is full of leachate from the Jackson County landfill, the stuff that would be injected into the well. The sample on the right shows leachate after it's been treated at a wastewater treatment plant. The one in the middle is tap water.
  2. Registered sexual predator charged in assault of woman in Brooksville

    Public Safety

    Times Staff Writer

    BROOKSVILLE — Hernando County deputies arrested a registered sexual predator Thursday after they say he attempted to assault a woman and fled into a storm drain.

    Lee Roy Rettley has been charged with attempted homicide, attempted sexual battery and home invasion robbery.
  3. Honda denies covering up dangers of Takata air bags


    With just a third of the defective Takata air bag inflators replaced nationwide, the corporate blame game of who will take responsibility — and pay — for the issue has shifted into another gear.

    Honda is denying covering up dangers of Takata air bags. | [Scott McIntyre, New York Times]
  4. Former CEO of Winn-Dixie parent joining Hong Kong company


    The former CEO of the Jacksonville-based parent of Winn-Dixie grocery stores, Ian McLeod, has landed a new leadership role in Hong Kong. He is joining the pan-Asian based Dairy Farm International Holdings Ltd. as group chief executive.

    Ian McLeod, who is stepping down as the CEO of the parent company of Winn-Dixie, has been hired by Dairy Farm International Holdings. 
[Photo courtesy of Southeastern Grocers]
  5. Eckerd Kids: Teens in group foster homes must be allowed to keep phones


    TAMPA — For many teens still reeling from being taken into foster care, a cell phone is a lifeline, child advocates say.

    Eckerd Kids, the agency that runs child welfare in Tampa Bay, will in January require agencies that run group foster homes to allow children to use cell phones. Some group homes are concerned that children may use phones for unathorized contract with their parents or other adults or to post pictures of other foster children on social media