Ron Crawford hopes his legacy will be a simple one as he leaves Brentwood to become the Christian Brothers defensive coordinator.
“I would like for it to be that I came to work every day and did my best,” Crawford said. “I would say what I’m best at is relationships. It’s a relationship business.”
Crawford exits as the winningest football coach in school history with 122 victories in 16 seasons at Brentwood. He announced his decision to leave two weeks ago.
Crawford, 60, led the Bruins to a state title during his first season in 2002 and a state runner-up showing last year.
“He figured out how to take the kids that we had – we’ve had a lot of good athletes, a few great athletes, but overall we just had kids that would work hard – and he taught them how to compete,” Brentwood athletic director Joe Blair said. “It doesn’t matter how big you are, you have the ability to compete every day and he just instilled that attitude in them.”
His approach worked as the Bruins made the playoffs all 16 years he was there.
Crawford was equal parts humble and accountable.
“He never took credit for a win and always took the credit for a loss,” Blair said. “That was on him.”
Blair will miss the intangibles Crawford brought to the Bruins’ athletic program.
“For me, he’s kind of been the spirit of our athletic department and that’s hard to replace,” Blair said. “You walk into a room or we have a coaches meeting or anything like that, he’s that person I can count on to get everybody on the same page. He’s somebody you just want to be around.”
Crawford is known for his defensive prowess. He’s used all types of defenses through the years, but he’s run a 3-4 for most of the past decade.
“Ron gets kids to understand that defensive football is about assignment and responsibility, and he’s had a tremendous amount of success at that,” Brentwood’s new coach, Clint Finch, said. “Not overcoaching them, getting them to understand that, ‘Look, you’ve got to play as part of an 11-man unit.’ If you can get all 11 kids doing that, you’ll be pretty good on defense.”
His biggest win was a 10-7 victory over Riverdale that gave the Bruins (14-1) the Class 5A title in 2002.
But it was the overachievers who stood out the most for the veteran coach.
“The teams I probably remember the most are the ones that did the most with the least, where we did better than expected,” Crawford said.
Football helped get Crawford and his players through some painful days during the past three seasons.
The Bruins (10-3) made it to the Class 6A quarterfinals after offensive lineman Lucas Davis died of alcohol poisoning in early October 2018.
“A horrible accident,” said Finch, an assistant coach under Crawford the past 13 years. “Ron Crawford’s focus through that whole thing was helping the kids get through that tragedy. His initial instinct was football is not the most important thing right now. I’ll remember that the rest of my life, a lot more than any of the X’s and O’s and the big defensive stops and touchdowns that Ron played a part in.”
Crawford battled through more heartache in November when his mother, Pat, died of COVID-19. Crawford’s dad, Tom, was a Bruins assistant coach.
“The love and support that was shown for me and my family was unbelievable,” Crawford said. “So I would say the Win for Pat weeks that we rolled were probably the most special of any obviously because of family. That just ended up being a rally for the kids and that was well-needed for me and my father at that time and my entire family.”
Crawford’s most painful loss on the field was a 31-27 defeat to White Station in the Class 6A semifinals in 2009.
“They caught a tipped pass for a touchdown with basically no time remaining,” Crawford said. “I think we’ve always learned from those, but that one obviously stands out.”
White Station went on to win the state title with a victory over Maryville a week later.
Crawford has a 150-55 career record in 19 seasons. He coached Brentwood from 2002-11 and 2015-20 with a three-year stint at Cleveland in between.
He’s won eight district or region championships.
Crawford will coach under his son-in-law, Thomas McDaniel, at Christian Brothers.
Ravenwood coach Will Hester was an assistant under Crawford from 2010-11.
“First off, I would say he’s one of my biggest mentors in coaching,” Hester said. “I would say that he taught me a lot about what it means to be a head coach and how to be successful in the job. First he was a mentor to me and one of my best friends.”
Crawford taught Hester how to run a program, how to handle the players and how to treat people.
“I think he does that as good or better than anybody,” Hester said. “And then those people care greatly for him and play hard for him.”
Crawford became the third Williamson County coach from Region 6-6A to resign in the past seven months.
Ravenwood’s Matt Daniels resigned in December and Franklin’s Donnie Webb did the same in January.
Brentwood also lost both of its basketball coaches when Myles Thrash (girls) and Greg Shirley (boys) resigned in April. Brentwood volleyball coaching legend Barbara Campbell also retired recently.
Former Brentwood linebacker Spencer Rich, now a Memphis freshman, considers Crawford a great role model.
“He probably had the best set of values as a person,” Rich said. “I looked up to him --- I don’t want to say like a parent, but on that level. I still want to strive to be like Coach Crawford when I’m older.”
Crawford’s vibrant personality rubbed off on everybody around him.
“He’s got an infectious energy that can’t be stopped really,” Rich said of the weights and kinesiology teacher. “He always has it even in the classroom or walking around the halls, around the field. He’s got that energy, a little craziness in him. That’s something that you’ve got to love in a coach.”
Crawford made a lasting impression on Rich when he was a 160-pound freshman.
“I was in the front rack lifting and he taps Coach Finch and looks at him, and he was, like, ‘This kid’s going to be something. He’s going to be big,’ ” Rich said. “And I’ll never forget that moment because I was just a little freshman and he was believing in me and pushing me to be the best that I could be.”
Rich went on to become the Defensive Player of the Year in Region 6-6A and broke a single-season school record with seven sacks last year.
He also had 122 tackles, four interceptions, two forced fumbles, a blocked punt and a blocked extra point.
Crawford led the Bruins to the playoff quarterfinals or better in four of the past five seasons.
“He prepared each and every week like it was the state championship game,” Centennial coach Matt Kriesky said. “You knew every year when he would say they were going to have a down year, you knew that he was telling a story because they were always going to be good.”