Crain to be inducted into Coaches Hall of FameBy MARLAN JONES,
Coach James Crain will be named to the Mississippi Association of Coaches Hall of Fame on June 22.
Crain has spent 35 of his 41 years in education in Simpson County. He said, “I feel very blessed and humbled by the opportunity to go into the MS Association of Coaches Hall of fame. I’ve been blessed to be at three good schools with good athletes.” His coaching journey has included seven state championships. He said, “The administrations have been good to me and let me run a program.”
Crain has been involved with sports and played basketball and football for Puckett High School. He credited his uncle, Donald Vanderdford, for getting him started in sports. “He used to always bring me along and I got to watch and gain an interest.”
Crain’s career took him to Hinds Community College on a football scholarship, but he wound up playing basketball as well. His coaching influences came from several successful sources.
Of those who influenced him he said, “I’ve had plenty of hall of fame coaches to coach me.” He named Don Purvis and Durwood Graham, who is in Hinds Hall of Fame. He also named Coach John Gray, who is in the Hinds, MS College, and MAIS Hall of Fame.
Crain said, “Growing up and seeing people like that has an influence on you. Then to see them come back and coach at the school they graduated from. Being around successful people like that helps you.”
Crain smiled as he explained that most of the time, the “key to his success” came down to the players.
He started his coaching career in 1977 as a head basketball coach for Mendenhall High School right out of college. Crain did his student teaching at Mendenhall High and after he graduated the job was available. “It all kind of fell into place,” he said.
He did not instantly enjoy success. Crain said in his first season as head coach the Tigers finished the season with a 15-13 record, and made a brief appearance in the South State tournament. Crain was 58-44 over the first years of his career. He said, “There wasn’t a lot of accomplishments starting out but it takes time to build a program.”
In 1982 Crain and the Tigers finally broke through. Crain led the Tigers to an impressive 36-2 season and captured his first State Championship. He praised that team and how talented they were, and spoke of his previous point of how the athletes make the difference.
The 1982 championship team included Todd McCaskill, who was named Player of the Year at Mississippi State University. Others were Paul Hard, who went on to William Carey University, and Wade Clark, who played at Mississippi College. Tim Smith was also on the team and he signed a football scholarship for USM.
In 1983 the Tigers made another run at the championship, but came up short. The team finished 31-6 and lost in the state finals. Crain explained that the first four years were necessary, and that he didn’t truly realize success until he gained that experience. Crain has kept the same system throughout his coaching career. He said, “We play defense, press, and hustle. I haven’t changed a whole lot, but you do add some things as you go.”
The Tigers built on their reputation in the 1980’s with Crain at the helm. In 1987-88 the Tigers finished 36-2, but got upset in the semifinals. The team finished second in the state in 1989 and lost to Corinth in the state finals after a 37-5 season. Crain said, “We had a really good team that year. We had a bunch of players that would get after it in that group.”
Crain named players such as Brad Smith who was runner up player of the year and went on to play for Mississippi State and Troy McKinnis who played for Mississippi College. He said several others played for junior colleges.
In 1995 the Tigers finished second in the state again led by Anthony Richards who played for USM and is a former freshman of the year. Marcus Anthony was also a leader on the team and he furthered his career at University of Louisiana Monroe. Crain’s oldest son, Curt Crain, was also a member of the team.
Crain’s final year as head coach for the Mendenhall Tigers was his best. The Tigers finished the season 34-3 and won the 4A State Championship. Crain was also named Coach of the Year. The 2000 Tigers were loaded with talent. Crain named players such as Jeffery Hobbs, James Hobbs, and his son Carey Crain. The most memorable player was big Quentin Christian who was justly nicknamed “Baby Shaq”. Crain laughed and said, “Big Christian really did look like old Shaq.” The Tigers dominated the 2000 season and won all of the major tournaments they played in that season. He left Mendenhall on the highest note and then took over as principal.
Crain amassed a 586-192 win loss record at Mendenhall. After leaving Mendenhall, Crain took over as head coach of Hillcrest Christian School in 2004. Crain led Hillcrest to a three peat. The Hillcrest Cougars won the MAIS State Championship in 2007, 2008, and 2009. Crain left Hillcrest academy with a 167-53 record.
In 2011 Crain came back to Simpson County as head coach of the Simpson County Academy Cougars. It didn’t take long for Crain to enjoy success with the Cougars. The Cougars finished second in the state in Crain’s first season as head coach. Crain led the Cougars to back to back championships in 2014 and 2015. He has coached several talented players at SCA including Sam McWilliams, Jacob Berry, Nicholas Broadhead, Jacob Holbrook, and Brandon Cranford.
During November of the 2015 season with SCA Crain achieved another milestone notching his 900th win. Crain has a record of 219-69 at Simpson Academy so far.
Throughout his career Crain has also served as a mentor to several coaches. His past assistants include Ken Barron, Jeff Walker, Josh Hankins, Brit Hederman, Justin Britt, Bradley Parker, and others. He explained that many of them went on to be successful head coaches at other schools. Crain expressed that he was thankful for the opportunity to now mentor his son, Carey Crain, who assists with SCA.
Being inducted into any hall of fame takes tremendous work and longevity. Crain has been a constant example of coaching success and he has done it with the support of his wife, Kathy Crain. The banquet MS Association of Coaches banquet will be held on June 22, at 6:00 p.m. at the Hilton Hotel on County Line Road, Jackson MS. Crain expressed that he would like for all of his former players and their parents to come and be recognized. Over the years several athletes and families have contributed to his success. He said, “I’d like for everybody that can to be present.”
Crain will be inducted into the hall of fame alongside Nevil Barr, Thomas Billups, Archie Carlyle, and Randy West. For more information on the ceremony visit the Mississippi Association of Coaches website at www.mscoaches.com.