April 13, 2013 11:11:11 PM
Adam Minichino - [email protected]
The consensus among area coaches is Ricky Kendrick had the Caledonia High School football program going in the right direction.
Not only did Kendrick provide stability to a program that had shuffled through a host of coaches in recent years, but he also helped instill a new confidence and optimism in the program.
Andy Crotwell hopes to continue Kendrick's work and to help the Confederates become even more competitive.
On Friday, the Lowndes County School Board approved a recommendation to name Crotwell Caledonia High's new football coach. The appointment is effective July 1.
"I am excited and anxious to get started and anxious to meet the coaches and get going," Crotwell said. "I am excited about the future."
Crotwell spent the past 11 years at Tupelo High working in a number of roles for several coaches. He worked as ninth-grade coach and running backs coach before moving up to offensive coordinator. He served in that capacity for coaches Eric Collins and David Bradberry. Bradberry stepped down after the 2012 season and was replaced with former Amory High head coach Trent Hammond.
Crotwell, who was born in Baton Rouge, La., and grew up in Hernando, said he didn't apply for the job as head football coach at Tupelo High. When Crotwell learned the position at Caledonia High was open, he said he did his due diligence and discovered a great school system, a great place to live, and a football program on the rise. He said the time he worked with Kendrick at Tupelo High helped him understand the progress the program made in the past three years and made him believe even more advances could be made if the job was approached the right way.
Crotwell said the opportunity to work with Caledonia High Principal Randy Barnett, athletic director Josh Scott, and assistant principal Andy Stevens helped convince him the administration is very interested in running a "top-notch" program.
"Caledonia is a great school system, and I think there is a lot of potential there," Crotwell said. "I have known coach Kendrick since we worked at Tupelo High together six or seven years ago, and we just hit it off. I think we have similar philosophies., and he has done an outstanding job with those guys. I know it is not going to be a situation where I upset the apple cart."
Kendrick, who coached on defense at Tupelo while Crotwell coached offense, decided last July that the 2012 season would be his last as Caledonia High's football coach. He said in January when he announced his resignation that his work as pastor at Fig Hill Church in Hamilton, where he has served for six years, had become a bigger job and that he didn't want to shortchange the church or the school by not having enough time to devote to both.
Kendrick went 9-24 in three seasons at Caledonia High. He led the Confederates to 4-7 records the past two seasons. This past season, Caledonia scored nearly 100 more points (273) than 2011 (178). It lost its Class 4A, Region 4 opener to Leake Central 28-27 and went 0-5 in the region. The Confederates lost those five games by an average of more than 21 points per game.
"He seems to be a very organized and structured individual," Kendrick said of Crotwell. "He has coached against some of the best teams in Mississippi. He also has coached several players who went on to play college ball -- Chad Bumphis at Mississippi State, Chris Garrett at LSU, and others. My son, Nathan, played for coach Crotwell, and he has nothing but compliments for him as a coach and as a person. I believe he will be a good fit for Caledonia."
Kendrick said he will work "diligently" to make Crotwell's transition to the school as smooth as possible. He already has helped Crotwell lay the ground work for the start of spring football April 22.
Kendrick said he hopes to remain as a teacher at Caledonia High, but he knew his position might be needed to hire another teacher/coach after he announced his resignation.
Barnett said Friday he would like to keep Kendrick at the school but that he wasn't sure what positions would open up at the end of the school year or in the summer.
As one of the school officials who interviewed Crotwell, Barnett acknowledged the hard work done by Kendrick while looking forward to what Crotwell will do for the program.
"We're losing a good one in Ricky Kendrick," Barnett said. "I think he has brought the program several steps forward. He had some things personally he wanted to continue and pursue a little further. I understand the decision he made, and we're losing a good teacher, too.
"Andy has that energy and enthusiasm and spark in his eye. When we asked him questions about the program here and what he wanted to do, he seemed to know what he was coming into and he had done his homework."
Barnett said 13 applicants were interviewed from all over the state. He said Crotwell will teach social studies and, possibly, physical education at the high school.
"From all indications from the principal at Tupelo High and the head football coaches he worked with we're getting a fine young man and a fine young coach," Barnett said. "We're excited."
Crotwell, who played football at Millsaps College, worked as wide receivers coach at Hernando High for one year. He spent two years as head ninth-grade coach and a varsity assistant coach at Walton High in Marietta, Ga. He said he and his wife, Heather, who is from Pontotoc, became home sick and wanted to return to the state of Mississippi. Crotwell has three children, Daniel, 7; Anne, 4; and Mary, 9 months.
After 11 years at Tupelo, many of them in the pressbox, Crotwell joked things were going to look different for him on Friday nights. Even though he will work from a different view, he said he is confident he can build on what Kendrick has accomplished.
"He has made it a more attractive situation for a prospective coach," Crotwell said. "It has some potential to be very, very good, and there is no doubt Ricky has them on the right track."
Crotwell said he called coaches and friends in education to learn more about Caledonia High and the football program. He said a lot of people said similar things and talked about a hard-working bunch of players that is "hungry and dedicated." He knows the program last advanced to the playoffs in 2004 and has had only one winning season in the past 15 years (6-5 in 2004). Still, Crotwell interviewed for the job in March and accepted the position right before spring break. Like Kendrick, Crotwell said he will set high standards that will drive the Confederates to achieve more.
"We're going to set a level of expectations for our guys as far as they carry about their business, how practices will be run, and the level of intensity that will be exhibited in the weight room, on the track, and on the field," Crotwell said. "As far as a specific offensive and defensive philosophy, there are going to be some similarities there and some differences. I think we both recognize you have to adapt and adjust to the type of talent you have to maximize their chance of success from a schematic standpoint to do what you're best at."
Crotwell said his goal is to have "balance" in an attack that makes opponents pay when they try to take away Caledonia's strengths. After watching film of Caledonia from last season, Crotwell said the system that might best suit the Confederates in 2013 might be a downhill running attack with some quick passing and play-action passing thrown in.
At Tupelo last season, Crotwell said he ran a pro-I offense with some three-wide sets, which was similar to the offense the team ran in 2011 when it had running back Ashton Shumpert. Shumpert transferred from Tupelo to Itawamba Agricultural High for his senior season in 2012.
"I don't know if I am a rah-rah guy, and I don't know if I am necessarily laid back," Crotwell said when asked about his personality and demeanor. "I have expectations and if those are not met I am going to try to have clear expectations to try to deal with it as quickly as possible and get it corrected. As far as a demeanor, I am upbeat, and I try to be as upbeat in practice as possible. I do try to exhibit a fast tempo as much as possible.
"I got into this business because I love football, and I found out really quickly that I really enjoy being around guys and cultivating relationships."
Jason Forrester, who served as defensive line coach he past two years for Kendrick, talked with Crotwell shortly after he accepted the position and said he will do whatever he can to aid his transition. He said he had heard of Crotwell from his days at Tupelo, and based on everything he has heard he feels the football program has a solid choice to carry on for Kendrick.
"One of the administrators at Tupelo I talked with said he is a really good guy and that he understands the game and understands what players need to be successful," Forrester said. "He is a very disciplined person who will make sure he has that in his players. He fits well and understands the history of what has gone on here and understands we're going in the right direction and building on what coach Kendrick has started."
Crotwell agrees and is eager to get started teaching, planning, preparing, and winning.
"It is a place you can come in and have success, and that is what I am anticipating," Crotwell said. "It is a good situation. It is a good fit for me and my family. I am excited about it."
Adam Minichino is the Sports Editor for The Commercial Dispatch.