SEEKONK -- Athletic Director Ray Grant claimed elation at Seekonk High School’s hiring of a new varsity football head coach.
Principal Marcia McGovern took Grant’s recommendation and chose Vernon Crawford, a former New England Patriots linebacker/special teams player, to be the mentor, she announced Friday morning.
Crawford, 37, of Attleboro, will replace Jack Whalen, who had been arrested earlier this year on a driving under the influence charge and subsequently dismissed. Grant indicated the approximate six-week search – one conducted by a committee of administrators and staff – included interviews with eight applicants.
“I’m really excited about him leading our program,” Grant said Friday afternoon. “I’m more excited for the kids, and I think he’s going to be great for the community … It would be very hard for anyone to look at his resume and not be impressed.
“He’s played football at the highest levels of the sport, both in college and the pros,” he added. “Obviously, when you’re looking at the resumes, we had some terrific applicants. It was the best pool of applicants for any coaching position I’ve seen in my seven years here as the A.D.
“On top of his credentials, when you meet him, he’s a genuine person. You get the feeling he truly cares about the kids, and truly wants to teach them not only the fundamentals of football, but also the life lessons that go with it.”
When reached by phone later Friday, Crawford revealed he was floored when he received on Thursday a call from Grant, one stating he had been chosen.
“I wanted to talk it over with my wife (of eight years, Tuera, and his two sons, Cleveland White, 18, and Vernon Crawford III, 6), but she already new I was going to take it; I just wanted to make sure it was OK,” he laughed. “I’m thrilled by the decision. I applied for the job in late February, and I didn’t even know it was open. I didn’t know what had happened (with Whalen) until the interview. I asked why it was open, because I knew the worst Seekonk had done the last few years was 5-5.
“I just wanted to come back to (coaching) high school football,” he added. “I love the age level because of its purity. The kids have a passion to play, and I believe I have the tutelage and knowledge to help these guys learn the game, and also life lessons in the process. That’s what football teaches you – when you get knocked down, you get back up. You don’t lay down on the field, and you don’t lay down in life.”
Crawford, a grid star from a young age, graduated from Texas City (Tx.) High in 1993, then trekked to the Community College of San Francisco, where he earned his Associate’s in 1995. After that stint, he was recruited by legendary head coach Bobby Bowden to play at Florida State University in Tallahassee, where he helped the Seminoles achieve a No. 3 national ranking as a junior and senior.
He not only played in two Sugar Bowls, but also was selected ESPN Football Commentator Lee Corso’s College Football Special Teams Player of the Year his final season. Crawford earned a Bachelor’s in criminology in 1997, but – just a month before – was drafted in the fifth round by the Patriots.
He was named to the NFL All-Rookie special teams players list that fall. He played three seasons (1997-99) for then-head coach Pete Carroll, recording a total of 32 special teams tackles, but closed his career in Green Bay after suffering a hamstring injury in the home opener against Miami.
“I knew I was hurt, but you just do what you must to remain on the field,” Crawford said. “I tried to play through it, but couldn’t.”
He later tried the short-lived Xtreme Football League, and played in a few games, then attempted to become an NFL free agent, “but that didn’t work out.
“In 2002, I wasn’t exactly sure what I wanted to do after playing; I retired, but I wanted to do something affiliated with the game,” he offered. “I was living in Quincy, and a friend of mine was a coach who did some South Shore (of Boston) camps, and he asked me to help. One of the coaches there noticed how intrigued the kids were with me, and it just happened to be John Lee, the Walpole head coach. He was a legend there in the ‘80s.
“He told me, ‘I love the way you relate to the kids,’ and asked me to join him, which I did,” he continued. “It was a great fit. I guess he liked the way I motivated the kids to love the game.”
Crawford spent a season there, then became Randolph High’s defensive coordinator for three years. He later took the reins from 2007-08, and has spent the last three at Curry College.
Former New England linebacker Mosi Tatupu helped him get the job.
“He was my buddy,” he said of the late Tatupu.
“In any community, the goal is to mold kids to be great young men, great leaders, and the way to do that is to have different ways of team building, just little things like getting the kids into public speaking, to speak up in front of the team and know your teammates will listen.
“When we win the state championship, I want these kids to be able to speak to the sports broadcasters and in front of an audience,” he added.
When asked if he was jumping the gun, he insisted, “I’m just speaking the truth. I don’t think ‘later,’ never have. I’m always thinking about right now.
“I mean, last year, our team was 5-5 and 3-4 (in the South Coast Conference), and you just have to beat the Warehams, Bournes, Old Rochesters and Dighton-Rehoboths of the world. This is a good conference we’re in, and we’re right there in the middle of the pack. I just want every player to expect to accomplish big things. I truly think we can take it to another level.
“Most of the games we lost, we were right in them; it could’ve been just a play here or there, or a turnover, and the result would’ve been different. I’m just grateful to coach a bunch of great kids. I want to feed off them just like they feed off me.”
He explained he wants his Warriors to be successful, and – if they have the talent – move on to play in college. It doesn’t matter what level.
“I also will stress grades,” he claimed. “My son (Cleveland, 18, an Attleboro High senior) will be going to Wesleyan University in the fall, and that’s a phenomenal school. I believe that’s a testament to his mother and me. I value character and education, and I also love football, but it all has to come together. You can’t have one without the other.”
He’s not quite sure who he will name to his staff, as he’s still interviewing current assistants.
“They’ve all got to be on board with what I want to sell, and that includes the players,” he stated. “I will say this: A lot of freshmen will be working out with (the varsity) early on to get acclimated to my system. I’ve already called officials with the High School Player Development Camps around southeastern New England to see if I can get our kids in them, hopefully in June.
“That’s the way a lot of players can get out there and tune up their fundamentals; I want to get them involved,” he added. “We’re going to have fun, and there will be discipline, but it’s all about making them not only great players but great men.”