By Phil Anastasia and Marc Narducci
Camden Catholic's Jim Crawford, who is third on South Jersey's all-time list in career coaching victories in boys' basketball, has decided to retire as head coach.
Crawford, who won 713 games and three state titles in 35 seasons with the Irish, will remain with the program as an assistant coach.
Matt Crawford, 33, Jim's son and an assistant coach with the Irish for the last four seasons, will become the program's new head coach.
"My health is good and I am leaving on good terms and feel good about the team coming up this year,"Jim Crawford said. "There is a piece of me that feels I could coach 10 more years and a piece of me tells me the time is right to get out now."
Jim Crawford, 61, said he decided during Christmas time in 2011 that last season would be his final year. Camden Catholic was 20-8 last season.
Camden Catholic has been a perennial South Jersey power under Crawford.
The Irish won three state titles, seven sectional titles and 10 conference titles during Crawford's time as head coach. From 1989 to 2011, the Irish won 20 or more games in 23 consecutive seasons while playing one of the most demanding schedules in South Jersey.
"When you think of Camden Catholic, you think of basketball and Jimmy Crawford," said Camden coach John Valore, the long-time coach at Cherry Hill East.
When Crawford's 2001 team won the Non-Public A state title, it was the program's first state crown since 1942. The Irish also won state titles in 2003 and 2010.
Crawford's teams were known for their teamwork, discipline, patience and defense. He was a master of controlling tempo and exploiting opportunities in tense games -- usually in the form of a backdoor cut or interior screen that led to a key basket at a key time.
"When you think of all the great teams and great players that have come through Camden Catholic you see a bit of Jim Crawford in all of them," Lenape coach Chuck Guittar said. "They played smart, disciplined, humble, and most of all hard. They way his players performed on the floor is the example set by Jim as a coach and a person.
"Walking into the gym at Camden Catholic will not be the same ever again."
Said Shawnee coach Joe Kessler: "He's been one of the best coaches in South Jersey for a long time. His teams were so discipline, so structured. He wasn't a screamer, wasn't a yeller but he got his point across."
Jim Crawford was a standout player at Bishop Eustace, class of 1969, and La Salle University. He was nicknamed "Skyman," during his playing days because of his exceptional jumping ability.
Matt Crawford was a star point guard under his father at at Camden Catholic and a three-year starter at the University of the Sciences.
Matt Crawford is a 1999 Camden Catholic graduate. He teaches at the school. He was a coach at St. Rose of Lima grammar school for five years before spending the last four as an assistant with the Irish.
"I am looking forward to get in the gym," Matt Crawford said. "A lot of things will stay the same because it worked so well, why change anything?"
Camden Catholic projects as one of the Top 10 teams in South Jersey next season. The Irish will return three starters from a 20-8 team: senior guards Rob Brosh and Tom Organ and junior forward Brendan Crawford, who is Jim Crawford's nephew and Matt Crawford's cousin.
The Irish should get a boost from the addition of 6-foot-9 junior Demola Onifade, a Nigerian citizen who is attending Camden Catholic and living in the school's International House on campus.
SOUTH JERSEY'S TOP 10 IN BOYS' BASKETBALL COACHING WINS
1. Paul Rodio, St. Augustine, 781
2. Clarence Turner, Camden, 775
3. Jim Crawford, Camden Catholic, 713
4. Paul Collins, Willingboro, Riverside, Burl City, 670
4. Tom Ferraco, Middle Twp., 670
6. Lou Schantz, Salem, 625
7. Joe Kessler, Shawnee, 569
8. John Valore, CHE, Cumberland, 553
9. Bill Hiltner, Millville, Sterling, 523
10. Ken Faulkner, Burl. Twp, 521
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