Joe Williams was more than Randolph-Clay’s basketball coach to Columbus principal Marvin Crumbs.
Crumbs sent him cards and called him on Father’s Day, spoke with him nearly every week in the more than 20 years since he graduated high school and frequently visited with the man known as Coach Joe through the final days before his death Aug. 16 at the age of 78.
“I didn’t have a male role model in my life until I got into the eighth grade and met Coach,” said Crumbs, who played basketball at Randolph-Clay from 1986-89. “When I started playing for him, he became my father.”
The two shared a special relationship but not one that was unusual. Coach Joe became a father to nearly all of his athletes, and he filled an important role for hundreds of young men during his 46 seasons of coaching.
“I had only one childhood friend who lived with his mother and his father, and probably 90-plus percent of all of us lived with just our mothers,” Crumbs said. “He was like a father to all of us. He was the most compassionate man I have ever met, and he cared about all of us like that.”
Coach Joe taught his athletes what was important. Before each practice, he would tell them how to carry themselves, how to push their limits and how to be men.
In turn, they drove themselves to the brink of exhaustion for Coach Joe. He demanded every athlete on the court be the best at that position, if even only for their few minutes of playing time. And often they were.
“Whatever Coach told you your role was, you were supposed to do it better than anyone in the state,” Crumbs said. “If you were the post player, you felt like you had to be not just the best post player on the court, but you had to be the best post player in the state that day.”
The drive Coach Joe instilled in his players led him to one of the most prolific coaching careers in state history. When he retired in 2008 after 46 seasons of coaching between Speight, Clay County and Randolph-Clay, Coach Joe had amassed 1,015 victories, a 90-game winning streak and six state championships.
“He taught us about life and focus,” said Crumbs, who was a member of Randolph-Clay’s 1986 title team and its 1989 runner-up squad. “It was about winning, but, more than that, it was about preparing, putting yourself into a position to succeed and always outworking people at whatever you do.”
Saturday, at Coach Joe’s funeral, his impact was obvious. Former players gathered to mourn the coach, and though many of them never formally had met, they shared a deep bond, Crumbs said.
“There might have been decades between our ages, but a lot of them knew who everyone was and said they saw the other people play even though they were 20 years older,” Crumbs said. “You could feel those ties through the school and that connection. It was because Coach was my father and because he was a father to all of us.”
Chris White, 706-571-8571