ENTERPRISE — Mike Crawford used the word “blessed” several times in describing his basketball coaching career, one that at Enterprise High School has spanned 31 seasons, 758 games and — after last Saturday’s 40-38 overtime thriller over Heppner at the Blue Mountain Conference tournament — 500 victories.
The blessings, though, stem more from the hundreds of athletes he has worked with since the start of the 1989-90 season, his first leading the EHS girls basketball program.
“What does it really mean? It means that I’ve been doing this a long time, but I’ve also been very blessed with the players I’ve had over all these years,” he said Wednesday.
Crawford, 61, joined an elite group in the state of Oregon with the latest milestone win, as he is just the seventh girls basketball coach in state history to win 500 games, and the fourth to win that many at one school.
Along the way, he’s guided the program to numerous state tournament trophies, including a championship in 1996, had players who now help him on the sidelines as assistant coaches and even has second generations of families who have played for him.
And though many of the details now blend together, he remembers many of those games — wins and losses both — in a tapestry woven together over the last three decades.
Crawford is actually in his 40th year as a high school coach and has coached much more than just basketball. During his junior year of college at Oregon State University he did his junior block — observing a high school class setting — at Junction City High School and helped with the football program. His senior year, he student taught at Willamette High School in Eugene, where he linked up with baseball coach Pat Bailey, who later led George Fox University to prominence on the diamond.
“He provided me with a really solid base,” Crawford said of Bailey. “I can still hear some of the things he had to say to me.”
Bailey was one of several coaches Crawford worked with or learned from during his early years as he shaped his coaching philosophy. He taught in Arlington following graduation from Oregon State, where he coached junior high football, was volunteer coach on the basketball team and was then hired as the head baseball coach, leading Arlington to a state semifinal appearance in 1982. While there, he worked with John Rogers in football and Lee Bittinger on the basketball sidelines, and both programs won state titles during the 1981-82 school year. He later took over as the head football coach when Rogers departed.
When he and his wife, Tammy, moved to Enterprise after she got a teaching job there, he coached alongside football coach Chuck Corak, worked with boys basketball coach Dick Quinn, and exchanged notes on philosophy with former Joseph basketball coaching great Gary Sather.
All of them, he said, approached coaching with a common guiding principle.
“They all shared the belief — and I believe it, too — that you gotta believe in what you’re teaching. You gotta sell it that ‘This is the way we’re going to do it,’” he said. “If you don’t believe, the kids aren’t gong to believe it.”
Lisa Farwell, Enterprise's volleyball coach, was a junior on the girls basketball team when Crawford took over the program at the beginning of the 1989-90 season, and said he sold the team on his ideas for the program from day one.
“I remember he came in with a lot of energy. He was excited to have the job and be a head coach. We bought in 100%,” Farwell said. “He was ready to implement some new things into the program. We worked on a press we called ‘the buzz.’ That was exciting. He had some new ideas.”
As is often the case, it took a couple of years to get the program moving in the right direction. EHS won just four games that first season, though one of them was a memorable victory for Crawford — one he called “very emotional.” The team’s only league win that season came on the road against Pine Eagle, where he had graduated from in 1976.
A dynamic program
By the mid-1990s, Enterprise had become a force to reckon with not only in the Wapiti League but in the state. In the 1994-95 season the team won 22 games, and in 1996 EHS won the state championship, taking a thriller over Santiam Christian 58-54.
That game holds a memory that to this day sticks with Aneliese Stein, who was a junior on that team. Enterprise held a two-point lead in the final seconds, and she had an opportunity for two free throws to ice the game.
“He told me right before I went to the line that he knew I could do it,” recalled Stein, who now is an assistant coach alongside Crawford at Enterprise.
Stein indeed hit both to seal the championship.
The win leading up to that state title game berth is one that is still with Crawford.
“The semifinals at state that year we played against Regis. That was a triple overtime game we won in the semis and then won the final the next night,” he said of the 63-61 thriller.
The title season was one that came during a stretch where Enterprise won the league eight years in a row and claimed six district titles. The team also won 20 games or more each of those years and followed the ’96 title with a third-place finish in ’97 and a runner-up performance in 2001.
The ’97 squad was undefeated — despite injuries late in the season to key players, including Stein — up until a semifinal loss to the team it had defeated in the finals the year prior, Santiam Christian. Even in that game, with all the injuries, Enterprise had a 12-point lead before a late flurry by the Eagles.
“No doubt about it — I’ll say it forever — we had the best team in the state,” Crawford said.
In all, Enterprise has won 20 games or more 14 times, been to the state playoffs 17 times and claimed 10 placings at state in the last three decades. Only nine times has EHS had a losing season under Crawford.
Crawford's coaching success at Enterprise is not limited to the hardwood, though, as he coached the boys golf program to four state championships in a five-year span from 1999-2003.
Beyond the court
Over and above what his teams have achieved on the hardwood in the last three decades, it’s the relationships he builds with his players that stick with them.
“He’s a pretty dedicated coach, not only on the court but off the court,” said Tricia Otten, who played for Enterprise from 2005-09 and now is an assistant coach. “He does a good job of paying attention to the girls’ needs and (guiding) them (in) the full roundedness of life.”
That was particularly true for Otten, who said Crawford filled the role of the father figure she didn’t have and was there when she was in need.
“I lost a brother when I was a senior, (and Crawford) held me together for the better part of my senior year,” she said. “Just building that relationship with him my freshman, sophomore year since I was starting for him, he was always somebody I could go talk to whenever about basketball or life.”
Stein has seen much of the same, and perhaps more so than most who are tied to the program. Not only was she a vital cog to the team during the 90s, but she has coached with Crawford the last 14 years.
“He’s there for them every way he can be,” she said. “He’s there in their career and involved after their career. He doesn’t just care about how you perform on the court. He cares about the individual. He’s one of those people who see the positive in people all the time. If people get down on the program or on a player, he backs them up.”
She also witnessed his caring nature firsthand during her career when she missed the last part of her senior season and the playoffs with an injury.
“He was my right hand through all that,” she said.
The same then as now
Many coaches may change over the course of a career, especially one that spans three decades.
Yet athletes who played for Crawford in his early years said they see a lot of the same now as they did then.
“Even back in the fall of ’89, he was similar,” Farwell said. “He’s a student of basketball, loves watching film, has always been that way.”
Several of Crawford's former players said he has always been caring and able to maintain poise.
“One of his greatest attributes is he seems to keep a level head,” said Chelsie Gray, who played for the ’96 title team, and that has played a part in the trust he fosters in his teams. “He’s got a good relationship with the girls. That’s carried through the years. He cares about them. The girls want to play hard.”
The coach said where he is different now than in 1990 is perhaps obvious after 758 games — experience.
“For everything that happens, I’ve been there already,” he said. “Every time you go overtime, every time you’re in a nail-biter game (or) you’re making decisions on inbounds plays … I’ve been there on all of that. I’ve got stories where we won, stories where we didn’t, the difference between them. I’m a full library now.”
He’s also had the aid of his wife, Tammy, through it all.
She is a "really strong woman," Gray said. "His wife is phenomenal."
“A shoutout to Tammy for backing him up for 30-plus years. It definitely takes two, and she’s very supportive.”
Crawford said his wife has "been through all the battles" with him during his time on the sideline.
"You cannot be successful coach while you're married if you don't have the support of your spouse," he said.
A new generation
Farwell and Gray both have a unique perspective in that they played for Crawford and now have daughters playing for him.
Farwell was there for the first win the program had under Crawford when she was a junior. Her daughter, Claire — a junior this season — was there for the 500th.
“I was his point guard, and now to see (Claire) out there being his point guard is a lot of fun,” Lisa Farwell said. “I’m really glad she had the opportunity to play for him. There’s a lot of good ones out there, but I’m glad she gets to play for Mike Crawford.”
For her, it also goes beyond the basketball court.
“He cares about my girl as a person, as a student, supports her during volleyball (and) softball,” she said. “That’s what I want.”
Gray has two daughters on the team — Ashlyn, a senior, and Jada, a sophomore — and her older daughter, Riley, who graduated in 2018 also played for Crawford.
“Just to play in the same community has been so awesome, (with) the familiarity with the coach. He knew how I played and that's how I encouraged my girls,” Chelsie Gray said. “I appreciate him supporting my kids and bringing out the best in them. He’s had three of my girls and they all love basketball.”
Ashlyn Gray noted that since her mom also played for Crawford, she knows more about how her coach sees the game.
“She understands how he is and what the game is like through his eyes,” Ashlyn Gray said. “It’s cool to play under the same coach and the fact he’s had so much experience.”
Ashlyn Gray said Crawford is not only motivational but knows how to drive each individual on the team.
“Crawford is able to see when people are having problems or in their own head,” she said. “He knows how to talk you though it and get you back into the game. He sees somebody down, and he’ll help them out of it.”
Claire Farwell called it a “blast” to play for the same coach as her mom, and she said the two often joke about the differences in the seasons when they played.
“It’s kinda crazy to think that he coached my mom, and he has mentioned that he does see similarities between the two of us,” she said. “Crawford can remember everything about almost every game since he coached my mom the first time, and hearing those stories have been really encouraging to push us as a team.”
500 and beyond
Getting the 500th victory was a challenge. Enterprise was off offensively — the Outlaws scored just eight points in the first half — against a team in Heppner that it had blown a late lead against in the prior meeting.
Ashlyn Gray admitted the team felt pressure, because the players knew the 500th was on the horizon.
“We made a big deal of it,” she said. “That game was super stressful. It was one of those games you feel like you’re not going to be able to pull off.”
The Outlaws rallied in the fourth quarter to force overtime at 33-33, then made the key shots late to earn the victory, which set off tears of joy throughout the Pendleton Convention Center.
“After the game, it was very emotional. There’s no other way I would’ve wanted to win the game for Crawford," Claire Farwell said, alluding to that prior loss to Heppner. “Everybody was crying and cheering, and we all took an extra minute in the huddle just to let the win sink in.”
EHS fans following the win also held up signs commemorating the 500th victory.
“That last game for the 500th they had to fight so hard. It was just an exciting experience,” Chelsie Gray said. “Crawford was emotional. I got emotional."
Crawford himself actually called the victory a relief. He said the players felt pressure to get it despite his attempts to diffuse the stress.
Stein, who has been around for several of the milestones, said although Crawford tried to downplay it as it approached, the win was a major achievement.
“I played for 100, I’ve coached with him for 300, 400 and 500,” she said. “Celebrations have gotten bigger and bigger.”
She knew, though, that it meant a lot to Crawford.
“It was important to him. You get to that point in your career, he deserves every one of those wins. I’m proud of what he’s accomplished.”
It’s one he won’t forget anytime soon, either, saying: “This overtime game against Heppner last weekend will stick with me forever.”
How many more wins there will be in Crawford's career remains to be seen. He said he considered at one point wrapping up his coaching career once he got to 500, but he also said he’s received a “new boost of energy” from the fact that his son, Kyle, is now coaching the boys program.
For now, he said, he’ll be on the sidelines again next year “and probably the year after that.”
Whenever the longtime coach does hang up the whistle, he will do so on a legacy-leaving career that has been a blessing — for himself and numerous others — and given him a lifetime of memories.
“I’ve had some incredible experiences (and) I’m sure I got some more coming,” he said.