Paul Cretton stepped down as an assistant principal at Walker Valley High School, but is returning to his alma mater and will rejoin the coaching ranks with the Lee University men’s basketball program.
“I had stepped away from coaching several years ago to spend more time with my family, so when (daughter) Kristin got married this summer that got everybody out of the house and I’ve really missed coaching,” commented the man who owns the highest winning percentage in Bradley Central girls basketball history.
After taking over from legendary coach Jim Smiddy, Cretton compiled a 148-19 record for an 88.6 winning percentage in six years as the Bearette coach. Smiddy, who set a national record with 1,217 wins also had 206 losses, giving him an 85.5 winning percentage in 46 years at Charleston and Bradley high schools.
“I was an assistant coach for Earl Rowan with the Bradley boys team for 11 years and had never coached girls, but coach Smiddy asked me to take the job when he retired,” Cretton related. “I talked to Earl about it and he told me when he gave up the boys in 10 more years I could have it. I decided to go ahead and take the girls team and Earl ended up giving up the boys the next year.”
Cretton took the Bearettes to the TSSAA state tournament in 1996, including a second place finish to powerhouse Shelbyville in 1996. Cretton “officially” stepped away from coaching in 1999.
“I talked to one of my old players this summer about possibly getting back into coaching and had asked him to help me pray about it,” Cretton explained. “A week or so later he happened to be talking to coach (Tommy) Brown and mentioned it. Once coach Brown and I talked, I really felt I needed to get back into coaching.”
Cretton will serve an assistant coach for the Flames varsity, as well as coach the junior varsity squad.
“We are thrilled to have someone with Paul’s experience join our program,” declared Brown. “He has a tremendous reputation in the Bradley County area and brings a great deal of passion and enthusiasm to our program.”
Brown related that Cretton will “be involved in every aspect” of the nationally ranked Flames program, including “on-the-floor coaching, game prep and recruiting.”
“I’ve known Paul since he was point guard here and watched him throughout the years as his career evolved,” commented Lee athletic director Larry Carpenter, who was an assistant coach for the then Vikings during Cretton’s playing days. “He knows Lee and what we’re all about. He will be a real big help to our program. I’m just excited that he was interested in coming back.”
Born and raised in East Gary, Ind., (just outside Chicago) Cretton was a standout athlete for Edison High School and was recruited to play basketball at Emmanuel Junior College in Franklin Springs, Ga.
“I only had one school recruit me and I had to move a thousand miles to play for them,” Cretton laughed.
After earning his associate’s degree at Emmanuel, coach Rowan (who was the head coach at Lee at the time) recruited him to come play for the Vikings.
“They already had Keith Lewis and had just signed Steve Castello as their point guards, but for some reason coach Rowan wanted me to come anyway,” Cretton related. “That was one of the greatest things to ever happen to me.”
“I always felt like you couldn’t have too much depth at point guard and I knew we’d be able to give all of them plenty of playing time,” Rowan recalled.
“Paul was an outstanding young man and I knew he’d fit right in here (at Lee),” continued Rowan. “He was a tremendous player. We went to the NCCAA (National Christian College Athletic Association) national tournament both years he was here. We even played Liberty Baptist in the national championship game one of those years.”
Cretton graduated from Lee in 1981 with a double major in business and physical education “Paul stuck around another year as a graduate assistant,” Rowan related. “That next year he went back to Indiana and ended up coaching sixth-grade football.”
The following year, Rowan accepted the head coaching position for the Bradley boys’ team and brought Cretton back to Cleveland as his assistant coach.
“A young woman named Sandra Watkins had been my athletic department secretary while I was at Lee, and Paul would hang around the office a lot,” Rowan explained. “He finally worked up enough nerve to ask her out. They ended up getting married that next year. She was glad it worked out for him to come back here.”
Members of North Cleveland Church of God, they have been married 29 years and have raised three children — Chris, Ryan and Kristin.
“You’d be hard pressed to find anyone in the Bradley County School system who is more highly thought of than Paul,” Rowan, who is in his 43rd year of teaching, proclaimed.
“He is a fine family man, husband and father. His work ethic is phenomenal. He gives a first-rate performance in the classroom, on the court or as an administrator. And he is honest as the day is long,” Rowan concluded. “He’s always been more than a player or a fellow coach to me. He’s a very special friend.”
Taking the position as a physical education teacher and boys’ assistant basketball coach with Rowan at Bradley, Cretton also continued his education, earning a master’s degree in administration and supervision from the University of Tennessee at Chattanooga in 1989.
After a 19-year tenure at Bradley, Cretton became the athletic director for the newly opened Walker Valley High School in 2001, plus he became an assistant principal in 2003.
“Seeing the response of the Walker Valley faculty to the news of my retirement has been humbling,” Cretton remarked. “I’ve built some very good relationships there and I’m going to miss the staff and students.”
“The Walker Valley staff and community want to say ‘thank you’ to Paul for his dedication to our school and he will be greatly missed,” commented WVHS principal Danny Coggin, who was the band director at Bradley when Cretton was first hired.
“In his 29 years in the (school) system he has touched many lives. He’s a man of character and quality and has been a great example to our young people,” Coggin added.
The school will celebrate Cretton’s career before the Mustangs’ season-opening football game Friday. Former students and colleagues of Cretton are invited to attend the pregame recognition which will begin at 7 p.m. Friday evening at “The Corral.”
Although he’s “retiring,” the 53-year-old still has plenty of knowledge to share. Many feel Walker Valley’s loss is Lee University’s gain.