Columbia High basketball coach wins 500 games, changes lives

Columbia High basketball coaching legend played football and baseball at Clark Atlanta University, later being inducted into the college's Athletic Hall of Fame (AJC)

Columbia High basketball coaching legend Phil McCrary played football and baseball at Clark Atlanta University, later being inducted into the college's Athletic Hall of Fame (AJC)

Phil McCrary has built a basketball dynasty at Columbia High, leading the Eagles to three state championships and this year’s No. 1 ranking in Class AAA. This past weekend, McCrary picked up his 500th career win at the DeKalb County school.

Not bad for a guy who had no intentions of coaching basketball for a career.

“I never saw it coming,” said McCrary with a laugh. “I always thought I would end up being a football coach. Some of the guys I went to college with, when we get together, we always laugh about it. They say ‘How in the world did you end up in basketball?’

“But strange and unexpected things happen in life, and I feel blessed that basketball has been part of my mine.”

Over the past 24 years, McCrary has posted a 502-183 record at Columbia. His teams have played for the state championship in four out of the last five seasons.

Under McCrary’s tutelage, more than 80 players have signed major-college basketball scholarships, including Georgia Tech’s Lance Storrs and the Georgia tandem of Travis Leslie and Jeremy Price. However, McCrary’s impact on his players goes far beyond basketball.

“When he teaches basketball, he uses it as learning tools for life,” Storrs said. “He lets you know if you turn in a college paper late or show up for your job late, it’s going to hurt you. Then he relates it to basketball, by saying if you’re not executing on the court or remembering plays, it’s like doing the same thing.

“As he teaches basketball, he teaches you about life. He teaches kids how to be men.”

When surrounded by players during a timeout, the 5-foot-8 McCrary is sometimes hard to see. He has a strong presence on the sidelines during games, constantly yelling and motioning instructions to his team. When he really wants to get a player’s attention, he will stomp on the wooden court while wearing a pair of his favorite cowboy boots.

“I believe that before you can do anything with a team, you must have discipline,” McCrary said. “Discipline is a big part of everything we do in our program. When you have discipline, then you can teach and coach. Without discipline, you can’t.”

Jarmal Reid, Columbia’s 6-foot-7 junior forward, said players learn very quickly that it’s “coach’s way or the highway.” McCrary is especially strict with his team on academics and treating others with respect.

When Reid was asked why players stay at Columbia when they could be pampered by another coach, he said, “We all know it’s a win-win situation, and worth it in the end. He wants everybody to go to college and succeed in life, and he’ll always be there to help you long after you finished high school.”

Basketball is a family affair at Columbia. Three of four assistants are McCrary’s former players, including youngest son Clint. His wife of 27 years, Constance, is the team’s self-proclaimed “water girl,” also attending to player injuries and other responsibilities. When Columbia won last year’s state championship, dozens of former players — including Storrs, Leslie, and Price — traveled to Macon in a show of support.

McCrary nearly retired from coaching after Clint graduated in 2003, and he is eligible to retire from teaching at the end of this school year. However, he says he is still not ready for either.

“I enjoy it too much,” McCrary said. “I enjoy the camaraderie of being around the kids. I enjoy having the opportunity to make a positive influence on the future of these young men.

“I’m going to continue doing what I do as long as the good man above continues to bless with me. When He tells me it’s time to get out, I will walk away with no regrets. It’s not that time yet.”

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29 comments Add your comment


January 26th, 2011
7:57 am

Great article about a Great Teacher/Coach


January 26th, 2011
8:11 am

Nice article! We have a pretty good one ourselves in Cherokee County with Coach Jeremy Adams @ Sequoyah HS. Still undefeated this season. Go Chiefs!


January 26th, 2011
8:13 am

Great job Coach!! Basketball is great but the life lessons are impressive!!!

Lakeview Lad

January 26th, 2011
8:41 am

Congrats Coach. I’d also especially like to say congratulations to Hall county’s Seth Vining for a 700th win milestone which somehow slipped by AJC.


January 26th, 2011
10:45 am

Great Job Coach ! Keep up the good work !


January 26th, 2011
11:20 am

His teams have always had a 6′14″ A very good coach and an even better person. Congratulations coach, you represent what is best about the eastside of Dekalb County. 500 wins is impressive, especially at the same school.

Eagle 1

January 26th, 2011
11:40 am

Congrats Coach!!!! You are amazing keep up the good work.


January 26th, 2011
1:38 pm

Great Job coach!!! Very impressive and you must be dedicated to put in all those years and hours!!!! Maybe you need to teach your football coach about discipline with his players. (Brawl about 4 years ago). Continue your “Great Work” and I truly mean it!!!!!!

Eagle Alum

January 26th, 2011
5:26 pm

As a 1975 Columbia High School alum ……. I can’t tell you how proud I am of everything you’ve accomplished Coach! Makes my heart full! And I am posting this story on my facebook page for all the former CHS alums to see!

Former Co-Worker

January 26th, 2011
5:32 pm

Proud to have worked with coach. Always treated everyone with respect and dignity!

Joe white

January 26th, 2011
5:34 pm

Congrats to coach mccrary he is a stand up guy and a great role model GO CHS win us another title. SWD still sucks. GO CHS Class of 93

sat what?

January 26th, 2011
7:33 pm

Glad that you are still there. Congratulations.


January 26th, 2011
9:02 pm

What can you say about Dr. Phil–he is class act both on the court and in the classroom…he is simply the best! It is a joy to work with him…


January 26th, 2011
9:38 pm

Congrats coach. Glad I got A chance to learn from you and play for you/

Howard Lemons

January 26th, 2011
11:00 pm

Congrats coach! You have certainly impacted the lives of my nephews!

former student

January 27th, 2011
12:06 am

They left out the part about him beating them with the wooden paddle! Those who went to columbia know what I’m talking about!


January 27th, 2011
8:50 am

Not too often do we see or know the personal side of a coach. I’ve known Coach McCrary for many years, mostly as a b’ball official. I can remember numerous games when he was stomping those cowboy boots, either for a bad/missed call or getting his players’ attention. I still attend some of his games, just to witness how well his teams play. He also appreciates consistent officiating and have been known to be vocal about non-consistent game management. I can remember during some of our officials’ association meetings when game assignment were handed out, some officials that were assigned to his games turned those games back or switched to go another school…more than not the reason being every offical knew that if he/she wasn’t on their “A” game, Coach McCrary game them an ear full! Keep coaching Phil, the kids really need you.


January 27th, 2011
1:46 pm

As a 1976 Columbia grad, it makes me very proud to have such a fine man guiding the Eagles’ basketball team. His record on the court and in the playoffs is great, but it sounds like those pale in comparison to the success he has had in developing character in the young men he has coached. Like so many kids in high school sports, I’m sure a lot of the kids he’s coached did not come from real good backgrounds, and many probably never had a male authority figure in their lives other than sports coaches. I’m thankful that we have fine men like Coach Phil McCrary who want to be a positive male role model for so many kids who need it so badly. He makes me proud to be a Columbia Eagle!

Ravi W.

January 28th, 2011
4:57 pm

Great article on a GREAT man! Congrats Coach McCrary! God’s not done with you yet. He’s just getting started :-)
Im a PROUD CHS alumni (class of 2001)!

Robert J. Luciano

January 30th, 2011
9:14 am

Coach McCrary is a tribute to High School Basketball and epitomizes everything that a Coach should strive to be. Too many Coaches care only whether a Kid can help them win games and make no effort to assist them beyond High School graduation. I have had the honor to coach against Coach McCrary and his teams are not only really good, but reflect the class of their Coach.


January 30th, 2011
4:23 pm

Coach Mccrary is a joke. He recruits players from other counties and still cant compete with Miller Grove or Tucker. He has lost his touch, and Columbia basketball has lost its glory. After the class with Travis Leslie and Darrius Morrow, they have been a average team. They play no competition in 3a, and Mcscrary was afraid to opt up and compete in 4a. I commend all the players he helped get into college, but he is not this prominent figure of values and integrity that everybody thinks. Only few people know about the truth behind Columbia basketball. – Gary W.


January 30th, 2011
8:44 pm

@basketballife: stop being a hater on a man you’re jealous of. Whether his team is AAA or AAAA they compete to the best of their ability.


January 31st, 2011
8:43 am

@basketballife: know what you talking about before you speak for one. Coach wanted to stay in 4a but because of other sports the school wanted to move down to 3a, and before sat when the refs cheated for tucker that was the 1st time tucker beat columbia in 4 yrs, and not to mention columbia was up on miller grove by 5 with 30 secs left before the refs decided to take that game away from columbia as well, and both games were on the road. Stop all the hate and give the man his props !!!


February 1st, 2011
1:53 pm

On Saturday, I lost respect for Coach McCrary. I was disappointed how McCrary conducted himself through out the game. He kicked over a chair, he yelled at the referees. Very unprofessional. What lessons are you teaching you team if your attitude stinks. Remember you are not the only coach in Dekalb County with a good team. I hope when this game air on television that people see the true McCrary. And your parents and fans are also unprofessional. Grown men should not have temper tantrum on the court. I guess you under estimated the “Tucker Tigers”. And your comment that Harty does not deserve to win is very unprofessional. Your dumb parents had the nerve to stand and clap. HOW DUMB. You should be embarrassed. Go Tigers!!!! Also tell our palyers that they should not play dirty.


February 1st, 2011
10:52 pm

i\@ Tiger if you feel that way about the man, then why don’t you go over to columbia and tell him instead of putting it on a blog. Only a coward hide behind a screen name. I doubt coach cares what you think., McCrary will always stand up for his team. And for your information him and the Tucker coach are the best of friends, Just ask your coach and he will tell you how real the man is.

jim haley

March 14th, 2011
1:55 pm

Congrats to Coach McCrary on a great season capturing #500 and winning the state title. Coach has visited our Kingdom of the Sun national tourney for several years winning the coveted tourney title in 2005. He & his coaching staff plus players represented the state of Georgia with high respect & were gentleman to the upmost degree. Our city supports our tourney every year and hope that Columbia will once again visit the city of Ocala.


January 16th, 2012
11:08 am

awsome coach he guides them young boys and make them go in the right path it guides half us girs he is just like a dad


February 11th, 2012
3:06 am

Eagles got revenge on Tucker during the Christmas holidays. No refs to save them this time. And Its funny how u say coach Mccrary acts on the sideline. I’ve seen Tuckers coach and he’s no choir boy on the sideline. Let’s be real not bias


February 11th, 2012
3:12 am

@ basketballlife how can u say Columbia can’t compete with miller grove. They’ve played about 8 times and miller grove won (1) game with the help of the ref. Let’s be real, u saw the game I’m sure. U be the judge. And over the years Tucker and Columbia go back and forth, but mg only has one win my brother. And by the way Columbia has more players in d1 schools over the last 2 years than miller grove have since they been open. Now who’s a joke. Ha ha laugh now