MOULTRIE – Matt Crews knows about the proverbial big shoes. He is leaning on time spent with one Hall of Fame high school baseball coach in easing his transition to take over the post once held by yet another Hall of Famer not too far from where he called home the past decade.
Crews, a former assistant baseball coach at Lowndes High School, is the new head coach for Colquitt County High as announced this week by athletic director Greg Tillery. The Ware County native and Valdosta State University graduate takes over for Tony Kirkland, who, at the end of the 2019 season, retired after 28 years of coaching both in Moultrie and South Effingham High School.
This will be Crews’ first head coaching job at the high school level; he served as head baseball coach for Pine Grove Middle School in Lowndes County during his tenure there.
In 2009, Crews graduated from Valdosta State with a degree in early childhood education. He went straight to that first Georgia Dugout Club Hall of Fame coach, Danny Redshaw, about joining the Lowndes baseball staff.
“I remembered coach Redshaw and had a lot of respect for him,” said Crews about playing against the Vikings when at Ware County. “Very knowledgeable baseball guy. His kids always seemed to enjoy playing for him. That’s an idol guy for me.”
Crews got his chance, but it started at Hahira Middle School with Redshaw’s brother Rusty. He spent two years at Hahira coaching players who would end up being a part of Lowndes’ 2013 region championship team.
In 2011, Crews got his promotion to the Lowndes Vikings varsity staff.
“Was in charge of outfielders, though I had to learn quickly,” said Crews, who played as an infielder. “Never played outfield in my life. Read a lot of books, listened to a lot of older guys talk about some drills to do. We had a successful season in 2011. 2012, we continued to get better. In 2013, we made a nice little run and won region and made it to the Elite 8. We played some good baseball that year.”
After the 2014 season, Redshaw retired, and temporarily Crews’ time with the Lowndes varsity came to an end. He said the new head coach, Rusty Beale, had coaches he wanted to bring in. Crews agreed to return to middle school coaching, and for two years he led Pine Grove Middle. That’s also the school where he taught mathematics. His first team went 15-2 and won the conference championship.
“I had to learn to coach the fundamental part of the game again,” said Crews about the benefit of middle school coaching. “You couldn’t get too in depth with those kids. You had to water it down.”
Crews would return to Lowndes to work on Beale’s staff from 2017-18. This time, he worked with the infielders, and he went after that role with the goal of raising the fielding percentage to compliment the team’s hitting. Redshaw returned to lead the Vikings in 2019, and they won the Region 1-7A championship. Crews said that team had two great pitching arms, but that the defense helped secure some wins when the pitching wasn’t at its best.
“I was very appreciative of my time at Lowndes High School,” said Crews. “Learned a lot from coach Redshaw. I’m now stepping into Colquitt County as a Packer, and I have another veteran guy in Tony Kirkland. Those are big shoes to fill, but like I said it’s very enlightening and very humbling to know that I have those two guys as mentors. I know if I call, they are going to answer and probably have some of the best advice anybody in the nation can give me. As a first-year head coach at 33, I am going to try to keep those guys around me to steer me in the right direction. I know they know the right direction.”
On Wednesday, Crews met with the returning Packer baseball players and passed out the summer schedule.
“‘I’m not coming in to right a wrong ship,’” Crews said was his first message to the Packers. “Coach Kirkland never steered a wrong ship. The man had a lot of wins (301) under his belt. He developed great relationships with his players. That’s what this summer’s going to be about for me, gaining the trust of those boys and let them know I’m here. Obviously, I want some wins, but I’m also here to grow young men. We’ve all had that day when we’re told baseball is over for you. You have to have something to fall back on. Without education, that’s a tougher pill to swallow.”
Crews will also want to fill some spots on the coaching staff soon, one being pitching coach Taylor Barber, who said Wednesday he was approved as the head softball coach and a baseball assistant at Tift County High. Crews said he would like to keep other incumbent coaches around, ones the Packers are familiar with, and hire others in time to be a part of the summer.
“Until you gain the trust and respect of your players, it’s tough to get 15 to 18 year olds to play for you,” said Crews about what it takes to win in high school baseball. “I’m kind of a fiery coach. I coach with a lot of intensity. We are going to be very tactical the way we approach a game. A lot of games are won by one or two runs, so if we can steal a run in the first or second inning, then steal one in the third or fourth in a bunt situation or hit-and-run … everybody loves the long ball obviously, but with the new bats the way they are, those home run records are pretty safe. As a 5-6, 165-pound guy, I like it. Now you have to play baseball. You have to take your hits and produce a run when you get the opportunity.
“Obviously in high school baseball, it’s about the guy on the bump. If you can keep a team under four runs, that’s always been my goal. If you give up less than four runs, you are in every game. If we can throw strikes and play effective defense, we are going to find ways to score a run, get the one we need.”