Stafford reaches lofty goal: 1,000 wins!
It's hard to be considered a legend in the coaching business, but after winning 1,000 senior high games over a 37-year career, your name can surely be mentioned in that rarified air.
That's the mark Huntsville Eagle boys basketball coach Jim Stafford, a Green Forest native, reached last week when his senior boys beat Greenland 71-42 in the Greenland tournament.
That made his high school coaching record look like this: 773 wins and 447 losses in senior boys, and 227 wins against 88 losses in senior girls. That includes taking a senior girls team to the finals of the state tournament, a junior boys team to the state finals, and a senior boys team to the state quarterfinals.
So how did it feel to get 1,000 wins?
Stafford laughed and said, "I feel like I've coached a long time," then got serious. "Most of my career we've been pretty competitive. I've only had two losing seasons with senior boys. At Flippin my first year we went 11-21, then my first year at Huntsville we were 6-18."
Elkins coach and former Eagle Beau Thompson was a player on that Huntsville team, and Stafford said, "With his hard work, and others, we turned it around the next year."
Stafford played basketball for the Tigers under two coaches who have that legendary title, John Widner and Fred Grim.
"I played for two great coaches," Stafford said last week during an interview. "I played for John Widner through my tenth-grade year, and Fred Grim my last two. I graduated at Green Forest in 1963, and we got to the semifinals of state that year."
Stafford went on to play college basketball at Drury College in Springfield, Mo., then gave it up when he transferred to Arkansas Tech University, where he graduated in 1967.
But he didn't give up his dream of coaching, and followed the example of his two great mentors.
"When I was in high school at Green Forest, we got to coach Pee Wee teams when we were seniors. I knew for a long time I wanted to coach," Stafford said. "My coaches had a great influence on me. They both were way ahead of their time. They helped me a lot, including after I started coaching. I would call them up for advice."
Stafford must have listened, even in his early days at Wonderview in 1967, a school north of Morrilton.
"I was there six years, then went to Morrilton to work with Coach Widner," Stafford said. "I was just at Morrilton one year, but that was back when there was a state tournament for junior high teams. We got to the finals of that tournament in 1972 and got beat by Magnolia."
Stafford next went to Lead Hill, where he stayed for five years while coaching all four teams.
"I coached all four teams a total of 11 years in my career," Stafford said, "at Wonderview, Lead Hill, and Palestine.
"At Lead Hill we had some really good teams with really good kids. I've averaged 22 wins a year, and we were 29-8, 30-8, and 30-9 three of those years there."
Stafford moved to Palestine in eastern Arkansas after Lead Hill and stayed there for two years.
"We had some good girls teams, but I gave up coaching girls when my daughter got old enough to be in the program," Stafford said. He wanted to leave those decisions to others, he said.
He came back to the hills to coach at Flippin after that and stayed six years, then went to Gentry for eight. He's been at Huntsville for 11 years, and shares the courts with a guy who has more years in the business than Jim, Coach Charles Berry.
Berry had been at the coaching business for 43 years, which causes Stafford to say, tongue-in-cheek, "We've got a little experience on this staff."
Currently, his senior boys were 7-4 when league play started last Friday in the AAAA West league with a game against Clarksville.
"It's a well-balanced league," Stafford said. "The big difference from AAA to AAAA play is there are no easy games."
And even after 37 years Stafford is still raring to go.
"I'll coach two or three more years, if my health stays good," he says. "I still like the kids, and we have a great coaching staff here. We have great kids to work with at Huntsville, and the fans and administration are supportive.
"I've been fortunate to be in schools where you had a chance to win. I've been successful because I've had good players."
Stafford has also been pretty successful with his junior boys teams, winning more than 500 games, including three that went undefeated, at Palestine, Gentry, and Huntsville.
And his 500th senior boys win?
Why, against his home team, the Tigers, back when current Eureka Springs Lady Highlander coach Aaron Hall was a senior on that team.
Coach Stafford has cast a lot of ripples in his long career, and those ripples are always moving outward, reaching new athletes every year while washing over those who have gone before.
His final comment about this season and his current Eagle team?
"I think we can beat anybody in our league, but we can be beaten by any of them, too," he said.
As for this writer, I'll make my bets on the Stafford side and that 1,000 win record.