Many of his former athletes were in town on Saturday for the Kent Taylor-Joe Hilton Invitational as Craddock was honored in his last home meet at UNC. His current athletes sent him off in style taking seven events in the meet.
Of his former athletes in attendance, Olympian Tisha Waller was there to celebrate his career.
“He’s a wonderful person and a great mentor, and I’m going to miss him,” Waller said.
Waller was a five-time All-American under Craddock. She twice went to the Olympics and set the U.S. record for the high jump.
“Coach Craddock is like my dad away from home,” Waller said. “He recruited me when I was 17. I’m 43 now, and he still calls me his daughter.”
Waller was a successful athlete, but repeatedly emphasized that the most important thing Craddock did was create a family that supported her and the other athletes.
“You always hear that track and field is an individual thing,” she said. “That was never the case here. He always made the team feel like it was just one big team.”
Craddock acknowledged that it takes work to get the team to come together. Athletes come from all different walks of life and have different values.
“You have to get everybody believing about the same thing,” he said. “Everybody can’t win, but everybody can be a part of the family.”
But Craddock has proven that he can lead his family to victory. In the 1994-95 season, UNC won five out of a possible six ACC team titles. UNC was the first school ever to accomplish this feat.
The UNC women have had great success at the national level under Craddock, notching 17 top 10 finishes in NCAA Championship meets.
Craddock coached 25 athletes to 38 NCAA Championships. He also coached 19 Olympians, who have combined to win five gold and two bronze medals.
Craddock is a man of values. He does his best to instill good attitudes and morals into every athlete he coaches.
“He’s taught me a lot about values,” middle distance coach Adam Smith said. “He’s taught me a lot about hard work, and he displays it pretty much every day.”
Smith was recruited by Craddock, ran for him and is now on the coaching staff with him.
Craddock emphasized that the measure of an athlete’s success is in the way they compete and hold themselves.
“We’ve got people here who have never scored a point for Carolina, but they worked hard and they did everything they could so they were successful,” he said.
Craddock spent the first eight years of his coaching career at Gretna and Albemarle high schools. He then broke into the collegiate ranks and coached at Virginia from 1976-85 before coming to UNC.
Craddock has seen almost everything in his career. Athletes and fellow coaches admire and greatly respect the knowledge and experience Craddock has gained.
“There are plenty of times where one of my practices is over … and he is still practicing. I just go grab a chair and watch him coach, so I can continue to learn,” assistant head coach Josh Langley said.
Langley said he has learned a lot from Craddock and looks to him for advice about the experiences he has encountered.
“The biggest thing I’ve learned from him is it’s okay to be tough on your athletes, but you’ve got to show them you care, and he cares,” Langley said. “He has a huge heart and he fights for our sport.”
Craddock plans to stay involved with the program even though he will no longer be on staff.
“I don’t hunt, I don’t fish, and I don’t golf because I’ve never had time to do any of those things,” he joked. “So what do I do? Track and cross country.”
Heading into retirement, Craddock wants to spend more time with his grandchildren, but his wife may have other plans.
“I’m really afraid that my wife has got a list that she’s hiding from me, so I’ve got to get myself very busy.”
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