John “Buck” Cravey, the most successful football coach in Vidalia history, died Tuesday morning. He was 76.
Cravey led the school to its only state championship during his 24-year tenure as head coach. He later won another GISA state championship after retiring from public school coaching, making him the only coach in state history to win state championships in both leagues.
He won 270 games in his career, placing him fifth all-time among coaches who spent the majority of their career in Middle Georgia. Only Robert Davis (Warner Robins and Westside), Dan Pitts (Mary Persons), Barney Hester (Tattnall Square and Howard) and Ronnie Jones (Westfield) won more games than Cravey.
Cravey ranks 17th in state history in overall wins. The football field at Vidalia is named after Cravey.
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Cravey took over the Vidalia football program in 1967, leading the Indians to the state semifinals in his second season.
The Indians went undefeated in 1969, winning the only state championship in school history. The 1969 season was the first of nine 10-win seasons at Vidalia. He also won 10 region championships with the Indians.
Cravey went 271-135-4 in 36 years as a head coach, according to the Georgia High School Football Historians Association. The GHSFA website attributes 194 of those wins to his time at Vidalia, although some news outlets reported he won exactly 200 at Vidalia when he retired after the 1992 season.
Fourteen of those victories came during the 1969 season.
The Indians only had a pair of close games during the regular season in 1969, but they were tested immediately in the region finals by Southeast Bulloch. The Indians came from behind late and won 22-19, and then had relatively easy victories over Hawkinsville and Irwin County to set up a matchup with fellow unbeaten Lithonia.
The Indians, led by quarterback Tommy Sasser, held on for a 7-6 victory and the Class B state championship. The defense stopped Lithonia inside its own 15-yard three times and held Lithonia on a potential game-winning 2-point conversion attempt, according to the GHSFA. Ricky Mitchell scored the Indians’ lone touchdown.
Cravey retired from Vidalia following an 11-2 season in 1992, but he ended up at Briarwood Academy in the GISA the next year, leading the Buccaneers to the semifinals.
A year later, Cravey moved to Pinewood Christian, where he would spend the final 10 years of his coaching career. He won 10 games three times at Pinewood, leading the Patriots to an 11-2 record and a state championship in 1997. Echoing his championship game victory from 1969, Cravey led the Patriots to a one-point win in the title game, beating Terrell Academy 31-30.
Cravey also served on the coaching staff at Ware County in 1961 when the school finished as the state runners-up. He spent one year as the head coach at ECI.