Spence McCracken – 2009 ALFCA Lifetime Achievement Award

November 30, 2009

     If you look up “coach” in the dictionary, and they have a picture, its bound to look like Spence McCracken. His name just sounds like a coach.  And he certainly had the voice of a coach. Although he had a tough exterior, he has always been about what was inside. He always had a big heart. He was an All State center and linebacker at Robert E. Lee in the mid 60’s and became Pat Sullivan’s undersized center at Auburn during one of the Tigers greatest eras. His mother encouraged him to get a real job and not go into coaching, but he eventually gave in to his heart. What followed is best described by Opelika principal Stan Cox as “a legacy that all coaches should aspire to achieve.”

    After a year in Decatur, Georgia, Spence returned to Robert E. Lee and became assistant football coach and head track coach in 1973.  As track coach he won six state championships in the mid 70’s before deciding it was time to get his own football team.

     He spent four years at Montgomery Academy winning 33 games. In 1984 he was hired to restore the Robert E. Lee football program to its once prominent position in Alabama high school football.  He sold his vision of Lee football to the players, the parents and the community.  On Saturday, December 6, 1986, the restoration was completed with a 13-7 victory over Jess Lanier in the 6A championship game at Legion Field.  The Generals finished a perfect 15-0 behind a stingy defense and the running of tailback Larry Ware. It was their state title and first perfect season since 1970.  Lee was declared the #2 team in the nation by USA Today and Spence McCracken was national Coach of the Year.  After making the semi finals in three of the next four seasons, Spence led the Generals to back to back state championships in 1991 and 1992, going 13-1 each season.  In his 11 years at Lee he won 10 or more games 8 times.  The Generals went all over the south looking for games…Atlanta, Valdosta, Pascagoula.  They once again were the model high school football team in Alabama and Spence McCracken became the state’s most recognizable coach.

    In 1995 he accepted a new challenge and became the coach of the Opelika Bulldogs.  In 14 seasons he won 130 games and was in the playoffs for 11 straight years.  Ron Nelson at Central of Phenix City said, “you could always count on Spence’s teams being well prepared and they always played with class.”  He became a very popular clinic speaker and went all over the country lecturing about football. He was always finding ways to give back.  He served on YMCA boards, coached in all of the All Star games, taught Sunday School, and served as a little league coach.  Spence’s team collected money each Christmas for the Alabama Food bank. He was one of the state’s greatest history teachers for 16 years.  In his later years he became convinced of the need for character education and it became an important part of building his squads at Opelika.  His clinic talks became less about the techniques of football and more about camaraderie and the values of football and how God had blessed him by allowing him to coach.  He has eventually won 280 games and is on the very short list of coaches who have won more than 100 games at two different schools. He is in the Alabama High School Coaches Hall of Fame. But what he will be remembered for by his players are the stories, the life lessons, the energy and enthusiasm and the passion he has had for life and football.  It is what he taught them. Very simply, Spence McCracken is the kind of coach that everyone would want to play for.