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Wednesday, September 28, 2022

Son of Legendary Paris Coach Leaving Danville to Take Position on Bentonville Staff

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Dennis “D.J.” Crane, former head football coach at Danville High School, is leaving the school to take a position on the Bentonville High School football staff for next fall. Crane is the son of famous Paris High School football coach, Dennis Crane. The Crane family coaching tradition and legacy will continue in his new position as secondary coach and special teams coordinator for the Bentonville Tigers.

Coach Crane is the son of legendary Paris football coach, Dennis Crane. “D.J.”, or Dennis Crane, Jr., grew up in the coaching world of his father from both his playing days and his coaching career. I had the pleasure of visiting with Coach Crane in a recent phone call just after the announcement of his move to Bentonville. In our call, Coach Crane recounted the surreal world of living in the world of his father’s college and professional career as both a player and as a coach. “I grew up around my dad and my uncles. My uncle Jim O’Bar, was a really good athlete, and my uncle Ron, my dad’s brother, Ron Crane, played at Brigham Young University and then was drafted by the Denver Broncos to play football, but went into the military instead to serve in Vietnam. Of course my Uncle Jim O’Bar was a long-time resident in Paris, and was head of the City of Paris for a long time. He was a great athlete and was a really good baseball pitcher. That’s kind of where I got my love for baseball. My love for football came from my dad and my uncle Ron.”

Dennis Crane
Photo Credit: Nasjerseys.com

D.J.’s father had a big career both in college and in professional football. Coach Crane Sr. played at the University of Southern California in the decade of the sixties. He played on famous USC teams that included Heisman Trophy winner O.J. Simpson and All-American Ron Yary. Crane played on the 1967 USC team that won a national championship. He was drafted in the fourth round of the 1968 NFL draft, and was the 94th overall pick in draft. “Dad played for USC legendary coach John McKay. Dad was drafted by the Washington Redskins and played defensive tackle for NFL Hall of Fame coach Vince Lombardi. He also played for the New York Giants under another NFL Hall of Famer, Otto Graham. So, you know, that’s what I grew up with. I heard stories about Dick Butkus, Johnny Unitas, Fran Tarkenton, and other NFL greats, just like it was nothing! I heard stories like that all of the time. I hung out with a lot of people. He (Dad) was a liaison for the Washington Redskins when he played for them, so that meant he went to the White House and went to a lot of those dinners. He hung out with them; he received Christmas cards from the Kennedys; it’s crazy! It was crazy just the kind of life that he led. It was surreal growing up with him. He was just bigger than life. Big, huge man, and then he just had stories like that. He had pictures of Joe Namath, and all kinds of stuff around the house. You look at that and you think that everybody has that. But no; not everybody’s dad played professional football!”

So, there is no doubt that D.J. was influenced by his father. “When you grow up with an uncle that was a Division 1 football player, and a dad that was a professional football player, there’s not pressure from them, but, there is pressure within yourself to try and live up to certain expectations, and it kind of put a drive in me to be good at sports.” Dawn Rainwater, D.J.’s twin sister, is also a coach. She coaches volleyball at Charleston High School and has made a big impact there.

D.J.’s father came to Paris around 1980 from Arkansas Tech. Coach Crane took a job in Paris as an assistant coach, and the family moved to Scranton to reside, and D.J. began school in Paris. Crane had previously coached high school football for two years in California. The family moved to Scranton where D.J.’s grandparents lived.

” We lived in San Bernadino and it was growing a little too fast for my parents’ liking, so we moved to Arkansas. We decided we needed a little slower pace and moved to Arkansas. My dad took a job at Arkansas Tech. Bob Pledger was the head coach at Arkansas Tech, one of the legends from Danville, and he eventually took the job at Danville and my dad took his place at Arkansas Tech. And then, some 20 or 30 years later, I go to Danville.”

Coach Crane passed away in 2003 in the town of Scranton, the same place where he and his family moved to in 1980 when they left California.

D.J. was with his dad at practices, games, in the locker rooms, and all aspects of sports throughout his childhood. “I grew up in locker rooms and around other coaches. There were a lot of Paris coaches over the years that influenced me, as well.” So, I asked D.J. at what point did he know he wanted to follow as a coach in his father’s footsteps. D.J. replied, “I liked being around the game; I loved playing it. But I had never really thought about coaching. I actually started in the business field, and wanted to own my own gym at one point. Then I had a chance to train some kids and I really enjoyed it. I enjoyed coaching them. So, I decided to get into coaching. I went back to school and received my coaching licenses. I got into coaching once I stopped playing at Arkansas Tech. I didn’t go straight into coaching; I played Arena Football.”

Arkansas football fans may remember the Arena 2 indoor professional football league that was formed around 1999-2000. Little Rock was awarded a franchise that became the Arkansas Twisters. The team played in what was called at the time, Alltel Arena (now Verizon Arena in North Little Rock). The team averaged 8,500 fans per game in 2002 when Crane played for the Twisters. The team went 11-5 on the season before losing to Tulsa in the playoffs. The franchise’s last season was in 2009. “I trained for a while right after college and played (Arena Football) for a year. Then I took the job at Danville as an assistant coach in 2002 and played Arena Football and coached that same year. The next year, I was promoted to the head job at Danville and played that summer in 2003 and then decided I couldn’t do both. So I gave up on trying to play professionally to concentrate my career on coaching at Danville.” Crane may have been the only Arkansas high school coach at the time that was actively coaching and playing at a professional level at the same time. He was able to tell his players everyday that he was not asking them to do anything that he was not willing to do himself.

D.J. started a tenure at Danville high school as head football coach that lasted from 2003 to the end of the 2019 season. D.J. invested heart and soul in the Danville program. For high school football fans, Class 3A football can be challenging. Not just for Danville, but any other 3A school. D.J. and the Little Johns had a successful run together over 17 years as head coach, and 18 total in the Danville program. Football is a manpower sport, requiring numbers of athletes, talent, and size. Class 3A coaches across the state are often challenged with low numbers of athletes, and talent that goes in cycles. Coaches must develop players in the absence of talent. And many 3A players have to play both ways on offense and defense. So, the world of coaching is much more challenging for 3A coaches. That is just my opinion, and perhaps it is tainted by my experience as a 3A high school administrator who has worked with many dedicated coaches who work tirelessly to meet their players’, parents’, and communities’ expectations for a successful program. It is a tribute to D.J. that in this world where coaches remain in Class 3A for a short time and stair-step into larger classifications, D.J. Crane remained devoted to his 3A program for so many years. You have to admire a person for his dedication and hard work, and when the opportunity comes along to advance his career and provide for his family, you also have to be happy for his opportunity.

DJ was recently named to the 7A Bentonville Tigers football staff as defensive secondary coach and special teams. The Bentonville football program and its head coach, Jody Grant, recently tweeted this message on Twitter regarding the hire of D.J. Crane to its staff:

I asked D.J. about the cultural changes he expects to see moving from Class 3A to 7A next fall. “For me, I will have more time to focus on football. At Danville, you did everything (like all coaches do in Class 3A). I called the offense, the defense, and soon as football season was over, I got ready for track season. At Bentonville, it will not be like that. I am responsible for the defensive secondary and for special teams. So, I have a lot more time to actually focus on that part of football. And in the spring, I will have a lot more time with my family because I will not have any spring sports responsibilities. From the culture difference aspect, we will have a lot more resources in Bentonville. That is the biggest change. How hard the kids work, and how much effort they put into it, their time, etc., is pretty much the same. But from a standpoint of resources, we will have everything we need. From facilities to an administration that understands how important athletics is to academics, that’s really the biggest change.”

D.J. and his new Bentonville head coach, Jody Grant, played college football together at Arkansas Tech. The two also continued their connection when they were both named to the Arkansas High School All Star football staff in 2015. The two coaches coached the West All Star football team.

D.J. speaks fondly of his time spent in Danville. He loves his players and everyone who he had the pleasure of working with in the Danville community. It was a tough decision for him to leave, but one that he wanted to make in a way that was fair to his players and coaches. He resigned at the end of the 2019 season and was quickly hired by Bentonville.

The Paris Eagles football team will play this fall in a new conference that will include Danville. The Little Johns will be coached by first year head coach, Drew Smiley. Smiley moved to Danville to take the head coaching job after having served at Wynne as defensive coordinator. The northeast Arkansas coach is expected to have plenty of talent, especially on the offensive side, in his first year in Danville. Paris fans will be eager to see their Eagles compete against the new-era of Danville football in 2020.

I hope Paris fans have enjoyed reading about their beloved legendary coach, Dennis Crane, and the legacy of his son, D.J., who is carrying on the family coaching tradition. I want to extend my most heartfelt thanks and appreciation to coach D.J. Crane for taking time to share these wonderful memories of his father and the influence he had on D.J.’s coaching career. I did not have the privilege to know D.J.’s father, and I have never met D.J. in person. I did, however, have the pleasure of visiting with him for approximately 30 minutes on the telephone. And my impression of D.J. is this: I believe his father would have been very proud of the man and the coach D.J. has become. The Danville school district recently posted the following statement from D.J., and I think it sums up his love for Danville and the people associated with that great town and school district.

Thanks to coach DJ Crane for 18 great years at Danville, and best wishes to a new chapter in his career at another great program and community. I will check-in with DJ in mid season next fall to see how he is doing in Bentonville. My guess is that, like his father, DJ will be continuing to put together a great legacy of his own, and another great chapter to the Crane family.

On behalf of everyone at Resident Press, and from the communities of Danville and Paris, we wish coach D.J. Crane the best of success in his new coaching position with the Bentonville Tigers.

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Jim Best
Jim Best is a man of many talents. His storied career in Arkansas education led him to a new passion, and hidden gifts in sports journalism.
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