Ray McCrann coached two different football schools to state championships in the playoff era and also coached one of the best high school football players to ever come out of New Jersey – that being 1984 Passaic graduate Craig “Ironhead” Heyward.
While McCrann is moreso remembered for his highly-successful coaching tenure at Passaic, it is also noteworthy that he became one of the first head coaches at Wayne Hills and he also guided Summit to a state championship and consecutive state championship game appearances during the first two of his four-season tenure at the Union County school.
On Wednesday, July 27, McCrann – a longtime New Providence resident – died of an apparent heart attack while vacationing in New Hampshire.
Considered one of the “good guys” in the New Jersey high school football coaching fraternity, McCrann was 75.
McCrann guided Passaic to the North 1, Group 4 state championship his first year at the helm of the Indians in 1983 and again 1985 and 1989. He then led Summit to the North 2, Group 2 crown his first year at the helm of the Hilltoppers in 1994.
McCrann was also the second head football coach at Wayne Hills (1970-1972), succeeding Walt Williams (1966-1969).
Later on in his coaching career he was an assistant again at Passaic and also at Watchung Hills and Mountain Lakes.
McCrann was also heavily involved with the annual North-South All-Star Football Game following his days as a head coach, a member of that game’s committee.
“I was last with Ray while filming a Watchung Hills game at Plainfield some years ago,” said Dennis McCarthy of the annual Dennis McCarthy recruiting report. “He and Tom Elsasser really had it going on there at Passaic.”
McCrann played quarterback in high school at Frenchtown – now Delaware Valley – and also in college at Springfield (Mass.).
McCrann’s coaching career began as an assistant at South Hunterdon and then he became the defensive coordinator at Passaic under head coach Tom Elsasser. McCrann succeeded Elsasser as Passaic’s head coach in 1983 when Elsasser left to become the head coach at Mansfield State College. Elsasser is a member of the Mansfield State College Hall of Fame.
McCrann’s first season as a head coach in 1983 saw him take the two-time defending North 1, Group 4 champion Passaic Indians to an 11-0 record and a third straight N1, G4 crown during Heyward’s All-America senior year.
Top-seeded Passaic defeated visiting North Bergen 24-13 in the championship game after downing Memorial of West New York 53-12 in the semifinals.
The 1983 Passaic state championship team is considered one of the best ever in New Jersey high school football history, led by one of the best players the Garden State ever produced – Heyward, who went on to star in college at Pittsburgh (he was an All-America selection in his last year, 1987) and then in the NFL for a number of teams – most notably the Chicago Bears and Atlanta Falcons (where he made the pro bowl his only time). Heyward, a first round draft choice of the New Orleans Saints in 1988, died of bone cancer in 2006 at the age of 39.
A New Jersey State Coaches Association Hall of Fame inductee, McCrann succeeded Jim Benedict at Summit in 1994 and once again inherited a team that had just won a state championship. Summit was 11-0 in 1993 during Benedict’s final season at the helm, capturing the North 2, Group 2 state championship for the second time.
McCrann’s first team at Summit – like his first at Passaic – also won a state championship. The 1994 Hilltoppers, with only a 28-21 home loss to Scotch Plains in its second game of the season, repeated as N2, G2 state champions for the first time, finishing 10-1. Summit also defeated Mendham in the title game for the second straight season, this time winning at Mendham 26-8 after beating the Minutemen 26-21 at home in the 1993 final.
McCrann’s 1994 Summit squad was sparked by captains Jamie Allen, Carl DeMuth and Torrie Fogg, with standout senior running back Fogg earning team MVP honors after rushing for 1,374 yards and scoring 180 points. Allen, a standout wide receiver, later became MVP of the 1995 Snapple Bowl at Sayreville, which was Union County’s first of nine wins in the series.
McCrann’s four-season record at Summit was 25-15 (.625), which included making the playoffs twice and also the N2, G2 final twice.
“Ray was a star in orbit wherever he went,” McCarthy said. “He brought greatness to each program he was at.”
Summit returned to the N2, G2 title game in 1995 – which was for the fourth straight season – and was defeated at home by a 10-0 Johnson Regional of Clark squad 21-6. Summit was the only team that year to score on Johnson’s starting defense, with the Crusaders outscoring the opposition in 1995 by an impressive 424-24 margin en route to a perfect 11-0 campaign.
Summit’s 1995 squad, which finished 8-3, also captured the Watchung Conference’s National Division title for the third time in four years.
McCrann’s last two seasons at Summit – 1996 (3-6) and 1997 (4-5) – were Summit’s first two as a member of the Hills Division of the Iron Hills Conference.
When Elsasser was hired for a second time to be Passaic’s head coach in 2006, he brought McCrann along with him. The two coached there again for the 2006 (4-6) and 2007 (5-5) seasons.
It was after that, that McCrann’s final two assistant coaching assignments took place at Watchung Hills, under Benedict, and at Mountain Lakes.
McCrann watched four grandsons play high school football, including two at Bernards, one at Chatham and another in Williamsburg, Va.
“Ray was a real gentleman and a credit to the game,” McCarthy said.
McCrann’s 1994 Summit team won its final nine games, outscored the opposition 374-107 and produced three shutouts.
His 1995 Summit squad – sparked by captains Alfie Critelli and Steve Schroeder, with QB Schroeder earning team MVP honors – won seven straight after a Game Two 7-0 loss at Linden. Summit then lost at home to Irvington 22-6 in its final regular season game before falling to Johnson in the N2, G2 final.
That 1995 Irvington team was 7-1 when it played Summit and finished 8-1 after not earning enough power points to qualify as one of the four playoff teams that year in North 2, Group 4.
Summit’s 1995 squad outscored the opposition 183-85 and produced four shutouts.
INTENSE COACH A PLEASURE TO DEAL WITH
When I first met Ray McCrann in 1994 when he became the head coach at Summit he was excited about leading a team once again, especially a talented one that featured a star running back – Fogg – much like his 1983 Passaic team with Heyward.
The first time I saw Summit that year was at the old Schools Stadium off Bloomfield Avenue in Newark, with the Hilltoppers having to play a vastly inferior Newark East Side team there that Saturday.
McCrann kept Summit’s state championship success going his first two years at the helm before the Hilltoppers joined the very challenging IHC.
McCrann was also a pleasure to deal with at North-South Media Days and was very much aware of the tradition of the game and its importance to the just-graduated high school senior standouts which were playing in it.