After a successful 35-year career as a coach, athletic director and school administrator, Craig Parrott is ready to step aside.

Parrott, who has spent the past 16 years in the Walker County school system — two at LaFayette and the last 14 at Ridgeland — says he is ready to give retirement a try.

“I’ll be 62 in October,” Parrott said. “Everyone’s been asking me for a while now what I will do when I retire and I’ve been telling them that I didn’t know because I have never been retired before. I grew up on a chicken farm, so I’ve pretty much worked a regular job since I was 16 years old.

“But I do have a lot of other interests, like playing golf and working in the yard. Everyone says they want to spend more time with their families and I really do too. I had another (former) athletic director once tell me that when you retired that every morning you woke up was like Saturday, so I’ve been kind of looking forward to stepping away and getting a break.”

Following a stint as an iron worker, Parrott got into coaching when a friend made the suggestion that would change his future.

“I worked with (former LaFayette coach) Greg Sumrall and we traveled all over the Southeast hanging iron,” he explained. “One day, we’re working on a scaffold and he told me about the University of Southern Mississippi and how you could major in athletic administration and coaching there. It was one of only four schools at the time that offered that major. I knew right then and there that it was I wanted to do.”

He received his degree in three years and landed his first coaching job at Pickens High School in Jasper, where he coached basketball and football for four years. It was there he struck up with became a longtime friendship with Coach Lamar Turner.

He left to rejoin Turner at Chattooga High in 1983 as girls’ head basketball coach. After four successful seasons, he was offered and took an assistant coaching gig with the University of Tennessee at Chattanooga Lady Mocs. Two years after Parrott departed Summerville, the team he helped developed won the 1988 Class 3A state championship.

He spent one semester as an assistant under head coach Sharon Fanning at UTC when Fanning left for a job at Kentucky. UTC needed a new women’s head basketball coach and Parrott was offered the job.

“At that time, the job didn’t pay a whole lot and there wasn’t a whole lot of support, so they couldn’t really find anyone else foolish enough to take it so I did,” he said with a laugh.

Parrott amassed a 164-144 record in 11 years with the Lady Mocs and became the first coach to take the program to the NCAA when they won the Southern Conference tournament in 1989. He led the team to the NCAA again in the 1991-92 season after sharing the regular season conference title and winning the SoCon tournament.

“It really was a lot of fun,” he recalled. “It was an enjoyable experience and I’m really proud of the record we had there.”

He returned to the prep ranks in 1998 and spent two years at LaFayette High School before making his final career move when he joined the staff at Ridgeland.

“Walker County’s been really, really good to me,” he said. “It’s hard to believe I’ve been in this county for 16 years. I’ve really enjoyed working in the county at both places. There are a lot of good people here and a lot of good kids I’ve been fortunate to have been around in a coaching or administrative role. I’ve worked with a lot of great coaches too and they have made my job a lot easier. It’s really been fun.”

Parrott said that while many coaching memories hold a special place in his heart, the 2003 Class 4A girls’ Final Four team at Ridgeland really stands out.

“That was a special group,” he said. “I think I was more mature as coach by that time so I think I enjoyed it more. We had a little reunion at an alumni game a couple of years ago and they all came back. I still stay in contact with all of them.

“But I also really enjoyed my time at Pickens, Chattooga and LaFayette too. I’ve been fortunate to be around and coach some very special kids.”

He also recalled a special moment following the death of his father, Austin T. Parrott — a World War II veteran — last July.

“We had a memorial service for him in Chatsworth and in walks Coach (Mark) Mariakis and the whole football coaching staff,” he recalled. “(Ridgeland principal) Mr. (Glen) Brown and some more of the administration and faculty also walked in, as did (Walker County Superintendent) Mr. (Damon) Raines. None of them really knew my dad, but they all showed up out of respect for me and that probably meant more to me than anything else that’s happened here.”

He said he is proud of what he was able to accomplish during his time at Ridgeland.

“I’m proud of how we run the program here,” he said. “I think if you ask all the coaches, no one would have anything negative to say about the way we do things here. We try and treat all the sports fairly.”

Parrott said he also feels good about passing the torch to Robert Stinson, who will take over the post.

“He’s got a lot of energy, he’s intelligent, he’s a hard worker and he’s got people skills to go with common sense,” Parrott explained. “He’s got a bright future in education and I feel really good about him taking over. I think he will be really good for the school.

“My advice to him is to think before you act or speak. Just enjoy the experience, take everything in stride and enjoy the good folks you are around.”

Parrott said he’s not completely closing the door to perhaps one day coming back and working with the athletic department or the school system in some capacity. However, retired or not, he said he knows where his heart will always be.

“I will always be a Panther,” he added. “It’s a special place, probably because I’ve been here longer than anywhere else I’ve been. There are a lot of special people here, adults and kids alike. I just can’t believe how well I’ve been treated.”