CONCORD – It was the best e-mail of Barrett Krueger’s life.
The moment he saw it in his inbox, his heart fluttered, because he’d always wanted to coach basketball at Concord High. He lived right down the road from the school, and he’d witnessed the days of Spider coaches like Scott Brewer and Andy Poplin leading their teams to titles.
Krueger craved the opportunity to stand on the Rimer Gym sidelines one day, too, directing young Spiders, just like the greats.
And then one day, there it was, an e-mail from the Concord principal in response to his application for the job. And when Krueger opened the e-mail, life got even better when he realized he was getting an interview.
To be the Spiders’ junior varsity coach.
Krueger, at the time, was coaching at Winkler Middle School. This was 2014, and he was simply looking for the chance to break into high school ball. The e-mail from then-principal Carla Black was written evidence that his Concord dream had a chance of coming true.
“I’m not kidding: I was jumping for joy when I got that email,” Krueger said, still smiling as if it happened this very day. “I don’t know if I awoke anyone or scared anybody, but I was so excited. I had inquired about it, and when she said she wanted me to come in for an interview, it was like, ‘Finally!’
“I was just really hoping one day to be a part of (Concord), so when I got that e-mail from Miss Carla Black, I was excited as all get-out.”
So imagine Krueger’s reaction when he found out late last month that he’d been promoted from being Concord’s JV coach to the leader of the varsity squad.
Krueger takes over the program for former Concord great Jason Stowe, who resigned last month after four seasons.
Krueger knows he has a daunting task ahead of him. For years, the Spiders were the standard in Cabarrus County basketball until newer schools like Jay M. Robinson and Cox Mill sprouted up and started winning state championships.
The Spider lineage includes players who have gone on to play at the highest levels of college basketball and uber-successful coaches like Brewer, Poplin and the late Bo Brickels, for whom the Rimer Gym court is named. Expectations are high at Concord, and Krueger knows it.
But Krueger’s an Ohio native who grew up near Brickels’ hometown in the Buckeye State, and he shares a zest and a confidence with the Spider legend. He explains that he’s unafraid going into situation where he’ll likely be judged by every trip his team makes down the court.
“Being a first-time head coach at the varsity level at a place like this, absolutely it’s tough,” Krueger said with a smile as he sat in Rimer. “But I’ve been here five years. I feel like I’ve gotten a pretty good hold on the school itself. The kids, I understand them. I’ve been a part of a lot of conversations when they talk about the glory days here and what’s expected.
“It’s still a little surreal to me, too, to be named the head coach here,” he added. “Just the other day, I’m like, ‘Oh, my gosh. I’m Concord’s head basketball coach.’ It’s still sinking in.”
Midwestern Southern boy
Krueger’s road to Concord started in his native Heath, Ohio, where he was an all-conference high school player. With his slim build, Krueger was a 6-foot, 150-pound combo guard known around town for his shooting touch and fearlessness on defense.
His skills got him a shot at college ball, and he joined the team at the University of Rio Grande, an Ohio NAIA program made famous by Bevo Francis, who scored 113 points in a game in 1954.
Krueger played at Rio Grande for two seasons before transferring to Ohio State-Newark, just outside his hometown. He completed his career there and earned his bachelors degree before going on to Ohio State’s main campus in Columbus to get his masters.
It was during this time that the coaching/teaching bug bit Krueger.
“At Ohio State, I got in an adaptive PE class, and I just loved working with those kids,” Krueger said. “I really enjoyed teaching. And then I got to talking to some people, and I missed playing, so what better way to stay connected to the game? And in order to be a coach, you need to be a teacher, so that’s kind of where my route went.”
Krueger initially commuted back to his hometown, just a half-hour from Columbus, and worked as a varsity assistant and JV coach at his alma mater.
After graduation, he got his first job as a teacher and coach at Excel Academy in Jacksontown, Ohio. It was a school to which students were chartered because they weren’t allowed to attend their home public schools.
“It was a challenge, but I learned a great deal dealing with those types of students,” said Krueger, who was an assistant coach for the middle and high school teams at Excel. “Really, they were great. I think it’s really prepared me now for just about any challenge when it comes to being the classroom.”
After a year, though, Krueger’s heart began to venture down South. He had a good friend who lived on Lake Norman, and Krueger fell in love with the area. Next thing he knew, he was in Cabarrus County, teaching and coaching at J.N. Fries Middle School in the fall of 2006.
At J.N. Fries, Krueger taught physical education and coached football and basketball. He even coached the girls team for a season. He was there for five years until Winkler Middle School opened, and he took on a new challenge.
“Winkler’s where I really got into understanding how to start up a program,” Krueger said.
But he didn’t walk into an empty cupboard. Winkler’s team featured young players like Jordan McKenzie, Jackson Raper and Coleman Trammell – kids who would eventually move up to Jay M. Robinson and help the Bulldogs win the 3A state championship.
And while Winkler had some success, living so close to Rimer Gym, Krueger couldn’t avoid the draw of Concord High. So after three years, he sent in his application, and Carla Black sent him the e-mail that changed his life.
Joining a legacy
Krueger’s first year at Concord was George Walker’s second – and final – season coaching the Spiders. Krueger was Walker’s JV coach and varsity assistant. Though he was far from his Ohio roots, Krueger felt this was always where he was supposed to be.
“It was amazing,” he recalled. “At that time, we had some really good talent here. Just to be back in high school was a great opportunity, and I learned quite a lot. I had been in middle school for eight years, so obviously the talent and everything had stepped up, so I had to step up my game as a coach, but I had a great time.
“First and foremost, I love the kids here,” he added. “There are so many great kids, and that first year, I got to coach some really good ones, and it really was a nice welcoming experience to Concord. I still contact some of those former players today. It was just a really good vibe. Ever since I stepped foot in here, it’s just felt like home.”
At the end of that first year, however, Walker stepped down at Concord and headed to Mount Pleasant. With the position open, Krueger applied to be his replacement.
He didn’t get the job.
“Coach Stowe got it, and I was fine,” Krueger said. “I had just gotten my foot in the door. I wasn’t expecting that. I was just eager to help out the program and get it back to where it once was. And that first year was a phenomenal year. We had the Leaky Blacks and the Kenan Blacks and the Ray Kowalskis and all those guys. It was a lot of fun.”
Krueger worked on Stowe’s staff for all four years and remained the head JV coach. Last season, Krueger’s JV’ers started the season 11-0. The team finished 16-7, and part of the reason was because some of the top players were called up to the varsity squad.
But when Stowe stepped down last month, Krueger began to dream about coaching the varsity Spiders once more.
This time, it all came true, and he was even happier than that day five years ago when the invitation for an interview came.
But amid his excitement, Krueger is keeping in mind the expectations of him. He knows Concord fans don’t whisper any discontent they have with the program; they’ll scream it to him from the stands during games or when he’s in the grocery store.
But the mild-mannered Krueger says he wouldn’t expect anything less from a place with Concord’s history. That history is part of why he became interested in the job all those years ago.
“Well, it’s full of tradition, there’s no doubt about that,” Krueger said with a chuckle. “And this community expects success. The standard is, ‘We need to compete for conference titles, conference tournament titles, and state titles. I mean, that’s the aura here. So obviously there are some big shoes to fill with those coaches names.
“I just know there are a lot of expectations. Is there a pressure cooker on? Absolutely. But I’m ready for that challenge. I’m excited, looking forward to it, and I know a lot of the guys that we have in our program are looking forward to it as well. Understandably so, this place has great tradition and high expectations, and we’re looking forward to it.”
So is the man who oversees the Concord athletic department, Greg Liddle.
Liddle believes he’s found a bit of a hidden gem in Krueger and feels the newest Spiders coach shares traits with a man who recently won a pair of state championships.
“I think any time you give someone the opportunity and they … step into that position and role, it comes with some additional responsibilities, but (Krueger’s) ready for it,” Liddle said. “I think back to seven, eight years ago when Cox Mill had an opening when (then-head coach) Brad (Hinson) stepped down and they had a young guy sitting in the JV spot ready to take over in Coach (Jody) Barbee. And I think if we can get the same type of job out of Coach Krueger that Coach Barbee did …”
Liddle clarifies himself.
“Maybe you can’t look at wins and losses (Barbee had), but (it’s) the quality of coach (Krueger) is and how hard he’s going to work at what he does and different things like that,” Liddle continued. “Obviously, Jody will tell you that if you inherit some talent, good things happen. We have some talent, we’ll see what (Krueger) can do with it. But we’re excited about having him on board.
“He has the qualities that are going to lift the program. And the important piece is getting down to that middle school and getting those kids that are there to stay here. And he’s got that great relationship there.”
After the recent mandatory “dead period,” Krueger got his Spiders back on the court this week for workouts. He said he feels good about where the program is going, and, of course, he’s thrilled to have the keys.
And he feels pretty optimistic, based on how the first six months of the year have gone for him.
For starters, Krueger’s peers at Concord named him the Teacher of the Year. Then, in April, he celebrated his 40th birthday. And now, he’s the head coach of the Concord Spiders.
“This has been a phenomenal year for me,” he said. “It’s a great time, and I feel pretty confident that I’ve got the support and the resources here. I’m so excited.”
And it didn’t even take an e-mail to make that happen.