It would be really simple to say that South Medford lost an assistant football coach due to an unexpected passing last Tuesday morning.

Anyone who remotely came in contact with Craig Manuel Contreras knows that only touches the surface of what Southern Oregon lost last week in the devoted husband, proud father of three and longtime parole/probation supervisor for Oregon Youth Authority.

“Craig was a whole lot of things that were great,” said good friend and fellow South Medford assistant coach Chris Parnell. “It’s a tough deal. I’ve lost a really good friend and one of my best friends, no question about that. He raised three good kids with Gladys and I’m so sad for his family because he was great with them all and loved them all so much.”

Contreras, who turned 52 on Dec. 12, was born in Woodland, Calif. He graduated from Woodland High in 1983 and went on to a playing and coaching career at Southern Oregon University, where he met his wife Gladys. In addition to coaching youth sports teams that included his children Xenia, Juan and Craig Jr., Contreras coached football at SOU and at the high school level for Ashland, North Medford, Crater and South Medford.

“First and foremost, Craig was just a terrific human being in my mind,” said South Medford head coach Bill Singler. “I certainly was so happy when he wanted to join our staff back in 2009 because you don’t find better people than Craig Contreras. What a great husband, father, friend, colleague, coach ... whatever Craig did and whoever Craig was around, he influenced. He’s just a terrific person.”

“Nobody saw this coming,” added Singler. “This was just one of those things that happens in life that shocks you and comes right out of nowhere. God has a plan for all of us and Craig’s plan was to go a little earlier than most of us. He certainly had an impact on our school and a lot of our kids in lot of ways, as well as on a lot of kids throughout the valley because of his job and also coaching at so many places. He certainly has had his imprint around the valley.”

A family funeral service has been scheduled for 11 a.m. on Feb. 19 at Sacred Heart Catholic Church, 517 W. 10th Street in Medford. A public celebration of life will be at 2 p.m. Feb. 20 in the auditorium at Central High School, 815 S. Oakdale in Medford.

“Craig was just a great guy and great with kids ... very positive and just a quality, quality guy,” said Crater head coach John Beck. “That’s the whole deal with him, he was just one of those people you want to be around.”

Parnell considered Contreras “an older brother,” one who was always there with an open heart but a willingness to tell it like it is.

“He was like that for a lot of people, someone you could always go and talk to about whatever because he was going to give you the real deal,” said Parnell, who began his relationship with Contreras in 1990 after Parnell moved over from Oregon Tech to SOU. “We lost a good one right there.”

One aspect of Contreras that helped make him so special was how genuinely open-hearted he was to all he came in contact with, and how his friendship was a lasting one. If he saw you somewhere, he’d make it a priority to come over and offer a kind word and check in on how you and the others in your life were doing.

“He was genuine and when you’re coaching kids, you have to be for real and he was that,” said Parnell. “I think that’s one of the things that made him special. It didn’t matter what the setting was, whether professionally or with coaching or dealing with kids from his job, he was genuine and real with those kids and he turned those kids around, as well as some kids in our programs.”

Contreras provided support and hope to those he met in each stage of his life, and just generally made people feel good about themselves with his unifying spirit.

“He was a great family man with how he treated his family and how he treated his kids,” said Parnell. “We’d all be better with our family watching him with his family.”

“The other thing about Craig is,” added Parnell, “he was the kind of dude that if you were friends with him and met somebody through him, y’all are buddies, too. I know some of his buddies from Woodland and it’s just like I’m family with them and some of his coworkers. It’s like if you know Craig, you’re cool. If you’re good enough for him to call you a friend, then you’re my friend, too. That’s just real talk.”

In lieu of flowers, the Contreras family would appreciate it if guests to either service bring a favorite written memory of Craig for his family to create a memory book. If you would like to mail your written memory, send it to: Contreras Family, c/o Sara Johnson, 609 W. 10th Street, Medford, 97501.

In addition, donations on behalf of the Craig Contreras Memorial Fund are also being accepted c/o Sara Johnson, 609 W. 10th Street, Medford, 97501, to support a potential memorial at Spiegelberg Stadium.

Reach reporter Kris Henry at 541-776-4488, khenry@mailtribune.com, www.facebook.com/krishenryMT or www.twitter.com/Kris_Henry