Coach John Outlaw and the Friday night magic

Looking back, he was just a kid.

John Outlaw was 25 years old when the Arkadelphia School Board hired him as head football coach at Arkadelphia High School.

I was even younger — 19 to be exact.

I had gone straight from the playing field (my senior season as Badger center was the fall of 1977) to the broadcast booth for Arkadelphia High games. That’s one of the good things about small towns. Opportunities come early in life.

I had worked through high school as the sports editor of the town’s weekly newspaper, the Southern Standard, having been given my first job by publisher Bob Fisher.

Following high school graduation, I was hired as the sports editor of Arkadelphia’s daily newspaper, the Daily Siftings Herald, and sports director of the Arkadephia radio stations, KVRC-AM and KDEL-FM.

I thus would work full time at two jobs while still carrying a full load at Ouachita Baptist University. My father, never one to beat around the bush, told me I was crazy to try to do so much. I was obsessed with sports journalism — tired most days but satisfied with my choices.

How could you beat doing football play by play on the radio just a year after having played? It was heaven on earth.

And it would get even better. That’s because John Outlaw came into my life.

The Badgers struggled during the 1978 season, but Friday nights were still fun as John Claunch (my freshman roommate) and I would broadcast the games. Saturdays were devoted to broadcasting Ouachita games and often trying to cover both Ouachita and Henderson for the newspaper in the same day. I would go to an afternoon game, jump in my car and race across the state to a night game.

Following that 1978 season, Vernon Hutchins resigned at Arkadelphia High and was replaced by an intense, wiry assistant coach from the University of Central Arkansas with the memorable name of Outlaw.

He had graduated from Ozark High School in 1971 and gone on to play football at UCA, graduating from there in 1975. He worked under Bear Coach Ken Stephens as a graduate assistant, received his master’s degree from UCA and was hired as a full-time assistant by Stephens.

He won me over that first night I interviewed him. High school football was big in Arkadelphia back in those days, and the news editor was looking for local copy, so we led the front page the next day with his hiring.

I wrote a long story (I’ve always said that I can’t write well, but I can write long) intended to introduce the community to this guy named Outlaw.

Those were the first of millions of words I would write and broadcast about John Outlaw and his Badger football program during the next several years.

I had a sense he was something special. Writing four to five columns a week, I filled them with accounts of his Badger offseason drills and previews of the 1979 season.

The Siftings Herald came out five days a week with no weekend editions, so the game story would not appear until the following Monday. We decided to put the account of his first game on the front page rather than the sports page, just like the Arkansas Gazette ran Orville Henry’s Razorback game stories on the front page.

We never stopped.

Arkadelphia lost early in that 1979 season to Ashdown and didn’t lose again. A victory over a highly ranked Camden team convinced this group of Badgers that it could do something special.

At age 26, in his first head coaching job, John Outlaw produced a state championship team.

It’s hard to believe it has been 32 years. I can remember that Friday of the state championship game against Alma as if it were yesterday.

I was on the air all afternoon at KVRC, doing what we called the Badger Countdown. After each record played, I would announce how many hours and minutes to kickoff, helping build the excitement in the city to a fever pitch.

A couple of hours prior to kickoff, I left the KVRC studios on South Third Street and headed for Henderson’s Haygood Stadium, where the game would be played. Thirty minutes prior to kickoff, we went on the air.

John Claunch had transferred to the University of North Alabama for his sophomore year of college and been replaced as my broadcast partner by Randy Brackett and “Big Sam” Watson.

In those days, the Badgers would dress at the Goza Gymnasium (later named the John Outlaw Gymnasium) and bus over to Haygood Stadium for home games.

It wasn’t even close.

Arkadelphia 19, Alma 0.

As soon as the clock wound down, I ran to my car and headed for the gymnasium while Danny and Sam wrapped things up from the stadium. We were pulling out all the stops for this broadcast and had planned to do a live dressing room show with interviews of players and coaches.

The jubilant players were throwing their coaches, managers, assistants, you name it into the showers that cold night. Thanks to Jeff Necessary for keeping the show going while I was thrown into the shower.

It was a magical time.

It was magical because John Outlaw was a magician when it came to handling teenage boys.

I had decided to close the office last Friday for Christmas. I was downstairs at my home, reading the newspaper and sipping on coffee. My cell phone was upstairs in my bedroom charging.

When I went upstairs at about 9:30 a.m., I noticed that the phone was filled with messages.

Reggie Speights from Southwest Sporting Goods Co. at Arkadelphia had been the first.

Then, Chris Babb, the Arkadelphia High School athletic director.

Then, David Sharp, the Ouachita athletic director.

The messages were all the same: John Outlaw had died that morning of a heart attack in Lufkin, Texas, following his early morning run.

I sat down, trying to absorb the news.

John Outlaw dead?

That couldn’t be. In my mind, he would always be that 26-year-old coach being thrown in the shower at the Goza Gymnasium in 1979.

The quarterback on that team was Kerry Garnett. Kerry’s father, Don Garnett, now lives in Lubbock, Texas.

Here’s part of what Don wrote on the online guest book for the funeral home at Lufkin: “As a parent, I watched John challenge a group of talented young men to overcome an early loss in the season and go on to win the state championship in 1979. John had the ability to bring out the best in young men without breaking their spirit. During the years I have lived in Lubbock, I was always pleased when Texas Tech signed a young man from Lufkin because I knew that John had influenced him.”

I was heartened Friday afternoon when Robert Yates of the Arkansas Democrat-Gazette called me. Robert has been around for many years, and I knew he would give the story the attention it deserved.

On Saturday morning, the statewide newspaper led its sports section with the Outlaw story.

The record speaks for itself: John was 84-20-1 in nine seasons at Arkadelphia, winning another state championship in 1987 with a 14-0 team that became the first Arkansas school ever to be ranked in the USA Today Super 25.

A prominent Arkadelphia attorney and close family friend named Otis Turner had coached the golf team at the University of Arkansas when in law school there. One of his golfers was Miller Barber. After a successful professional golf career, Barber served on the school board at Sherman, Texas, and heard about Outlaw from his old college golf coach.

Sherman offered the Badger coach a huge pay increase. How could Outlaw not go and try to also succeed in Texas?

And succeed he did.

He compiled a record of 57-21-1 at Sherman from 1988-94 and a record of 162-46-1 at Lufkin from 1995-2011.

That 303-87-3 record, much of it achieved at the highest levels in the best high school football state in the country, boggles the mind. But, as Don Garnett said, John’s lasting legacy will be the thousands of lives he touched.

The kids who played for him loved him.

Doug Rice, who now lives in Flower Mound, Texas, was one of the best high school linemen in the country when he played for John at Arkadelphia.

Doug, who went on to play college football at SMU, wrote this on the online guest book: “I gave everything I had for him because he gave everything he had for us. I would have run through a brick wall for him. He was selfless. I always felt that his only agenda was helping all of us learn how to compete and prepare to win on and off the field.

“Coach Outlaw had tremendous energy and passion and instilled that same work ethic and commitment (and punctuality!) in all of us through his words and actions.

“He was a great teacher. He was direct (sometimes pointedly) and shared his keen insights into the good and bad in people and situations around us. He had a terrific sense of humor. We shared a lot of laughs together.”

I continued to do the Badger play by play on radio for the 1980 and 1981 seasons as Danny Brackett replaced his older brother on our crew, joining Big Sam and me high atop the Haygood Stadium press box.

By 1982, I was covering sports for the Arkansas Democrat, begging to be assigned to the Badger games whenever possible.

Wanting to spread my wings beyond sports, I returned to Arkadelphia just before Christmas 1982 as the editor of the Siftings Herald. We had success. In statewide competitions, my column and our editorial page were named best in the state.

The general manager for whom I had worked as sports editor from 1978-81, John Ragsdale, has purchased the weekly newspaper at Prescott and left Arkadelphia. During the summer of 1983, I informed his replacement that I would resume doing the play by play on radio of Arkadelphia High School football each Friday and Ouachita football each Saturday.

He quickly said he couldn’t allow that since he considered the radio station to be a competitor for ad dollars.

I went home, thought about it and came to a decision. There was no way I wouldn’t resume calling those games. The newspaper general manager seemed shocked the next day when I handed him my resignation.

Being the voice of the Badgers was more important to me at age 23 than continuing to be the editor of my hometown newspaper. I could always find a full-time job elsewhere.

I was the voice of the Badgers for two more seasons, 1983 and 1984. I was living in Washington, D.C., by John’s last two years as Badger coach, covering Congress for the Arkansas Democrat. Each Friday night in the fall, I would call home and ask my parents how Outlaw’s Badgers had done.

My friend Jeff Root, with whom I still share the Ouachita football broadcast booth, was the voice of the Badgers by then. He continues in that role to this day.

The advent of the Internet made it easy to keep up with John during his years in Texas. I learned that his team’s game against The Woodlands on Thursday, Oct. 6, of this year would be broadcast regionally by Fox Sports Southwest.

I watched at home as John won his 300th career game and cried during the postgame interview.

He said that “300 is a number that really means nothing to me. When they put you in the grave, 300 wins don’t mean anything. What matters to me is each and every one of these kids out here and all the ones I’ve coached in the past.”

Tomorrow afternoon in Arkadelphia, they’ll indeed put John Outlaw in the grave.

Early on the morning after that 300th win, I sent John an email that said in part: “I wish I could have been there. It reminded me of some great Friday nights long ago. You’re a special person. I was fortunate to be there at the start of a remarkable career by a remarkable man who has impacted thousands of lives for the better.”

He answered me within minutes. He signed his message simply “Coach.”

I’m sure there was a large crowd for today’s memorial service in Lufkin. It was, after all, the school where he coached the longest.

I think it’s fitting, though, that John Outlaw be laid to rest in his native Arkansas soil. John always told me that he still considered himself an Arkansan. And Arkadelphia, where this amazing run began, held a cherished place in his heart. I know that to be true because he told me so.

I plan to attend the graveside service Wednesday. The last time I was at Rest Haven Memorial Gardens was on Tuesday, April 26, when we buried Ouachita Coach Buddy Benson, my childhood hero.

I’m sure I’ll pay my respects to Coach Benson while I’m there.

So we near the end of 2011, the year when I lost my dad in March, Coach Benson in April and Coach Outlaw in December.

Thinking about that, I’m sure there will be a point during tomorrow’s service when I suddenly feel very old and very tired.

But then I’ll think back to the fall of 1979 and those wonderful autumn weekends when I got to broadcast Outlaw’s Badgers each Friday and Benson’s Tigers each Saturday (no doubt one of the youngest college play-by-play men in the country).

Yes, it was fun.

Yes, it was magic.

In my mind, John will be 26 again.

I’ll be 20 again.

Friday night pregame meals will be at the Duck Inn in Camden and the Chatterbox in Magnolia.

Postgame radio shows will run far too long.

And as soon as one Friday night ends, we’ll already be looking forward to the next one.

Hopefully, I’ll smile at those memories as I drive away from the cemetery.

Thanks for your friendship, John. You were one of a kind.

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38 Responses to “Coach John Outlaw and the Friday night magic”

  1. Kim Hughes says:

    Rex, this was such a beautiful tribute to Coach Outlaw. I graduated high school in 1983 so he was the coach during my high school days. I was in the band so i was of course at all ballgames. I knew John personally because his daughter Jo and I were friends and I used to hang at her house. He was the same person there, always mentoring and looking out for teenagers. My brother also played under Coach Outlaw and respected him tremendously. Arkadelphis lost a great mean when they lost John Outlaw.
    Thanks again for what you wrote about him. it was great.!!!!!

  2. Darla Neel says:

    Rex,
    I cried as reading this. What a beautiful tribute to Coach Outlaw. It was my sr year that our boys won the “87 Championship. I remember the school pride we had back them and how we supported the football team.I have always longed for that feeling again. I work for a counseling company here in Arkadelphia and work with mostly high school kids. So many times I have reflected on how it was when I was in school and wishing for such an awesome mentor as Coach Outlaw. Something you just dont find very often. We were all blessed for having known him..I can not imagine how many lives he has touched in all his years.
    He will be buried by his daughter Jo, that was the last time I saw Coach, was at her funeral. What a sad sad day. Much like Wednesday will be for us here in Arkadelphia. Thanks for the trip down memory lane. Darla Neel

  3. B.K. Robertson says:

    Well said,Rex! Coach Law will be missed even though he left Arkadelphia he was never forgotten! I kept up with his teams in Texas where he introduced them to winning and turning boys into young men! The coaching world lost another great one but Heaven gain a winner! R.I.P. Coach Outlaw! From a member of the Class of ’80

  4. Jeff Necessary says:

    Rex, I never will forget that night in the locker room in ’79. How I stayed dry that night, I have no idea (and how they ever let us back on the air after butchering “Turn Out the Lights, the Party’s Over”, I don’t know either). I didn’t know John as well as you did, but he was always a class act. I remember in my UPI days when I was trying to put together a high school coaches’ poll, he was very cooperative and suggested other coaches that might want to participate. It was a little easier for me to keep up with his success at Lufkin while I was living down there, and driving past LHS’ Abe Martin Stadium every time I came back to Arkansas. Wouldn’t be surprised if that’s soon Martin-Outlaw Stadium.

  5. Bob Anthony says:

    Rex, What a wonderful tribute to Coach Outlaw. I became a fan and
    friend during his time in Arkadelphia. He had the unique ability to
    teach his players about “life” while playing the game of football and they probably never realized it. In football you get knocked down (as in life) then get back up and continue stronger than before. Many of John’s players needed the game of football much more than he needed them as players. He was a winner in life as well as on the field. The values
    he taught young men will continue for generations. I two will be in attendance tomorrow at Rest Haven to pay my respect to my old friend.
    R.I.P. Coach you will not be forgotten.

  6. Vance Walker says:

    Rex,

    Great, well-written tribute to Coach Outlaw. He made Friday nights so magical during my high school years from 79-82. I was at every game myself, and there was always excitement for sure! More importantly, he helped inspire our hometown and instilled great pride in the citizens of Arkadelphia. I can still see Coach Outlaw in my mind’s eye crouched on the sideline or roaming the halls within the high school. Rest In Peace, Coach Outlaw. Thoughts are with his family as well.

  7. Jan Roberts says:

    John Outlaw was a special person that touched many students hearts. He was totally committed to the TEAM!!!!!! I wAS In BAND, and the Badgers rocked in 85 and 86 and 87. He is with the best football folks ever in heaven i.m sure. He will be greatly remembered as a wonderful mentor to young people.

  8. Jennifer Stafford Culp says:

    Well written Rex! I will forever remember that Coach Outlaw was all about the kids he coached and taught. I’m so glad that I had the opportunity to know Coach Outlaw! He surely leaves a tremendous legacy and very large shoes to fill! He will be greatly missed, yet forever remembered.
    RIP Coach Outlaw! My thoughts and prayers are with Stephen and Francie.

  9. T.Jon Kelly says:

    Rex, thank you so much for that great tribute. As a “mere” band student, I was always floored when Coach Outlaw would call me by name. Later, when I had the opportunity to interview him with Vance Walker for our show “The Thursday Evening Quarterback” on KSWH at Henderson, I learned that he made it a point to learn the names of EVERY student that attended AHS! We only interviewed him a few times, but in those brief visits, I gleaned pearls of wisdom that I use with my band students to this day. I truly envy those athletes that had the opportunity to learn from him every day. His legacy and wisdom will stretch for gennerations.

  10. Magical. That’s what it was, and I don’t believe it would have been so without him. AHS 1978-1981.

  11. Ed Snider says:

    Rex,

    Thanks for the great tribute to John!

    John Outlaw had the gift of molding young men with potential into a championship team. He was fair, but demanding. He gave all out effort and he expected the same from his players and students. It was our pleasure to have two sons who learned some valuable life lessons under the shrill whistle that hung from his neck.

    When he came to Arkadelphia to coach the Badgers he moved into the gym that would later bear his name. He and his first assistant, John Thompson, actually slept on the floor and announced to the team ” We have a weight room here and will welcome you anytime you can come and help us get ready for our first season together”. That year, 1979, Arkadelphia won its first State Championship.

    John had high expectations and demanded all out effort. Few of his followers ever were anything but achievers, they were winners. In fact, we adopted the theme “Arkadelphia is A winner” under his influence. His example made the entire town swell with pride and we all benefited.

    After that first championship season the die was cast. We had trouble scheduling non conference opponents; no sane coach wanted to face John Outlaw. During the next decade our team won almost nine games a year.

    We mourn the loss of our friend but thank God that we were able to witness the life that he lived, the example that he set, the confident daily walk even though it was hard to look him straight in the eye. (The result of a fall from the roof of a house as a pre teenage boy.) It was no trouble at all to see the compassion in his heart and the lengths he would go to “get it right in practice so that it will be second nature during the game”. His game was not limited to inside the white lines but the GAME OF LIFE.

    We extend our heart felt sorrow to Francie and the family.

    Ed Snider
    Arkadelphia

  12. Mike McNeill says:

    Excellent job, Rex. With your permission, I’d like to pick up this column for publication on my site.

  13. rexnelson says:

    Mike, I would be honored to have you pick this piece up for publication. Thank you for asking — Rex

  14. Richard Moss says:

    Rex, what a great piece. I was a sophmore on that 1987 championship team. We all sat on the floor in his office, heart broken and teary eyed the day he told us he was leaving. We were supposed to be in off season workouts, instead, Levell Fort marched us to his office to see if he was really leaving for Texas.

    John Outlaw was more than a coach to his players – he was dad, uncle, you name it. It was great coach, but an even better man. He’d drive around town picking up players in that brown car and drive us back home. We would much rather face out parents than John Outlaw when we did something wrong.

    He didn’t tolorate quitters and that has stuck with me to this day. Never quit because something is hard or a challenge, find a way to overcome it.
    He left mark on his family, his players, his community and high school football.

  15. Lisa Taylor says:

    Rex,

    Your words are perfectly placed and bring back so many memories of a community rich with pride for so many things, including Friday Night Football! John Outlaw energized our little town with his character and enthusiasm. Thank you for putting these thoughts into words.

    Lisa Taylor AHS Class of ’82

  16. John Freeman says:

    Rex,

    What a great job! I did not know Coach Outlaw, but I knew of his reputation. I did know your Dad and Coach Benson. I know that it has been a tough year for you. I graduated from AHS in 1954 and Ouachita in 1958.
    Southwest Sporting Goods was one of our hangouts. Your dad and uncle
    Lowell were our hero’s back then.

  17. David golden says:

    Thanks, Rex well said!easy

  18. Llewelly Terry says:

    Thanks Rex for a fine tribute to a fine individual.

  19. Bob Gentry says:

    Rex,

    I hope you are well, and thank you for this opportunity to celebrate a beautiful life.

    My part in Coach Outlaw’s Arkadelphia legacy was small, but his part in my life was not. Some of the many lessons Coach Outlaw consistently gave to us were: 1) this is not just about winning football, it’s about preparing you for life as good people; 2) preparation is the most important thing, for football that means being in better shape than the other team and it means playing mistake free through careful and thorough preparation; 3) good luck is not a horseshoe or a four-leaf clover, it is being prepared to take advantage of the opportunities that are presented to you and not providing those opportunities to the other team; 4) fairness to and respect for your coaches, teammates and on-field opponents is non-negotiable; 5) when the “hay is in the barn,” it’s time to stop worrying and play with confidence and joy in your heart, the scoreboard will take care of itself.

    I played defensive back with great joy through high school. The summer before my senior year, Coach asked me to learn to throw a football and take reps as a backup QB (“Bobby we may need a senior QB, and though you may not learn enough to be good, you might learn enough not to make bad mistakes”). I think I may have mildly objected, stating a desire to play DB only, and that inspired Coach to express his opinion on the matter of course. He described to me in no uncertain terms his philosophy about being a part of a team, concluding that being a part of a team necessitated that each of us be open to possibilities we may not have imagined. It meant a lot of one-on-one time with Coach Outlaw, and my HS football heros were mostly QBs, RBs and receivers (Kerry Garnett, Stan Wood, Steve Snider, Fitz Hill, Dwayne Graves), so I was easily convinced that learning this new position would be OK with me.

    Wiry Coach was, but he could coil that wiry frame and unleash lasers and 65-yard bombs when he was in the mood to inspire me, by example, to learn to throw long. It was a joy to watch him throw the football.

    My senior year, we started the season against El Dorado at Haygood, I started at SS and had the game of my life. But 4th quarter was winding down, 0-0 tie, and Coach wanted to try something different – “Bobby – you’re going in as QB!” Gulp. Our live scrimmage that year had been cancelled due to thunderstorm so I had never taken a live snap as QB. With the clock running down, Coach called a play-action bootleg pass (42 bootleg on one, 42 bootleg on one, ready, break!) – fake on the out and bootleg to give the receiver space for the bomb on the up. Clay Berry was the flanker doing the out and up. As I prepared to throw long to Clay, I saw he was tangled up with two defenders after turning on the up. I heard the horn sound as the clock ran out, just before about 4 guys hammered me. In my mind, I thought, well, it was a short career at QB. Game ended 0-0.

    The next morning at the morning-after practice, after stretching and sprints, Coach pulled me aside and said “you’ll be starting at QB the rest of the year. Your decision not to throw that ball and take the sack was the best decision you could have made under the circumstances.” I had an annoying habit of verbosity (still do) and I told Coach what I did wrong, including “I didn’t even look for a secondary receiver, I don’t know the patterns well enough to read the defense and know who else might have been open. Onion and Feet were probably wide open down the middle and I didn’t even look for them.” Again, I was succinctly informed that I was not the arbiter of whether my decision was good or bad.

    Thus began a full season of learning from Coach Outlaw how to play QB. We ended up 11-1-1 and I threw the interception that set up Stuttgart’s winning touchdown in the state AAA semi-finals.
    Coach Outlaw’s words to me after that game were “keep your head up, Bobbie, keep your head up,” and he gave me a hug. A few months later Coach called me into his office and told me I had been awarded the Arkansas HS Hall of Fame AAA scholar-athlete of the year award. It was entirely by his efforts that I received this honor. Coach told me he wanted me to have some marker for a great year, even though I probably would have enjoyed playing strong safety more. When I received the award, I knew I was not a good QB, but that it was then, and remains today, a testament to Coach Outlaw’s unwavering commitment to his players. The highest honor of that award to me was Coach Outlaw’s dedication and work on my and all his players behalf, on and off the field.

    As I have since HS, I know I will continue to dream of football, of my teammates, and of Coach Outlaw. The lessons of hard work, mental and physical preparation, fairness and care for people, and joy in what you do I learned from Coach are with me every day, as he is and will be for the rest of my life.

    Bob Gentry

  20. rexnelson says:

    Beautiful piece of writing, Bob. Thank you! — Rex

  21. Julia Fendley says:

    Thank you all for such beautiful words and memories. Judy, Hugh, & Warren Fendley

  22. Coach Outlaw was legendary at our school and that was before our senior year football won the state championship.

    Class of ’88 – we need to start thinking of a great way to honor him at our next high school reunion. Let’s make it as big as he was!

  23. Tony Ranchino says:

    Rex,

    What a great job on this piece!

    I have to say, the last few days have been emotional to say the least. When I received the news of Coach Outlaws death, I couldn’t believe it. He was always bigger than life, almost invincible, if you will. It was so hard to believe.

    That morning, after talking with many friends and family about the terrible news, I called our Sports Director at KATV, Steve Sullivan. We talked about Coach Outlaws passing and what to do for the evening sportscast. I told Steve I had all the video he would need, it was just on VHS, of course!

    Talk about memory lane! As I dusted off the VHS tapes and pulled the video that we would use, I was taken back to my senior year and the fall of ’87. What a magical time to live in Arkadelphia and what a magical time to have the honor to call John Outlaw, “Coach”.

    But, Outlaw was so much more than that ’87 state championship, so much more than wins and losses. He taught us about life. He taught us about love.

    As, I drove through the East Texas pines yesterday, and into Lufkn for his funeral, I couldn’t help but think that this place reminded me a little bit of Arkadelphia. Not in size, but in how the community of Lufkin truly loved this man. Again, I was taken back in time.

    As I got out of my car to walk to the service, I looked up and my dear friend, John Launius was standing right in front of me. We hadn’t seen each other in over a year and he was the first person I ran into in Lufkin! Wow. I can still here Outlaw say ” Here we go Johnny, here we go!”

    As we made our way to the service, Joel Porter and Doug Rice walked in. Again, I was taken back to an even youger time…sliding down those hills at Haygood on those Friday nights while our heroes took the field wearing that Badger uniform, with Outlaw leading the way.

    Coach Outlaw brought a community together in his 9 seasons in Arkadelphia and that pride we had in him was alive and well yesterday in Lufkin. You could see it on the faces of everyone he touched in that community. Whether it was Dez Bryant (Dallas Cowboys) or the local high school janitor, they poured in to say goodbye one more time.

    Coach Outlaw will be missed, but never, ever forgotten. His legacy reaches far beyond the football field. I am and will be forever thankful, not only that he let me play for him, but that his path led him through Arkadelphia to touch us all.

    As he is laid to rest today at the same graveside as Coach Buddy Bob Benson and of my father, Jim Ranchino, I can’t help but think of all the stories they could tell each other.

    That make me smile…

    Tony Ranchino
    Arkadelphia High School
    Class of ’88

  24. rexnelson says:

    Thanks so much, Tony. I wish I also could have been at the service in Lufkin. I spoke to your mom at the cemetery today. We talked about you. As you know, your father was also one of my heroes. I was in his office the morning of his death, and read the bulletin that night on KVRC Arkadelphia since I was anchoring local election coverage. It was a lot like this for me — dealing with the loss of someone you considered larger than life. We were lucky to grow up in a small town filled with big, big men. Thanks for giving John his due on KATV — Rex

  25. Harold Brown says:

    Rex, what wonderful tributes. I had the opportunity to get to know and become good friends with Coach Outlaw when he first came to Sherman and I served on school board during most of his tenure. What excitement he brought to a program that was just sitting here ready for the right leader. Did we ever make a good hire. He and Richard Martin brought discipline, structure and a never give up attitude. I told Miller Barber numerous times that he did his homeowrk on this one. Bearcat Stadium rocked on Friday nights. Outlaw with his tradmark cap, headset draped over his neck, white short sleeved shirt and tie (school colors of course) and kaki slacks. I made the drive 4 hours down and back to Lufkin by myself for the service. Visited with Francie and Brother. There hearts are broken. As I told them, God wants all of us to leave a legacy. Special ones, like John Outlaw) are chosen to be legends and their legacies live forever. In 10, 25, 50 or even 100 years the name of John Outlaw will be mentioned and some little boy or girl or grandson/granddaugher will say ” I have heard my dad or mon or grandparents talk about him. They said he was so much more than just a good high school football coach.” They said “he kind of had a temper also”.

  26. Jeff Root says:

    Thank you, Rex, for another outstanding tribute. As you noted, we’ll remember 2011 for those we lost, and yet because of the lessons they taught we’ll always have them with us.

    I’ll write a piece sometime about how much fun it is to call games with Rex Nelson, but for now I’ll just say those early Outlaw years were a joy both because of the company in the booth and because we drove to every game expecting to win.

    A few years later I had the opportunity to join John Outlaw on the AHS faculty. That gave me a closer look at the positive influence he had on the lives of so many students and adults, whether they played for him or not. I’ve never known a coach who didn’t say he cared for the kids, and I’m sure all do at some level, but John lived that statement every day. If there is one thing kids know instinctively, it is whether a teacher genuinely cares about them. John cared and his players knew it.

    It was a nice scene at the graveside service today with Badgers of varying ages having reunions or introducing themselves and all of them telling Outlaw stories. That’s a great thing about “southernfried” as well. It’s wonderful to read Rex’s column and responses from classmates and former students. It reminds me of John’s most important lesson — that we should support and care for each other in moments of great victory or great loss.

  27. Kerry Garnett says:

    Thank you, Rex, for your outstanding post and for sharing your personal stories about Coach Outlaw. It’s been over thirty years now since you asked me to talk football with you as part of your radio and newspaper jobs. In case I haven’t properly apologized to you for turning down some of your interview requests after we lost to Ashdown in the second game of 1979, I hope you’ll accept my apology now.

    I was 17 when I met Coach Outlaw. He was 25. He introduced himself to me at the Goza Junior HS gym where we worked out during the off season. From the very first conversation I had with Coach Outlaw, I could tell he was a special person. He had this wry smile, a look from the side, as if he knew great things were going to happen even if you didn’t.

    It’s not easy to describe what makes a great leader. We had never won a state championship in football although our 1976 team got to the title game. Coach Outlaw led our football team to a championship by literally showing us how. I’ll always remember the incredible bounce in his step. He would step us through each running or passing play. Then we’d run the plays over and over again at practice first against no defense. Each snap would be completed. Each handoff would be crisp. Each route would be run with perfect timing. By the time we got to the game, we could execute our plays in our sleep. Coach Outlaw understood and taught us the difference between being good and being champions.

    After winning our opening game in 1979, we lost our first home game of the season against conference rival Ashdown. I had one of my poorest games as a quarterback. I missed two extra points as our placekicker, and we lost by one point. Anyone who’s known me will tell you that I’m intensely competitive. I was so bitterly disappointed in myself after that game. I felt responsible for the loss, and I knew that I let my teammates down. I also knew I let Coach Outlaw down. I took it so hard that I turned down interview requests from Rex Nelson who was just doing his job and wanted to talk to one of the senior players.

    Coach Outlaw made certain that our team learned from the loss. We had a practice the next morning, on Saturday, that was a direct challenge to our team. Coach Outlaw and the rest of our amazing coaches explained that we were going to run 100 yard sprints. We lined up and ran. We continued to run, and the coaches asked who was going to quit. Nobody quit. We didn’t quit on ourselves. We didn’t quit on our teammates. We didn’t quit on our school. We didn’t quit on our coach.

    After that Saturday our team bonded more closely than ever before. It wasn’t just from running up and down our practice field for hours on a Saturday morning. It was from the belief in us that Coach Outlaw and the rest of our coaches communicated. We grew up as young men. We went out and won the rest of our games including the AAA State Championship. I’m so proud of that season. I’m so proud we were able to win a title for Arkadelphia.

    My last communication with Coach was on Friday, October 7, 2011. Thanks to another former AHS quarterback, Stan Wood, I had reconnected via email with Coach Outlaw after a much too long absence on my part. I congratulated him on his 300th win over arch rival Woodlands. I told him how proud I was to have been part of his 300 win career. Coach wrote me back almost right away saying, “Kerry so good to hear from you. Yes you were a big part and I’m thankful I got to coach a fine young man. Again thanks. Coach.”

    Words cannot adequately express my love and appreciation for Coach John Outlaw. There are a very few people you meet in a lifetime who make a profound difference in your life and the type of person you become. Coach Outlaw was one of those people.

    Thank you from the bottom of my heart to his family for sharing the countless hours of his time away from you. He loved his players. We loved him. We will never forget what he taught us. Goodbye, Coach!

    Kerry Garnett, #11
    AHS Class of 1980

  28. Dorian McCoy says:

    Great column. It’s hard to believe it’s been 32 years since Coach Outlaw coached his first game at AHS. As an 11 year old in 1979, there was no place to be other than Haygood Stadium on a fall Friday night and my grandmother (Mary Smith) and I were there for every home game. His influence went beyond the football field. He will be missed.

    Dorian McCoy
    AHS Class of 1986

  29. Randy Huffstickler says:

    Rex- this article was passed on to me by a member
    of Coach Outlaws current staff in Lufkin. What a great
    piece and summation of how Coach had an impact on
    a young mans life. Well said and thanks for sharing with
    us.

  30. Jim Brewer says:

    Rex, I never had the privilege of meeting John Outlaw but followed his career from afar. This was a wonderful tribute. And don’t kid yourself . . . you may be able to write long, but you write well too my friend!

  31. rexnelson says:

    Jim and others, thanks for the kind comments. My words were from the heart. Randy, I loved watching you play quarterback in college even though you were usually running up big yards against my Ouachita Tigers! — Rex

  32. Brandon Helms says:

    Rex thanks for this piece. The last few days have been tough. The reason I am in the profession I am in is because of Coach. He told me to use my gifts and influence kids lives. I would call him after a tough loss or a great win. It did not matter he wanted to know how the family was doing and how he could help my program or me personally. Every conversation always ended with him telling me he was proud of me and he loved me. Takes a strong man to love so many people but he did. I can honestly say my staff has heard the name John Outlaw more than the name of our starting quarterback. He was so compassionate and caring. I recently was named Coach of the Year from our district here in Louisiana. He called to congratulate me and I ask how he knew. He said I voted for you. Of course he couldn’t have. That meant more to me than the award. I love this man. I still carry a file folder, Toledo length wise,in my back pocket every Friday night. An assistant coach ask why? I said because Coach Outlaw did and it always worked. The file folder was his trademark. His real trademark was his heart. It was full of love. I will never be able to repay him but I will honor him everyday of my life.

    Brandon Helms
    Head Football Coach
    Natchitoches Central High School
    Natchitoches,LA

  33. Rocky says:

    Rex, as usual you did a tremendous job with this tribute. I never had the privilege of meeting Coach Outlaw personally but I have heard so many stories of him. I count it as my loss. I know this has been an incredibly tough year for you. Hang in there and keep doing what you do because you are the best.

  34. jennifer says:

    I was given this website and my heart just swells with love and admiration as I read each of your words about “Coach”. Funny, that’s what I call him too. I came on board just 9 hears ago as his secretary here at Lufkin and from the first meeting (the interview) he had my heart and respect. As he explained to me what the duties would be in the office and how I would be working with “family” here at LHS, I found myself all teared up and saying “I wanted to be part of your team Coach!” We have laughed about that many times because I threw him for a loop…..”your not hired yet” he told me but luckily I did go on to get the job. It is so wonderful to read about his early years; he didn’t talk about himself very much but gave enough little “nuggets” of information to paint a very vivid picture of a passionate and intense young man who’s heart was as big then as it is now. What fun it has been to hear your stories and to see that he brought to our school and our town and our lives the same priceless treasures as he did yours. I will forever carry with me so many things that Coach Law did and said and how he made me feel so special; you always knew he loved you and was proud of you. Right now I’m not sure how we will carry on without Coach, we feel lost without our leader. But each of us knows our duties and how to do them the right way…The John Outlaw way. Love ya Coach and you were right “nothing good lasts for ever”.

  35. Taylor says:

    Nice work, Rex. No matter what anyone says, football will always be more than just “a game” in Arkansas. Coach Outlaw understood this, he wasn’t just coaching players, he was molding men. Everyone who knew him was better for it.

  36. Dora says:

    Rex, thank you for painting a beautiful picture in my mind of the “coach” I did not truly know him until I listened to you on the radio the other morning. I laughed and cried and the “Coach” I knew was serious and selfless and never talked about him, and when I thanked him for all he was doing with our son (one of his players this year) he brushed me off as if my son was this awesome player. He was very sweet, humble, and my son shared funny football practice stories. I am sad that I did not get to know him on a more personal level. Yet I am thrilled my boy played for him these past four years. “Coach” will be missed my prayers go out to his wife, and son. Rex you are an awesome writer thanks for the wonder tribute.

  37. Dr. David Bell says:

    Rex, that was a great tribute to John. Like everyone else that has written, I was a big fan on his. We hated to lose him to Sherman but we rooted for him wherever he went. John was also a good friend with not so good teeth so I got to see him in a variety of settings. The other settings included the golf course[ I doubt that he ever got rid of his "banana ball"] and some pretty intense pickup basketball games at what is now John Outlaw gym. I broke my thumb during one of those games on New Year’s eve of 1983. I also wanted to remind everyone that John returned every year for several years to DeGray golf course and brought Miller Barber to give a clinic and help raise money for HSU golf after he had moved to Sherman. Now Ken Duke has taken that to a higher level. Most of all I wanted to express how moved I was to see everyone at graveside last Wednesday. Former players, fellow coaches and friends showed up to say goodby to the man who never leaves your heart once you got the privilege to know him. This world would be a much better place if it just had more John Outlaws. God Bless you John.

  38. Matt Turner says:

    Excellent job Rex! Reading this article brings back my “Badger Pride” and reminds me of just how fun Friday nights used to be in Arkadelphia!

    As a former Badger quarterback, I have to admit that I actually get jealous hearing stories about guys who had the chance to play for John Outlaw. He was an amazing motivator and a born leader.

    I was very young when he won the state title in 1987 but I still remember watching that game with my parents at War Memorial Stadium.

    Coach Outlaw was a close family friend of ours after getting saved at Third Street Baptist Church where my Dad was the longtime pastor.

    Coach attended my Dad’s funeral in 2005 and I know they’re trading some great stories and laughing a lot right now in Heaven!

    He was one of the best and will never be forgotten!

    Matt Turner
    Arkadelphia QB / Class of 1998

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