Coach John Outlaw
On this final day of 2011 I’m posting something very personal. Just 8 days ago my former high school football coach, John Outlaw, died suddenly of an apparent heart attack. He was 58 years old. I’m writing this post to honor Coach Outlaw, a man who had a tremendous impact on my life as well as the lives of thousands of other young men whom he coached and mentored for more than 30 years.
I was 17 when I met Coach Outlaw. He was 25. He introduced himself to me at the Goza Junior HS gym in Arkadelphia, Arkansas, 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. Our school 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 our radio play-by-play guy 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 when his current team, Lufkin, beat their 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
This entry was posted on Saturday, December 31st, 2011 at 10:41 pm
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