John Outlaw became an icon at an early age.
He was only 25 years old in the spring of 1979 when the Arkadelphia School Board hired the University of Central Arkansas graduate as the head football coach at Arkadelphia High School. Twice before during the decade of the 1970s, Arkadelphia had made it to state championship games. Favored Arkadelphia teams were upset by Stuttgart in 1970 and Mena in 1976. Outlaw gave the Badgers their title in his first year as a head coach.
Outlaw went on to compile a record of 84-20-1 in his nine seasons at Arkadelphia, winning state titles in 1979 and 1987. He then moved to Texas, where he compiled records of 57-21-1 at Sherman and 162-46-1 at Lufkin, giving him a 303-87-3 record as a high school coach. Outlaw achieved his 300th victory on Oct. 6, 2011, against The Woodlands in a game telecast regionally by Fox Sports Southwest.
Outlaw died unexpectedly on the morning of Friday, Dec. 23, 2011, at his home in Lufkin after a morning run.
Friday night, Outlaw will be inducted posthumously into the Arkansas Sports Hall of Fame along with Stacy Lewis, Frank O’Mara, Sonja Tate, Wyn Norwood, Marcus Brown, Jeremy Jacobs and Don Nixon.
“If I’ve done anything right in my life, I’ve used the gift God gave me, and that is to serve others,” Outlaw once said.
His players considered him a mentor.
Kerry Garnett, the quarterback on that first Arkadelphia state title team, who now lives in California, said: “I was 17 when I met coach Outlaw. He was 25. He introduced himself to me at the Goza Junior High School gym, where we worked out during the offseason. 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. Coach Outlaw led our football team to a championship by 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 would run the plays over and over again at practice. 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.”
As a player, Outlaw had been a safety at the University of Central Arkansas, where he played from 1973-75 for coach Ken Stephens. Outlaw was a graduate assistant for one season at UCA, and then Stephens hired him as a fulltime assistant. He is a member of UCA’s Sports Hall of Fame.
“He was a heck of a coach,” Stephens said. “All he did was win.”
Outlaw’s defensive coordinator on that 1979 state championship team was John Thompson, now the defensive coordinator at Arkansas State University.
“He touched so many lives,” Thompson said. “The old boy was unique in so many ways, but he had a magic. He had a dadgum magic about him. Players loved him. He just had a way with those guys, and they turned into good people. That’s just the way he was. He could get to those guys and get them to believe.”
Doug Rice was one of the best high school linemen in the country when he played for Outlaw at Arkadelphia. Rice, who went on to play college football at SMU and now lives in Texas, said of his former coach: “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 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.”