University Community Mourns Passing of Football Legend Larry Lacewell
JONESBORO – Larry Lacewell, former Director of Athletics and winningest head football coach in Arkansas State history, passed away Wednesday, May 18, at the age of 85.
Inducted into the Arkansas State Athletics Hall of Honor in 1987, the Arkansas Sports Hall of Fame in 1996 and the A-State Ring of Honor in 2001, Lacewell was at one time the only coach in the nation to have led college teams to back-to-back championships and been a part of back-to-back NFL Super Bowl wins. Following his retirement from the Dallas Cowboys in 2005, he was honored by the Arkansas General Assembly in February 2005.
“On behalf of our entire Arkansas State football family, we extend our deepest condolences to the family, friends and former colleagues of coaching legend Larry Lacewell,” said current A-State head football coach Butch Jones. “Arkansas State owes an overwhelming amount of gratitude to Coach Lacewell, one of the most prominent leaders and coaches in A-State history who had a profound influence on countless student-athletes and the lives he touched. His many accomplishments are well-documented and speaks volumes about the impact he had on our football program, athletics department, university, community and beyond. Larry Lacewell will forever be remembered as one of Arkansas State’s all-time greats.”
Roaming the sidelines for A-State from 1979-89, he led the program to 69 wins, two Southland Conference titles and four straight appearances in the Division I-AA Playoffs, including the 1986 national championship game.
“We have lost an Arkansas State football icon in Coach Larry Lacewell,” said Tommy Walker, an A-State Hall of Honor member who played under Lacewell from 1980-83. “He taught us so many life lessons during his time at A-State – hard work, determination, relentless effort and respect for authority just to name a few. He coordinated opportunities for us to play teams such as Alabama, Texas A&M, Kansas, Kansas State and Tulsa for the first time in school history. He promoted Arkansas State wherever his coaching took him during his career. He instilled in us that Arkansas State was our school, and that we should give back to the university that has given us so much. He will be greatly missed and never forgotten!”
The 1985 and 1986 Southland Coach of the Year, Lacewell coached five First Team All-Americans, 23 Honorable Mention AP All-Americans and 24 All-Southland Conference selections. In his A-State tenure, 13 players went on to play in the NFL and 18 have since been inducted into the A-State Hall of Honor.
“I had a close relationship – we all did – with Coach Lacewell,” said A-State Hall of Honor and football Ring of Honor member Dr. Tim Langford, who played quarterback under Lacewell. “As far as I remember, I was the first person he signed at Arkansas State, and he was bigger than life to all us players as a coach coming in from Oklahoma. Coach was obviously confident and talkative, but he taught us a lot of life lessons that we all remember. He was an outstanding motivator who taught us about football, but also discipline, hard work, perseverance and resiliency – lessons we still think back on even today. Coach Lacewell had a huge impact, loved Arkansas State and instilled in us a love for our teammates and molding a team.”
Joe Slayton, a former All-Southland Conference punter who is now a member of A-State’s Hall of Honor, also fondly recalled his time as a player under Lacewell.
“He brought a new point of view to my position,” said Slayton. “He taught me strategy and spent a lot of time with me, teaching me from a defensive genius’ perspective. I’ll never forget that, I greatly appreciate it, and it made me want to play hard for him. He was a great leader and mentor for me. He was also a wonderful friend and he will be greatly missed. My thoughts and prayers go out to Criss (Lacewell) and the entire family.”
Also serving as Arkansas State Athletic Director from 1979-89, Lacewell engineered Arkansas State’s move from Division I-AA to Division I-A, now known as FBS. As athletic director, Lacewell created avenues for regional and national telecasts, raised funds for a new football administration building and obtained state funds for the construction of First National Bank Arena that opened in 1987.
“The legendary coach and my very good friend, Larry Lacewell, made history at Arkansas State University as our winningest coach ever,” said former Arkansas Governor Mike Beebe, an honorary member of the A-State Hall of Honor. “A gifted football authority and athletic director, Larry was a consistently steady voice for his young charges, and an inspiration and example to all. He touched the lives of countless people of all ages and was a respected mentor and encouraging motivator, endowing future generations with guidance and expertise.”
“Coach Lacewell always drew a crowd anytime he started telling stories,” said Steve Caldwell, who was a member of Lacewell’s coaching staff at A-State from 1985-89. “I don’t care how many times I had heard them, I would always sit down and listen. He had some amazing experiences and loved to share them. If I ever needed him for anything, he was always there. It was a privilege to work for him, and I was proud to call him a friend.”
Following his tenure at Arkansas State, Lacewell spent two seasons as defensive coordinator at Tennessee, helping the Volunteers win the Southeastern Conference title in 1990. He served as the head of scouting for the Dallas Cowboys for 14 seasons (1991-2004).
“Larry Lacewell was a friend and an outstanding football mind,” said Pro Football Hall of Fame member Jimmy Johnson, who led the Dallas Cowboys to a pair of Super Bowls while head coach from 1989-93. “He loved talking football, and as we all know that knew him, loved talking. That’s why it was so tragic the last few years with his medical issues. He’ll be missed…rest in peace.”
Born Feb. 12, 1937, in Fordyce, Lacewell played high school football for his father, Arvel. A three-year, two-way starter, Lacewell earned all-state and all-district honors as a senior. He was one of two five-sport lettermen in the history of the school, lettering in football, basketball, track, swimming and tennis. He graduated in 1959 from Arkansas A&M, now Arkansas-Monticello, with a degree in physical education. He played in four championship games at Arkansas A&M and served as an assistant coach. He was a graduate assistant at Alabama in 1959 for Paul “Bear” Bryant, a high school teammate of Lacewell’s father in Fordyce. He earned his master’s degree in physical education from Alabama in 1960.
Lacewell arrived at what is now A-State to coach the football freshmen and the track team in 1960-61. He went on to serve as a defensive aide at Arkansas-Monticello in 1962. He was assistant head coach at Kilgore Junior College, winning a National Junior College title in 1964 and served as assistant coach at Wichita State (1966-67) and Iowa State (1968).
“This is one of the saddest days of my life,” said Gina Bowman, Arkansas State’s Sports Information Director for 32 years who worked closely with Lacewell. “I met Coach Lacewell the first day he came to Arkansas State and liked him instantly. Throughout his time here, he always treated me with respect and taught me a lot about football. He also taught the players a lot about life and dignity. His life was so interesting, and he had a great sense of humor. He’ll never be forgotten.”
In 1969, Lacewell was named defensive coordinator at Oklahoma and became assistant head coach in 1973. During Lacewell’s tenure there, Oklahoma won two national titles and six Big Eight championships while riding a 37-game win streak. During his time with the Sooners, he coached eight consensus All-Americans, including an Outland Trophy winner, a Lombardi Award winner and a National Defensive Player of the Year. His defensive teams consistently dominated the Big Eight statistics and were among the Top Ten in the nation in all categories.
In 2018, A-State football established the Larry Lacewell Most Valuable Player Award in honor of Lacewell. The annual award goes to the most valuable player on the team whose performance best exhibits the pursuit of excellence on the football field and in the classroom, the utmost character and integrity on and off the field, demonstrated leadership with a strong work ethic and commitment to his teammates, and the undying will for victory.
“Larry Lacewell was a great coach, mentor and motivator to many, and I was very fortunate to have been one of his players,” said Price Gardner, a former All-Southland Conference selection under Lacewell who is now a member of the Arkansas State University Board of Trustees. “It was always a highlight each fall at the Old Warriors Cookout to have Coach (Lacewell) come and take center stage. He was very good at maintaining relationships with his former players and will be deeply missed. He led the transformation of A-State Athletics to a new level as AD with the scheduling of SEC and Big Eight opponents and achieving a great record of success in the 1980s. He was also a great ambassador for Arkansas State University, and we were fortunate to have him in Jonesboro. He was truly a legend – and if you did not know that, he’d be the first tell you!”
Arkansas State University will light its library tower scarlet in Lacewell’s memory tomorrow. Information regarding a memorial for Coach Lacewell will be available at a later time.
“Coach Lacewell was a great leader and teacher,” said longtime A-State Athletic Trainer Ron Carroll. “I will always remember many things that Coach Lacewell taught me as an athletic trainer. Two things in particular were when we had a student-athlete with an injury and his comment was, ‘I don’t care how you get it done, find a way.’ Another was when a freshman had missed an appointment and he said, ‘He is 18 years old and has never been in this environment – give him a chance to grow up. If I had never been given a chance, I would not be here today.’ Arkansas State Athletics truly lost a legend who was even a graduate assistant in 1960 and listed as the trainer. He truly molded a lot of young men and assistant coaches.”
— Courtesy A-State Sports Information Office