When news of John Outlaw being inducted into the Texas High School Coaches Association Hall of Honor broke in March, we were honestly a little surprised.
No. We certainly didn’t question whether or not he deserved it.
We just couldn’t believe he wasn’t already in the Hall of Honor.
We’re certainly not bashing any of the deserving men who have already entered the Hall of Honor. Our main question was if it could be a true Hall of Honor without John Outlaw in it.
The man won more than 200 games as a head coach in Texas. That is an average of almost 10 wins per season. Yet he is just now going into the Hall of Honor eight years after his death.
As is expected, Lufkin head coach Todd Quick, who also happened to have spent 26 years working with Outlaw, was classy in his comments leading up to the event.
“It took a while,” Quick said while getting ready for what will be an emotional night both for him and the Lufkin coaching staff, “but that doesn’t matter. What matters is that he’s going to be there now. He deserves it.”
Meanwhile, we’re still wondering exactly what took so long.
Outlaw was inducted into the East Texas Coaches Association Hall of Honor in 2014 in their initial class.
The previous year, he was inducted into the Arkansas Sports Hall of Fame. He received that honor thanks to his 84-20-1 record in Arkansas in which he also brought home a pair of state titles.
Meanwhile he had to wait six years after that to be honored across the state of Texas. Even though we say the honor is long overdue, we’re not here just to gripe about the long wait.
That was all forgotten in a beautiful ceremony Saturday night in which he was remembered as one of the true legends in Texas high school coaching.
We’re here to recognize exactly what Outlaw brought to Lufkin.
In the years before he arrived in Lufkin, the Panthers were far from a laughing stock. Outside of a one-win season in 1992, Lufkin usually held its own among a beast of an East Texas football schedule.
However, in six years prior to his arrival, Lufkin made the playoffs only once, which also happened in the previous season.
Even with an immaculate resume, the first few years under Outlaw weren’t the smoothest. In his first season, Lufkin finished with a losing record, although it still made the playoffs.
In the next two years, Lufkin combined for a 13-6 record, although neither team made the playoffs. Such was life in the days when only two teams made the playoffs. Good teams often got sent home at the end of the regular season.
Lufkin football fans aren’t always the most patient. However, even the most optimistic fans probably didn’t expect the success that was about to come.
In 1998, Lufkin advanced to the regional finals before coming up a field goal short against Lake Highlands. That was followed by a trip to the second round of the playoffs the following year and a trip to the regional semifinals in 2000.
Then in 2001, Lufkin climbed to the pinnacle of Texas high school football, taking home the state title.
At long last, Lufkin High School had its first state football title. And the Outlaw legend grew even larger.
That was just the beginning of Lufkin establishing itself as one of the prominent high school programs in the state.
Under Outlaw’s direction, Lufkin advanced to the state semifinals in three of the next four years while frequently standing near the top of the state and national rankings.
If not for the football factory known as Southlake Carroll, the Panthers would probably boast at least another title or two.
Unfortunately, as Outlaw had once pointed out himself, all good things must eventually come to an end.
In the 2011 season, Lufkin advanced to the playoffs for the 14th straight year. In the process, the Panthers gave Outlaw his 300th career coaching win in a regionally broadcast game on Fox Sports Southwest.
Just a few months later, we all woke up to the news that the coach who could do little wrong had died of a heart attack after an early morning run.
Now only the memories remain. His name is displayed prominently behind the end zone at John Outlaw Memorial Field at Abe Martin Stadium. If you head up to the press box, you’ll get a look of him on the sideline.
And all across town, you can hear stories from players and fans talking about “the good old days.”
From the legendary stories of Outlaw to the players he helped mold into young men, his presence is still felt across the city.
On Saturday night, the rest of the state got to learn just how good those good old days were when Outlaw took his spot in the long overdue ceremony in Houston.
Well done, Coach. You deserve it.