Legendary Carson-Newman coach Ken Sparks dies

KNOXVILLE (WATE) – Carson Newman’s Sports Information Director confirms retired head football coach Ken Sparks has died after a long battle with cancer. He was 73.

Before retiring on November 14, Sparks put together one of the best coaching careers in college football history.

Ken Sparks first set foot on the Carson Newman campus in the 1960’s playing as a wide receiver for the Eagles.

Then Sparks began his coaching career at Gibbs High School. He felt the Lord calling him to coach. He would later go on to coach at Tennessee Tech, Morristown East High School and Farragut High School.  then served as the head football coach at Carson-Newman for 37 years.

“I think it’ll be a good year as long as we’re committing ourselves to be the best people we can.” He said of his first season coaching at Carson Newman in 1980. “We may not win all the ball games we wanna win, and we may but the great thing of it is we’re on an adventure that’s gonna be a good adventure as long as we’re all trying to commit ourselves in a real positive way.”

He finished his Carson-Newman career after 37 seasons, 338 wins, 99 losses and two ties. His career winning percentage of .7699 is the fourth highest in college football history while the 338 victories amount to the fifth-best total in the nation.

The legendary coach was inducted into the inaugural NCAA Division II Hall of Fame Coaches Class in 2010. The 72-year-old is also a member of the South Atlantic Conference Hall of Fame, the Knoxville Sports Hall of Fame, the Carson-Newman Athletic Hall of Fame, the Tennessee Sports Hall of Fame and the NAIA Hall of Fame.

On March 10 Sparks was inducted into the Fellowship of Christian Athletes Hall of Fame. He was unable to come to the induction ceremony due to his health. His son accepted the award on his behalf.

On June 30, 2012, Sparks was diagnosed with cancer. The coach credits his faith with bringing him to Carson-Newman in 1980 and after his retirement said his faith would see him through his battle with cancer.

“I’m kinda hard headed. But I’m not through… It’s the way I’ve always said, The Lord called me to coach, he’ll let me know when I’m not supposed to coach,” said Sparks.

The Sparks family will receive friends at Manley Baptist Chuch in Morristown from 2 p.m. to 6 p.m. Friday. There will be a service afterward. The service is open to the public.

University of Tennessee Head Coach Butch Jones issued a statement on Coach Sparks’ passing:

“I’m very sad to hear of the passing of Coach Ken Sparks. Coach Sparks was a close friend to myself and our football program. I had followed Ken’s coaching career from afar and our friendship really began when he was one of the first people to call me when I was hired at UT. That phone call and our talks over the years mean the world to me. He was such a pillar in this community and was always willing to help.

I think anyone who had the opportunity to be around Ken Sparks would tell you what a special human being he was. His legacy extends way beyond the game of football. He touched so many lives off the field. The players he coached, he coached them to not only win football games, but to be successful in life. I spent some time with Ken a few weeks ago at his home and will always cherish that conversation.

We lost a legend today and our thoughts and prayers go out to Carol and his family. He will be missed but always admired.

The Sparks family will hold a receiving of friends that is open to the public at Manley Baptist Church in Morristown from 2-6 p.m. March 30. There will be a service following that event.
The burial will be a private ceremony for family only.

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