JEFFERSON CITY, Tenn. – Carson-Newman head football coach Ken Sparks will continue to coach at Mossy Creek as he undergoes treatment for prostate cancer.
The Eagles head man just completed his 33rd season at the helm of the Carson-Newman football program. Barring unforeseen complications, he said he’ll be on the sidelines for his 34th.
“I’m not through coaching, I’m going to live every day as full as I can and max it out at every opportunity,” Sparks said. “If I can make an impact, I’ll do this till the day I die as long as (Carson-Newman president) Dr. Randall O’Brien and the folks at Carson-Newman are okay with this. It’d be a shame for me to quit on a group of kids that thinks they’re going to win the national championship next year.”
Sparks was diagnosed with prostate cancer in late June of this year – it’s now spread to the bone. He began treatment the final week of the regular season prior to the Eagles playoff-clinching victory over Mars Hill. He said the injections he is receiving have slowed the spread of the cancer. As with all decisions in his life, Sparks said he turned to the Lord for guidance as to whether or not he should continue to coach.
“Everything that happens in our life, as a believer in Christ, is part of the big picture that’s trying to grow us to be what he wants us to be,” Sparks said. “He wants us to be difference makers and to be impactful with what we do in our lives. That’s just the beginning of the story, that’s not the end of the story.
Sparks became the 11th college football coach with 300 career victories after coaching the Eagles to a 56-46 win over Glenville State at the start of the 2012 campaign. His career record of 308 wins, 83 losses and two ties is good for ninth on the all-time wins list.
The 1968 Carson-Newman alum needs six wins to move into a tie for seventh place with Eastern Kentucky’s Roy Kidd and former Chicago head coach Amos Alonzo Stagg. Paul “Bear” Bryant is next in sixth with 323 wins.
The only active coach with more wins than Sparks is Mount Union’s Larry Kehres, who has amassed 331 wins in 27 seasons leading the Raiders. Sparks .786 win percentage is also greater than any other coach in the top ten with the exception of Kehres – a winner of 92.9 percent of his games.
For Sparks, the numbers are just that, numbers.
“It’s been a bigger battle to handle the acclaim of the 300th victory than it has been to go through cancer,” Sparks said. “I just want to honor the Lord. I don’t want this to be about me.
“I can think a whole lot of things to do aside from talking about myself. Winning 300 games is not about me. Cancer is not about me. I’m not here to glorify cancer, it won’t control my life. I’ll trust the Lord with everything.”
Carson-Newman president Randall O’Brien also announced start of a new initiative at Carson-Newman, the Ken Sparks “Making a Difference” Academic Endowed Scholarship.
“We’re honored that Ken is going to continue to be our football coach,” O’Brien said. “We’ve asked coach Sparks if he would lend his name to this initiative providing academic scholarships to needy students to get a college education. His immediate response was, ‘If we can do it for academics.’
“That’s the other part of coach Sparks that might be under the surface. He fully realizes that in this world, you don’t have opportunities without an education. Not everybody who needs a college education is equipped to play football.”