UK offensive line coach battled cancer for two years, rarely missing a practice or game
LEXINGTON, Ky. – January 26, 2021
Former University of Kentucky offensive line coach John Schlarman was named the 40th annual Kentucky Sports Figure of the Year, it was announced today by the Lexington Herald-Leader. He was named the winner after a vote of 163 current and former media members around the Commonwealth, receiving 76 first-place votes. His 435-point margin over the runner-up in voting, UK women’s basketball standout Rhyne Howard, was the largest in the past four years.
In the summer of 2018, Schlarman was diagnosed with cholangiocarcinoma. Despite the diagnosis, he continued to coach through countless treatments, and horrific side effects of those treatments. He did not miss a game (and rarely missed a practice) until Oct. 24, 2020 at Missouri. His final appearance on the sidelines was Oct. 17 at Tennessee in UK’s first win in Knoxville since 1984. Schlarman passed away just three weeks later, on Nov. 12, 2020.
“The Great American was a warrior and we really miss him,” head coach Mark Stoops said on his social media last week. “Everything he did was FOR THE TEAM. There’s no better candidate for Sports Figure of the Year than John Schlarman.”
Schlarman was an original member of Stoops’ staff in 2013, working tirelessly to help rebuild a football program that he loved dearly. A perfect fit for Stoops’ blue-collar approach, Schlarman’s offensive line, affectionately known as the “Big Blue Wall,” played a key role in the process that culminated with five consecutive bowl appearances from 2016-20. In 2018, UK went 10-3, the school’s first 10-win season in 41 years, topped by a win over Penn State in the VRBO Citrus Bowl. UK followed with a win over Virginia Tech in the 2019 Belk Bowl and a win over No. 23 N.C. State in the 2021 TaxSlayer Gator Bowl.
During the last five seasons, Kentucky broke numerous school records, including single-season records for most rushing yards, most rushing touchdowns and most rushing yards per attempt. In 2016, ‘19 and ‘20, Schlarman’s Cats were semifinalists for the Joe Moore Award given to the nation’s top offensive line.
Individually, guards Logan Stenberg and Bunchy Stallings, tackle Darian Kinnard and center Drake Jackson earned All-America honors under Schlarman. Stenberg, Stallings, center Jon Toth, and tackle Landon Young received All-Southeastern Conference accolades. The linemen helped pave the way for a 1,000-yard rusher in each of the 2016-19 seasons, Stanley “Boom” Williams, Benny Snell Jr. and Lynn Bowden Jr. Snell reached the 1,000-yard mark three times and left UK as the school’s all-time leading rusher.
In 2020, playing a 10-game schedule of SEC opponents plus the Gator Bowl, the Wildcats ranked third in the league in rushing at 196.2 yards per game and Kentucky’s offensive line paved the way for top rusher, Chris Rodriguez Jr., to average 6.6 yards per carry which led the SEC and ranked 17th nationally. Playing in just nine games, he totaled 785 rushing yards and a team-high 11 touchdowns.
Schlarman is the third straight Sports Figure of the Year from UK Football. Defensive end Josh Allen was named the winner in 2018 and Bowden, a quarterback/wide receiver/punt returner, earned the award in 2019.
Schlarman also was honored by the Broyles Award, which recognizes the top assistant coach in college football. Schlarman was given a Lifetime Achievement Award “for his dedication to inspiring excellence in athletics through coaching.”