C-N Athletic Department honors Ken Sparks with retirement ceremony

C-N Athletic Department honors Ken Sparks with retirement ceremony


VIDEO: Randall O'Brien

VIDEO: Ken Sparks

VIDEO: Allen Morgan


JEFFERSON CITY, Tenn.— Former Carson-Newman football coach Ken Sparks was honored by the C-N Athletic Department Saturday morning inside Holt Fieldhouse as over 350 people came to hear the legendary football figure reflect on his 37 years at the Eagle helm.   

Sparks, who recently retired on Nov. 14, took the stage Saturday morning thanking God, his staff and players once again for making his coaching career an incredible journey.

"The only thing about something like today is being able to see all of you," Sparks said while addressing the crowd during his ceremony. "It's unbelievable to see everyone today. I see so many unbelievable people here that mean so much to me personally and that have made an impact in my life. I am so grateful.

"When we do something like this in honoring a person, it scares me. It scares me because I'm not where the honor needs to be. He needs to get the credit for everything that has happened. Let's make sure that any honor we give today, we give it to the Lord."

 The former leader of the Eagle program called it a career after reeling in countless honors throughout a storied tenure. Sparks finished his coaching career with a 338-99-2 record and was just one of 13 men all-time to amass 300 college football wins.

During the 2016 season, Sparks was the winningest active head coach in the country and even held a 40-game lead over Saint Francis's Kevin Donley, who ranked second in the category, on the final day of his coaching career. The six-time Hall of Famer is currently ranked fifth on the NCAA's all-time win's list and is the leader for all of Division II.  

Under the tutelage of the Sparks era, Carson-Newman won five NAIA National Championships and was the NCAA Division II football runner up on three separate occasions—ending with a playoff record of 38-20-1. The Eagles brought home 21 South Atlantic Conference Championships during the span while making a total of 25 trips to the postseason.

Sparks is currently listed in six different Hall of Fames including the Carson-Newman Hall of Fame (1989), the Knoxville Sports Hall of Fame (2001), Tennessee Sports Hall of Fame (2004), SAC Hall of Fame (2007), NAIA Hall of Fame (2009) and the Division II College Football Hall of Fame (2010).

Throughout his tenure, the longtime football coach was given the AAFF Lifetime Achievement Award, the FCA Lifetime Achievement Award and the Tony Dungy Uncommon Award. Sparks was named the NAIA National Coach of the Year in 1985 and was elected president of the American Football Coaches Association in 2007.

In 2010, Sparks received the General Robert R. Neyland Trophy and in 2013 was named Jefferson Countian of the Year by the Jefferson County Chamber of Commerce.   

"The Lord is the only reason. He is everything," Sparks said. "He is the one that plans for this a long time ago and is the one that put all of this together. I know that I am just a recipient in his blessings, but I know that he just wants us to honor and praise Him."

Among those present for the event, other than roughly 30 family members and nearly 100 former players, was C-N President Randall O'Brien, Athletic Director Allen Morgan and Tennessee Congressman John J. Duncan.

Duncan opened the ceremony with an invocation while O'Brien took the microphone for opening remarks. Morgan closed the ceremony will some memories and recognition of Sparks while C-N Associate Professor of Music Pat Biven led the audience in Sparks's favorite two songs, "Silent Night," and "This Little Light of Mine."  

"I thank you today for coming here and being a part of this, and if we leave here and it was a celebration of the Lord, I feel good about it," Sparks concluded. "There is so many of you that I can stand up here and talk about. Thank you so much for your effort in contributing so much to my life. I'm grateful to a great God."


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