LINCOLNTON, Ga. — With the Friday night lights shining, Larry Campbell slowly walked into the stadium like he had done countless times before.
But on this night, for the first time, Campbell walked out of his stadium.
The legendary coach, who retired in April, was honored with an appreciation day held at Lincoln County’s football stadium. Supporters filled the home-side bleachers like it was a football game. After remarks from Gov. Nathan Deal; former Georgia Bulldogs coach Ray Goff; and former NFL star Garrison Hearst, who was a standout player at Lincoln County and Georgia; among many others, the stadium was officially introduced publicly as the renamed Larry Campbell Stadium.
Campbell, with his family by his side, shared his appreciation for all those who helped make the success possible, from the people who painted the field to those who wore red on Friday nights in the stands and on the field.
“I am truly humbled by this honor,” Campbell said.
From the 1957 season through 2013, Lincoln County/Lincolnton had just three head coaches. Each one – Buddy Bufford, Thomas Bunch and Campbell – had at least one undefeated season. After Friday, the Red Devils’ home ground now immortalized all three coaches, with the field named for Bufford, the fieldhouse for Bunch and the stadium donning Campbell’s name.
But Campbell’s legacy has trumped all in the state. His 477 wins are the most in Georgia history. He also won 11 state titles in his 42 years as head coach.
The speakers extolled Campbell’s contributions as a coach to the players and as a father figure for young men of Lincoln County.
“Coach, the record that you established is more than just the statistics,” Deal said. “The record you established is in the faces, in the hearts and in the lives of not just the ones assembled tonight, but the others who have been touched by your compassion, by your skill, by your dedication.”
Hearst read three letters then shared his own thoughts.
“My life revolves around what I learned here. I don’t think I would have been half the player or half the person, half the father I am without learning from this man here,” Hearst said.
When Goff stepped to the microphone, he quipped he hadn’t seen that many people since he got fired at Georgia. He then talked about the poem, The Dash.
“Basically, The Dash says your tombstone, there’s the day you’re born and the day you die. In between is the dash. That dash is your life. Larry Campbell will have a big dash. A real big dash. Because he’s made an impact on a lot of young people’s lives.”
During the ceremony, Campbell was presented with photographs, hugs and a set of golf clubs – in a red bag, of course.
Once he stepped up for his speech, he said he planned on reading a short passage and sitting down. But when he saw all the people there for him, including former players and coaches who stood near him on the field, he decided to talk just a little longer.
After remembering his championship wins, his players and coaches, the fans and his family, Campbell closed by bringing up Lou Gehrig’s famous “luckiest man” speech.
“Doing something I love for 44 years is a blessing I will always cherish,” he said.