The world lost a great coach and educator Sunday evening when Marshall Patterson died at the age of 79.
Patterson was the first football coach at Fort Campbell High School and piloted the program for 32 seasons from 1962 to 1993.
He ended his Fort Campbell career with a record of 227-120, a win total that remains 24th all-time in Kentucky, according to former Patterson player and longtime FCHS statistician Donny Caver. Patterson’s playoff record was 20-12, and he guided the Falcons to the Class A state championship in 1976 and the Class AA state championship in 1978 and 1979. The Falcons lost in the finals in 1980.
Sam Green is one of Patterson’s former players and reflected on the first time he met the legendary coach as an eighth-grader in 1960, when Patterson was the head football coach at Fort Campbell Junior High School.
“After introducing himself and the coaches, his first words were ‘We may not win many games, but we will be prepared and we will never give up,’” said Green. “We finished 6-1 with a loss to Caldwell County’s junior varsity team, 19-13, after beating them 34-7 earlier in the season. The valuable lesson we learned to be prepared also would help us prepare for anything through our lives. We went undefeated, 7-0, my ninth-grade year.”
Green has commissioned a bronze bust of Patterson to be placed in the trophy case at Fort Campbell High School, and he and others have been pushing the Kentucky High School Athletics Association to induct Patterson into its Hall of Fame for several years.
“This is an honor that he deserves,” Green said. “He meant so much to all that had contact with him. He will be missed.”
Another former player and local author, Rob Dollar, has been a driving force in a letter-writing campaign to the KHSAA in recent years. Letters submitted on behalf of a candidate are placed in that person’s file and can sway the judges.
The effort hasn’t been successful thus far, but Dollar says it should have been.
“It breaks my heart that he left this Earth without being inducted into the Hall of Fame,” Dollar said. “He was a great football coach and molder of young men and women, and he definitely deserved the honor.
“Of course, he never was one who chased honors, so it probably didn’t make much difference to him. The one thing he always stressed to his players was that football, like life, is about ‘we’ and not ‘I.’”
The aforementioned statistics and records state the success of Fort Campbell’s greatest coach of all time, but they don’t tell the full story. Every man or woman who is able to maintain over three decades of success on the field or court must also be a leader of people, especially at Fort Campbell.
“No player was ever bigger than the team,” said Dollar. “Coach P, during his years at Fort Campbell, influenced hundreds - maybe thousands - of lives of young people, many of whom had fathers deployed and missing in their lives. He willingly filled the void.”
Current Falcon head football coach Tony Butler never got the chance to know Patterson, but says the program still feels his impact some two decades after he retired.
“Some of the guys on my staff - Coach (Josh) McKillip and Coach (Nate) Moore and Coach (Scott) Lowe - they actually played for Coach Patterson, and they do nothing but speak highly of the man,” Butler said. “Just as a coach and as an individual, just the way lived his daily life, so I can only imagine what it was like being able to play for him, coach with him and just be around him.”
Patterson was also the athletics director at Fort Campbell for 33 years. During his tenure, Fort Campbell teams and individuals combined to win 27 state championships.
He also coached the Falcon wrestling program to a state championship in 1971 and came in as the runner-up in 1969 and 1970.
“Coach Patterson’s legacy can be seen in how many of his former players have become successful individuals,” said current wrestling wrestling coach Anthony Shingler. “Talking with a few alumni who became involved with the push to send letters to the KHSAA to get Coach P into the Hall of Fame, I fully was able to grasp how many former players and students he was a mentor to.”
Former Falcon wrestler Norm Miller wrote about his experience under Patterson at FCHS in his letter to the KHSAA.
“The most important thing is he molded students from very diverse backgrounds into respectful, decent students,” Miller said. “These students worked together to accomplish what would be probably an improbable task for most coaches: a state championship. However, he accomplished this when the odds were stacked against him. Students seldom stayed the entire four years at the high school. Their dads were transferred or were sent to war and moved away.”
Coaches rarely stick with programs for three decades now, and programs rarely stick with coaches that long.
When Patterson died Sunday evening, so did an era of local high school sports.
“There will never again be a football coach like Marshall Patterson, in my opinion,” said Dollar. “They broke the mold with him, for sure.”
Adam May is the sports editor for The Eagle Post. Reach Adam at email@example.com.
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