Back at UK Media Day earlier this month, head coach Mark Stoops entered his press conference teary-eyed and choked up. It was obvious the next few words out of his mouth weren’t going to be good.
He started by talking about Josh Paschal’s malignant melanoma diagnosis and how devastating the news was for everyone within the program. Stoops followed it up by telling reporters offensive line coach John Schlarman was battling some troubling medical issues, as well. He wouldn’t announce specifically what those issues were, but he did say it was going to be a fight going forward.
This afternoon at his weekly press conference, Stoops dove into Schlarman’s situation a bit further, saying the battle has just begun.
“Coach Schlarman is dealing with some very serious medical issues,” Stoops said. “At this point, John has gone through two rounds of chemotherapy and is handling things with a very strong attitude and strong mindset and is getting the very best treatment he can. And again, just continue to pray for him. Our thoughts and prayers are with John and his family.”
Even though the situation is difficult and Schlarman is going through rounds of chemotherapy treatment, he hasn’t missed a day of work. He’s been a “warrior.”
“He’s definitely battling a very serious illness and to John’s credit, he’s been at work every day,” Stoops said. “He hasn’t missed. Matter of fact, just walking over here just now, I just saw John walking out of the building with one of our other coaches to go for a little walk and get some exercise. Last Friday he had chemotherapy all morning and he was at practice in the afternoon. So, he’s been a warrior with this and, again, we’re just thinking and praying for him and his family.”
He’s been working hard getting his position group ready for the season-opener against Central Michigan, but Stoops emphasized that his personal life is absolutely the main priority right now. The Kentucky head coach may actually be more cautious than Schlarman himself.
“One hundred percent. His family and his health is absolutely first and foremost. And he knows that. We’ve had conversations along the way, every step of the way. Just last night we talked about his plan, his treatment plan during the year. I’m probably more cautious than he wants to be because I think he wants to live a normal life and fortunately for him, he’s been responding very well to the medicine and you don’t know how that’s going to go.
Stoops appreciates Schlarman’s relentless effort on the practice field and in the facilities, but said he doesn’t want it to affect his health. He’s responding well to the medicine, but getting rest will be vital going forward.
“That’s what I do talk to him about because our season, it beats you down. We’re in here seven days a week all day and night and I don’t want that to affect his health. You do have to manage that. He knows that. He has great comfort in knowing that there are people here who can pick up the slack. There may be times — and I talked to him about that last night when I forced him to go home and get a little bit of a rest, some sleep. But we’ll see. Right now, he’s been very strong and very fortunate to the way his body’s responding to the medicine. And like I said, he really hasn’t missed a beat,” Stoops said.
When asked about whether or not his recruiting workload has changed at all, Stoops said it has not. Schlarman doesn’t want much to change at all because he realizes there’s a very important season ahead.
That’s why he’s “The Great American.”
“I think John, he’s very bright. But I think you all know him personally and his demeanor and his relationship with players, it’s really hard not to like John,” Stoops said. “I think that’s real important, in particular with the O-line group. I think the O-line in a lot of ways a lot of times kinda sets the tone for your football team. Those are big guys and there’s a bunch of them. Really nobody messes with the O-line. But I think John has a great mentality. He’s bright. I think the way he teaches, they understand it. He’s very demanding but he can do it in his own way and there’s a great comfort with that. And he’s been very successful. He’s been very good. We have a nickname for him on our staff and he’s ‘The Great American.’ But he’s just a great guy. He’s a great person and I think the players see that and respect that as well. That goes back years.”
And the offensive linemen are responding to the adversity, as well. Between Landon Young’s season-ending knee injury and Schlarman’s health issues, Stoops believes that unit, in particular, is rallying behind each of them.
“The group is a bunch of guys that are good leaders,” Stoops said. “They’re an experienced group. That’s the nice thing. Again, I think that room is very much player-led. We all know John is exceptional and I’ve gone in there and talked to them a bit. But we have kept the group updated. What the plan is, what John is going through. They’ve been the first to know a lot of these things. Just tried to be up front and honest with them. John has a great relationship with them so I think they can certainly be inspired by the way John is handling this and the way he’s going about his business. How can you be a player out there feeling sorry for yourself when you have a man that’s just gone through five, six hours of chemo and is sitting out there on the practice field coaching the same way he does every day? That’s pretty inspirational to me, and I would assume to the players as well.”
Those are two significant hits to the offense and three to the roster as a whole. It’s painful and devastating for everyone within the program, but if the team can see how hard they’re working to fight through their adversities, it’ll only make them stronger both on and off the field.
Nonetheless, the KSR family is praying for Schlarman, Paschal, and Young to make complete recoveries and come back stronger than ever.