It is with great sadness that we share the news that offensive line coach John Schlarman has passed away following a two-year battle with cancer. From his All-SEC playing days as a Wildcat to his eight years as the leader of the “Big Blue Wall,” he embodied Kentucky Football in mind and spirit. He was 45 years old.
“I’m heartbroken to learn about the passing of my friend, John Schlarman,” Kentucky head coach Mark Stoops said in a press release. “My prayers go out to LeeAnne and the kids, Joseph, Benjamin, Matthew and Evelyn, through this very difficult time.
“John was everything we all strive to be – honest, tough, fair, respected. Kentucky football won’t be the same without him but his legacy will never fade. He was a fighter and we will strive every day to honor his warrior spirit.”
A native of Fort Thomas, Kentucky, Schlarman played offensive guard at Kentucky from 1994-97, starting all four years and earning All-SEC honors as a senior. He returned to Kentucky in 2000 to be a grad assistant after a two-year stint coaching the defensive line at Bourbon County High School. He got his first head coaching job at Campbell County in 2003 and moved to Newport High School in 2005, leading the program to the state playoffs and a two-year record of 19-6. He was named District Coach of the Year in 2005 by the Kentucky Football Coaches Association. In 2007, he joined Larry Blakeney’s staff at Troy, coaching the offensive line and taking on the role of running game coordinator in 2010. He helped the Trojans win or share four Sun Belt Conference championships and advance to three bowl games.
In 2013, Schlarman came home to the Bluegrass to join Mark Stoops’ staff, slowly building the “Big Blue Wall” that would become his legacy. Kentucky’s offensive line steadily improved under his tutelage, paving the way for rushers like Boom Williams and Benny Snell, the latter of which became the school’s all-time leading rusher. In the last four seasons, Kentucky rushed for 2,000 or more yards and broke numerous school records, including single-season records for most rushing yards, most rushing touchdowns and most rushing yards per attempt. In 2016 and ’19, Schlarman’s Cats were semifinalists for the Joe Moore Award given to the nation’s top offensive line. He became a mentor to some of the program’s most valuable players like Logan Stenberg, Bunchy Stallings, Jon Toth, Landon Young, and Drake Jackson.
In the summer of 2018, Schlarman was diagnosed with cholangiocarcinoma, a rare and hard-to-treat form of cancer that forms in the bile ducts that carry digestive fluids and connect the liver to the gallbladder and small intestine. Even though he was undergoing treatments, he continued to coach, missing as few practices as possible and serving as an example to his players and fellow coaches to stay the course. As his health took a turn for the worse this fall, he coached his final game at Tennessee, helping the Cats to their first victory in Knoxville since 1984.
— Kentucky Football (@UKFootball) October 17, 2020
“The UK Athletics family is in deep sorrow on the passing of John Schlarman,” said Mitch Barnhart, UK Director of Athletics. “Throughout the last two years, he has been an incredible inspiration. He taught people how to live and showed all of us what it means to be courageous.
“John was a great husband and father, teacher and leader. He will be remembered for the love he had for his family, his dedication to his players and his excellence as a coach. Our prayers and heartfelt condolences are with his family and all who knew and loved him.”
Our hearts go out to the Schlarman family, the Kentucky Football family, and everyone who knew and loved him.