The winningest coach in the history of college athletics in Arkansas has coached his last game.
Alvy E. Early, who won more than any coach in the history of college athletics in Arkansas, regardless of the sport or division, finally met an opponent he couldn’t defeat. Early lost a short, sudden battle with cancer today, ending a storybook coaching career that covered a half century.
Early coached the women’s basketball and softball teams at the University of Arkansas at Monticello for 39 years, including three years when he coached both sports and served as the school’s athletics director at the same time, never missing a beat. Before coming to UAM, he was a successful high school coach in West Fork.
The numbers don’t lie. Early’s UAM teams won a combined 1,178 times, more wins than any college coach in the state’s history. Second on the list is Norm DeBriyn, who won 1,161 games as head baseball coach at UA-Fayetteville. Early passed his old friend in total victories last year.
For Early, coaching was always more than a job. It was his hobby, his passion, his life. “I’ve always said I’d coach as long as I was able and I got to do that,” Early told a visitor just weeks before his death. “How many people get to do something they love their whole life?”
Early’s list of accomplishments is a long one. He is a member of both the UAM and Arkansas Sports Halls of Fame, was the Gulf South Conference Softball Coach of the Decade (2000-09), won championships in two leagues in both basketball and softball and took the Cotton Blossoms basketball team to the cusp on a national championship in 1990.
He’s coached a combined 19 All-Americans (11 in women’s basketball and 8 in softball) and his softball team has produced a staggering 40 selections to the National Fastpitch Coaches Association All-Academic Team.
Early came to what was then Arkansas A&M in 1963 but his journey to Monticello took a few twists and turns along the way. Born in Fort Smith, Early lived in Van Buren until his father moved the family to Pahokee, Fla., a small farming community on the southeast shore of Lake Okeechobee in south central Florida.
Early went on to letter in football, baseball and tennis at A&M, graduating in 1967 before landing in West Fork, where he coached the football and girls’ basketball teams. He married Nancy Baker of Monticello his second year in West Fork and by the time the womens basketball coaching job at UAM came open in 1979, the couple had three sons.
Coaching runs in the Early family. His three sons, Preston, Brian and Kent, followed their father into coaching. Preston, 47, is the winningest girls’ basketball coach in the history of Rogers High School; Brian, 45, is the defensive line coach at Arkansas State; and Kent, 42, is a successful softball coach at Bentonville High School, the winner of three Class 7A state championships.
Survivors include his wife, Nancy Baker Early of Monticello; three sons, Preston Early and wife Sloane of Springdale, Brian Early and wife Nanci of Jonesboro and Kent Early and wife Ashley of Bentonville; and six grandchildren, Jake, Aivery, Camryn, Grayson, and Easton Early and Dre Greenlaw.
Funeral service will be 4 p.m. Thursday, June 14, at First Baptist Church with burial to follow in Oakland Cemetery with Rev. Rob Leonard officiating. Visitation will be two hours prior to service time at the church.
Memorials may be made to: Fight With AE, c/o Commercial Bank, P.O. Box 150, Monticello, AR 71657.