“It is an honor to be inducted into the Arkansas Sports Hall of Fame and I am very humbled and appreciative to be selected,” said Early. “This is something that was made possible by all of the outstanding student-athletes that I have been fortunate to coach and be associated with… It has never been my intention in the coaching profession to seek individual awards. I have always strived to have my players accomplish what they have the ability to achieve and become successful and productive individuals upon graduation.”
Early joins 10 other honorees to be inducted at the organization’s 56th annual banquet on Friday, February 28 at the Statehouse Convention Center in Little Rock.
Early, whose more than 1,000 career wins as a women’s basketball and softball coach make him one of the state’s most successful college coaches ever. Before he became a coach at the University of Arkansas at Monticello, Early was a three-sport star at the school, earning letters in football, baseball and tennis.
He was a successful high school coach at West Fork before returning to his college alma mater in 1979 to become the women’s head basketball coach. In 21 seasons, his teams went 425-211. He produced 11 All-Americans, won or shared four AIC titles and led the Cotton Blossoms to the national championship game in 1990.
“There have been so many special memories over the years,” said Early. “It is difficult to list them all… the 1990 national runner-up finish in women’s basketball was special. We were the first women’s basketball team in Arkansas to play for a national championship.” The Blossoms finished that season with a 34-3 overall record.
Early became UAM’s softball coach in 1997 and immediately built a powerhouse. In 2000, the Blossoms won the first of five consecutive Gulf South Conference West Division championships. They won two more division titles before UAM joined the Great American Conference in 2011. Early has led the Blossoms to four NCAA Division II Regional Tournament appearances, including the 2010 season, which ended one win away from reaching the Division II College World Series. The next season, Early led the Blossoms to a runner up finish at the Gulf South Conference Championship Tournament and a runner up finish at the NCAA Division Regional Tournament in Winter Park, Fla.
In UAM’s first season in the Great American Conference, Early’s Blossoms swept the league’s regular season and postseason titles. It was UAM’s first ever overall league championship in softball.
Throughout his 17 years at the helm of the UAM softball program, Early has a 627-316-2 overall record, has coached 65 all-conference selections, 20 all-region selections, 10 All-America selections, six conference freshmen of the year, six conference players of the year, four conference pitchers of the year selection and 54 all-academic selections.
Early’s softball program ranked in the top 10 nationally in academics eight years in a row in overall team grade point average.
“I’ve spent more than half my life at UAM as a student and employee,” said Early. “It has always been special to me and I’ve tried to bring respect and positive recognition to the institution through the teams I have coached. I hope this award in some way does that.”