FILE - In this Aug. 9, 2000 file photo, Carson-Newman head coach Ken Sparks gestures during football practice in Jefferson City, Tenn. Sparks is ending a 37-season career in which he won 338 games to rank fifth on the NCAAs all-time list. (AP Photo/Wade
Wade Payne, File
November 14, 2016

JEFFERSON CITY, Tenn. (AP) Carson-Newman coach Ken Sparks has retired, ending a 37-season career in which he won 338 games to rank fifth on the NCAA's all-time list.

''It's been an unbelievable journey,'' Sparks said Monday during a news conference at the athletic complex that has been named after him.

The only coaches with more career wins are John Gagliardi (489), Joe Paterno (409), Eddie Robinson (408) and Bobby Bowden (377). Sparks went 338-99-2 and had the most wins of any active coach.

Sparks, 72, had continued coaching even after announcing in 2012 that he had cancer. Sparks said Monday that he was ''at peace'' and indicated his health issues played a role in his decision to retire now.

''Last week, after missing three days of practice and being in the hospital four straight days, I said `I'm not a very good football coach. These guys deserve a better coach,''' Sparks said. ''That's how the decision came about. My goal was, and you've heard me say this before, my goal was to die on the practice field and they roll me over in the kudzu and (his wife) Carol wouldn't have to worry about funeral arrangements. We're going to see what the Lord has for us.''

Before Carson-Newman entered the NCAA ranks in 1993, Sparks led the Eagles to five NAIA national championships - in 1983, 1984, 1986, 1988 and 1989. Carson-Newman was an NAIA runner-up in 1987 and lost in the NCAA Division II championship game in 1996, 1998 and 1999. Carson-Newman reached the Division II semifinals in 2009.

Sparks' teams won 21 South Atlantic Conference championships and earned 25 NCAA or NAIA playoff appearances.

Carson-Newman went 4-7 this year, only the second losing season in Sparks' career.

Sparks was inducted into the inaugural NCAA Division II Hall of Fame coaches class in 2010 along with Northwest Missouri State's Mel Tjeerdsma and West Alabama's Bobby Wallace. Sparks also is in the Tennessee Sports Hall of Fame and the NAIA Hall of Fame.

''This is a day that none of us looked forward to as Carson-Newman football fans and supporters, but it's a day we honor and a day we rejoice in,'' Carson-Newman athletic director Allen Morgan said. ''It's a day we honor Ken and the legacy he is leaving for how he has touched young men's lives in a way far greater than wins on a football field.''


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