CORRECTION: It is clarified that Andrew Butler became an assistant coach at Pine Bluff High in 1970 and was elevated to head coach in 1973.
Andrew Butler, who coached Pine Bluff High School to 10 state boys track and field championships, died Saturday at Jefferson Regional Medical Center. He was 76.
Butler coached the boys and girls track teams at Pine Bluff for more than two decades, retiring in 1993. Despite working at a large high school, he often coached the teams by himself, according to two of his former athletes who are now track coaches at the school.
“He was the type of coach who was a father figure, not just a coach,” Pine Bluff boys coach Laydell Jordan said. “He not only got into your school activities, he got into your life. The parents, teachers, administrators and students really liked him.”
Jordan was a part of Butler’s first two state championship teams in 1974 and 1975, his junior and senior years. Butler then led Pine Bluff to consecutive titles from 1981-83 and 1985-88. His final championship came in 1990.
The titles came during a time when Butler’s athletes who played football went straight from that sport to track and field instead of offseason conditioning, according to Jordan. Butler also coached the defensive line in football.
“Back then, you had the students with more drive,” said Betty Hayes, a 1976 Pine Bluff graduate who now coaches the girls team. “The conditioning program they have today at colleges, he was doing that in the ’70s.”
Hayes, known as Betty Epperson in high school, called Butler her “mentor and best friend.”
“You could not only confide in him, you could go to him and talk to him in between classes,” she said. “Through the years, we never lost contact. He called me one of his stars.”
She was a star, setting the state long jump record as a junior and earning a track scholarship to Mississippi Valley State, which she did not plan to accept at first.
“I was not going, but (Butler) told me I was going,” she said. “He drove me to Valley and left me there. I stayed two years.”
Jordan said that while Butler had many athletes who helped define the Zebras’ era of dominance on track, it took having a coach to get the best out of his athletes for the program to succeed.
“He coached by himself. He coached every area — distance, sprint, throws — he taught it all,” Jordan said. “He developed athletes and got them to the point where they needed to be.”
Butler was born in Star City. He graduated from Merrill High and Arkansas AM&N College (now the University of Arkansas at Pine Bluff) and was drafted into the Army out of college.
He began his career in Cotton Plant (Woodruff County), where he coached girls basketball, and moved to the Pine Bluff School District in 1964, when he began coaching track at Southeast High. Butler became an assistant under Guy Kochel at Pine Bluff High in 1970 when Southeast and Merrill consolidated with the school and was elevated to head coach in 1973, remaining in that position until his retirement in 1993.
In 1999, he was inducted into the Arkansas Track and Field Hall of Fame and the Arkansas High School Coaches Association Hall of Fame.
Today an annual track meet at Pine Bluff bears his name.
Hayes said Butler left a legacy of building a championship year after year by himself.
“He will not be replaced, I know that,” she said. “He was strong-willed, professional and one of those people you’d love to meet. Today’s youth needs coach Butler.”
Butler leaves behind his wife and three daughters, Erika Butler White, Cheryl Butler Tinkham and Cherie Butler.
Visitation is from 6-8 p.m. Thursday at P.K. Miller Funeral Home. Funeral services are pending.