Alvy Early remembers the good times he shared with Tommy Barnes while serving on his football staff at Arkansas-Monticello.
“I had some enjoyable days with him on the staff,” he said. “At that time, it was unique because there was Tommy Barnes, Carl Preston as offensive coordinator, Larry Stanley as defensive coordinator and I was an assistant. We all played and coached at UAM, and we shared a common goal of doing what was best for UAM.”
And while Barnes was building UAM football into a national contender in the 1980s and 1990s, Early was doing the same for the women’s basketball team, which made the experience even more enjoyable.
Barnes, the winningest football coach in Boll Weevils’ history, died Thursday evening at Drew Memorial Hospital in Monticello after a long battle with Parkinson’s disease. He was 61.
“He was a good guy,” Early said. “That’s putting it simple.”
A native of Fordyce, Barnes was an assistant coach at UAM from 1980-84 and served as head coach for the following 12 seasons, leading the Weevils to a 69-53-1 record, two NAIA playoff appearances and a conference championship in 1993. Six of his teams were ranked in the final NAIA Top 25 poll.
His first playoff team in 1988 is the school’s only squad to win 10 games.
“We all have defining moments in our lives and there are usually a variety of people associated with them,” Sean Rochelle, the Weevils’ quarterback that year, said in a statement. “Other than my mother, I can think of no one who was part of more of those moments for me than Coach Barnes. He provided me with a scholarship so I could attend school, offered me my first full-time job when he brought me back to UAM to join his staff and was always in my corner as I moved forward in life. He was an amazing father, a devoted husband, a wise mentor, a dedicated Christian. I am grateful that he was my coach, and more importantly, my friend. I love Coach Barnes.”
Early, who is now UAM’s head softball coach, said he saw a couple of things in Barnes during his six years assisting him in football — his competitiveness and his offensive mind. When Barnes stepped down after the 1996 season, three of his quarterbacks (Jay Austin, Bryan Trucks and Rochelle) were among the top four career leaders in total offense at UAM.
“He could bring in outstanding players at a time when UAM wasn’t on the same level playing field as other schools when it came to facilities,” Early said. “He had a knack of knowing what to do on offense.”
Former Central Arkansas coach Harold Horton said in a press release he has the utmost respect for Barnes as a coach and his accomplishments at UAM.
“Tommy was a competitor and that’s the way his teams played,” Horton said. “They were hard to beat. He didn’t have the resources that a lot of schools had at that time, but he made the most of what he had.”
Barnes lettered at UAM, then Arkansas A&M College, from 1969-71, rushing for 1,688 yards as a wishbone fullback. He coached junior high and high school football at Montrose Academy before joining the UAM staff.
He is survived by his mother Mary of Fordyce; wife Kookie, son Grant, daughter-in-law Laci and grandson Tucker, all of Monticello; and brothers David of Fordyce and Seth of Batesville.
A funeral service is set for 2 p.m. Sunday at Pauline Missionary Baptist Church in Monticello. Burial will be in Barnes Cemetery in Fordyce at 5 p.m.