FRISCO, Texas - Darn it, couldn't quite remember when it was. Seemed like a couple of years ago. Guessing in B.C. - Before COVID. Out here at The Star. The Cowboys were on the field practicing and was reminded by Cowboys college scouting coordinator Chris Hall that it was June of 2017. Doesn't seem that long ago.
And here he came, being driven out in a golf cart. Brought a huge smile to my face. Hadn't seen him in several years.
It was "Lace."
For those having followed college football from like 1970 or University of Oklahoma football or Arkansas State football or at the very least the Dallas Cowboys since 1992 ... or just those from the state of Arkansas, as far back as like 1950, then ya'll know who "Lace" is.
Larry Lacewell. He probably needs no introduction.
But just in case, Lace, having grown up in Fordyce, Ark., was a football coach. A damn good football coach. Defensive coordinator at many a stop, most prominently at OU, where as defensive coordinator/assistant head coach the Sooners won two national titles. Head coach at Arkansas State, where he led the tiny then Division I-AA school to the 1986 national championship title game and became the winningest coach in ASU history. Cowboys director of college scouting and eventually pro scouting (1992-2005), beginning when the Cowboys won those three Super Bowl titles.
Why, eventually ended up working with those three rascals from the University of Arkansas, two of them then at Oklahoma and all three with the Cowboys: Jerry Jones, Jimmy Johnson and Barry Switzer.
A football lifer whose coaching career began in 1959 as a University of Alabama grad assistant for Bear Bryant, thanks to his father and the Bear growing up as friends in Fordyce, where the high school stadium is named after Bryant but now resides along Larry Lacewell Lane.
Left the Cowboys in 2005 when then head coach Bill Parcells was reorganizing the scouting department out at The Ranch. Lace would later tell the Little Rock Touchdown Club, "I left the Cowboys due to illness and fatigue.
"Bill Parcells was sick and tired of me."
Well, found out when I came to work Wednesday morning that Lace had passed away at the age of 85, finally succumbing to a couple of strokes, the first occurring back in 2016. Never a good sign when before even taking out my laptop Nick Eatman asks me if I was planning on writing about Lacewell.
Because, having known of his failing health, my immediate response was, "What, did he pass away?"
Hell yes, I'm writing about Lace. The least I could do is write a story for a man who regaled me with story after story after story while covering the Cowboys those 14 years he was with the team, and even after, giving me some insight over phone calls about what was right and what was wrong with the Cowboys for years to come.
Remember him telling me the story from that summer of 1992, being the new guy in the Cowboys' scouting department and alone in the office on I believe it was a weekend morning. He answers the phone. It's the San Francisco 49ers calling looking for Jerry or Jimmy, wanting to know if the Cowboys might be interested in swinging a deal for problem-child defensive end Charles Haley.
Said he nearly passed out from shock. Rendered a man who could talk until the cows come home nearly speechless. He couldn't get in touch with Jimmy and Jerry fast enough, the start of the Cowboys finding the last piece to their three-time Super Bowl winning puzzle of the '90s, quickly consummating the trade for the future Pro Football Hall of Famer, owner of five Super Bowl rings.
There was the time a few of us stayed far too late after the Cowboys training camp Media Party at Sky Bar in Los Angeles, four or five of us then driving back to Oxnard, me in the middle of the back seat, and waking up at the Residence Inn with Larry sound asleep, head on my shoulder.
Or remember this clear as day, that 1994 Austin night in training camp when Switzer and WFAA sports director Dale Hansen on live TV had their infamous verbal joust, punctuated by a couple of not-so playful Switzer jabs to Hansen's arm, escalating to the point that Lacewell, watching in the background, could be heard saying within mic distance, "Guys, that's enough, that's enough."
Larry taught me a lot about football, about defense. Once told me that even if you didn't have enough talent on defense, he could scheme up opponents to cover up his shortcomings. But that there is no faking a lack of offensive talent, especially at the quarterback position.
Gosh, he could tell stories about the Selmon Brothers, about working under Bear Bryant, about Jimmy and Jerry. Heck, believe it or not, about becoming the defensive coordinator back in 1964 at, of all places, Kilgore Junior College.
He was a living treasure.
That is why I've always maintained that the duty of any Hall of Fame - or like the Cowboys, Ring of Honor - is to preserve the memory of the very best and their very best stories so that when they pass, when the rest of us who know the stories pass, those stories will live on into perpetuity.
So, thank goodness Lace is in the Arkansas Sports Hall of Fame. And the Arkansas State Hall of Fame. And the Arkansas-Monticello Sports Hall of Fame. And again, as of 2021, you must drive on Larry Lacewell Lane to reach Bear Bryant Stadium in Fordyce.
And glad I'm here to lend a little insight into just who Larry Lacewell has been.
My only regret that June day in 2017 out here at The Star is that Lace, the guy who loved to talk, loved to tell stories, loved to impart football knowledge, couldn't talk quite yet. The stroke he had suffered in 2016 had silenced his gravely, Arkansas drawl.
But darn sure couldn't silence the heartfelt hug we shared.
* Mini-Shots: Gotta like guys who are aware. Take third-round draft choice Jalen Tolbert, who wore No. 8 at South Alabama but now is wearing No. 18, saying, "They just gave me 18. Troy's a helluva player. I'm not going to be able to wear that, and I'm not going to ask to wear that. So, whatever they gave me, I'll put it on and go to work with it." ... Loved the word head coach Mike McCarthy said when asked about his history dealing with young kickers: "Patience." ... Saw this note ahead of this week's PGA Championship at Southern Hills in Tulsa, Okla., that a mere beer is costing $18 ... And speaking of money, the Rams say that even though wide receiver Odell Beckham Jr. tore his ACL again, they want him back. But as usual, Odell, as any NFL free agent thinks, responded with, "Just can't play for free."
And for this week's last word, we go to Cowboys head coach Mike McCarthy, talking after the rookie minicamp about how this offseason feels so much different than his previous two, when the Cowboys and the NFL were operating under the cloud of COVID-19 restrictions.
"This really, in so many ways, feels like Year One," McCarthy said. "This is the first real offseason. Just having the benefit of being full time in the draft process. Coaches being able to accidently bump in the hallway to the veterans while they're here. The captains' workouts. Just having 63 guys here since the first day of the offseason program.
"So, to me, this is what I'm accustomed to. This is the way, going all the way back to my years in Kansas City. We had a tremendous offseason program. Just is where I feel you can make your biggest gains as your football team. Because one thing with your veterans, they're going to be here, so as much time as you can spend with those guys, I think that gets lost in the equation of advancing your team one year to the next, and we've taken full benefit of that."
And these Cowboys sure need to advance.