Coach Ron Finley, center, poses with his former coaches and statistician. From left are: Kevin Burkhead, statistician; Gary Strange, assistant coach; Lynn Taylor, assistant coach; Finley; Phyllis Finley, Finley’s wife and “number 1 assistant coach”; and Sam Wickliffe. (Campbellsville University Photo by Joan C. McKinney)
CU Honors Former Football Coach Ron Finley at Scholarship Dinner
By Joan C. McKinney, news and publications coordinator
CAMPBELLSVILLE, Ky. – God is first. Family is second, and football is third.
This is former Campbellsville University’s Football Coach Ron Finley’s philosophy, and former players repeatedly echoed it during an endowed scholarship dinner in his honor May 29 at Winters Dining Hall.
About $3,000 was raised during the dinner, according to Chuck Vaughn, director of the Big Maroon Club, who was in charge of the dinner. Finley started football in 1987, after a 30-year absence at CU. He coached that first junior varsity team in 1987 and coached varsity until 2002.
Former players Nick Thurmond, Shannon Stephens, Charles “Junior” Higdon, David Delk and Chris Morgan told of their days on the football team and what Finley meant to them.
“Discipline” and “love” were two words that were mentioned often in their speeches.
Chris Morgan, who graduated in 1997, and who lives in New Albany, Ind., said he does not often get to be a part of something bigger than himself, but he did when he was a Fighting Tiger.
He remembered that his first meeting, as a young freshman, Finley told him three important things: the first was his relationship with the Lord, second was who he would marry and third was where he would go to college.
“Coach Finley made me a better man, a better husband, a better father and a better person,” Morgan said.
“You are the most influential man I ever met in my life,” he said. “You are the reason CU exists. I will be forever indebted to you.”
Morgan said he will never forget the people he called a “team” and “friends” – his football teammates. “I dropped blood, sweat and tears on that football field. Once a Tiger, always a Tiger,” he said.
Nick Thurmond, a 2001 graduate who lives in Bardstown, Ky., said he remembered some Finley sayings: “A grown man always carries an ink pen” and “There are three things you can’t change: the weather, the referees and the other team.”
He said Finley had a lot of rules for his team, but these rules made his players successful men. He said his entire experience with Finley was a good one, both on and off the field.
“He developed young men into successful men,” Thurmond said.
Shannon Stephens of Russell Springs said his brother, Shawn, played for Finley in high school so he knew how strict Finley was. “We were scared to death to play for him,” he said.
Stephens said Finley became a “friend and mentor” to him, and he said, “Coach, I am honored to have played for you.”
A Finley saying he quoted was one the coach pointed out when a player had lost a girlfriend. “Women are like street cars,” Finley said, “one comes round every 10 minutes.” Stephens said Finley urged the football players to always date a woman they’d be pleased to take home to their parents.
“I’m tickled to be a part of your life, Coach Finley, and that of CU,” Stephens said.
Higdon graduated in 1998 and lives in Campbellsville. He said that Finley’s most important lesson came through – to live the life, talk the talk and walk the walk – as Finley did.
“To us players, there couldn’t be as good a man as Finley. He loved you and loved the Lord,” Higdon said.
All the players said they had to be in at a certain time whether it was 8:01 p.m. or 9:01 p.m., (Finley’s time so it could be better remembered), but that was Finley’s way of disciplining them.
“Coach had us all attend church together. He loved us, and he loved Jesus Christ. We had a positive role model in Coach Finley.”
Delk of Russell Springs helped organize the event along with Jamie Rogers and Shannon Stephens.
Delk, who graduated in 1991, said although Finley had known him and coached him in high school in Russell County, he “loved all the players and loved us all the same.”
He remembered the Finley’s big station wagon, which was sometimes parked and drove around looking for his players. “Nothing good happens after midnight,” Finley was known to say.
Delk said Finley had a “great vision” when he began the CU football program in 1987.
“There were more buildings here that we couldn’t use than we could,” he said. The team played their home games at Campbellsville High School and loaded sod from Hodgenville to the field on campus when that was obtained.
“Now we have all these great buildings like the Hawkins Athletic Complex, Indoor Practice Facility, etc., and many people caught Coach Finley’s vision,” Delk said.
Delk said he got his share of discipline from Finley, but “he always talked to me with love.”
“You always knew where you stood with Coach Finley,” he said.
Vaughn read a letter from a former player, David Cozart, a 1994 graduate who lives in Lexington, who said he was grateful to Finley and respected him and appreciated him.
“Our team became a family,” Cozart wrote. He thanked Finley for “planting a good seed in him” and said Finley was important to Cozart in a positive way. He signed the letter, Finley’s “best bad boy.”
Clay Crutcher, left, of Rineyville played for Coach Ron Finley’s Fighting Tigers in 2001-02. He talked with him at the dinner. (Campbellsville University Photo by Joan C. McKinney)
In response to the “testimonials” from his former players, Finley said he was “humbled” at the attendance at the dinner. About 40 former football players attended with about 125 in total attendance.
Finley said he had a dream and was sold on it. “You can’t have a dream without carrying it out,” he said.
Finley said he always tried to uphold his principles such as the young men not wearings hats in buildings. “They’d do 10 pushups in the cafeteria if I caught them with a hat on,” he said. “For the second time, they’d do 20.”
“Some of the players said I was kind of hard on them, but I said, ‘Life is hard’ and they learned,” he said.
Finley said everything he and his coaches did was for the good or benefit of the young men. “There is nothing more important than love and discipline,” he said.
“They were good kids who believed in what we were doing,” he said.
He said people would ask why play at CU, and he’d say why NOT play at CU where people would love you and take care of you.
Finley said he will always remember when the team beat Georgetown College in the snow. He said people were telling him they needed to always play in the snow.
Finley said he appreciated the naming of Finley Stadium after him. “That is the greatest thing you can do for a coach – to name a facility after them in which they’ve worked hard,” he said.
“It’s been a tremendous run, and I appreciate so much this honor,” Finley said. “I love you all.”
Rusty Hollingsworth, director of athletics, gave the invocation for the dinner and thanked the Lord for the men who were influenced by Finley’s character and morals.
Dr. Michael V. Carter, president of Campbellsville University, gave the benediction and said he had learned “many, many lessons” from Coach Finley. He said he is excited about the future of CU, and he wants to see the endowment grow to be able to do more for students.
Carter said Finley’s compassion and love for each players continues to “inspire and challenge” those at Campbellsville University.
Campbellsville University is a private, comprehensive institution located in South Central Kentucky. Founded in 1906, Campbellsville University is affiliated with the Kentucky Baptist Convention and has an enrollment of 2,601 students who represent 93 Kentucky counties, 27 states and 31 foreign nations. Listed in U.S.News & World Report’s 2009 “America’s Best Colleges,” CU is ranked 22nd in “Best Baccalaureate Colleges” in the South for the second consecutive year. CU has been ranked 16 consecutive years with U.S.News & World Report. The university has also been named to America’s Best Christian Colleges®. Campbellsville University is located 82 miles southwest of Lexington, Ky., and 80 miles southeast of Louisville, Ky. Dr. Michael V. Carter is in his tenth year as president.