Sam Wickliffe, former assistant football coach, dies at 87

Sam Wickliffe, former assistant football coach, dies at 87

July 29, 2015
For Immediate Release

By Richard RoBards, assistant sports information director

CAMPBELLSVILLE, Ky. — A friend of Campbellsville University who helped restart Fighting Tiger Football is dead.

Sam Wickliffe, former assistant football coach at CU and
leader in the Campbellsville community, participates in
a Black History event last year. He died July 26 at 87.

(Central Kentucky News-Journal Photo by Calen

Sam Wickliffe, who came to CU after retiring from the Campbellsville Independent School System and helped legendary coach Ron Finley restart football in 1987, died Sunday, July 26. He was 87.

Wickliffe, by all accounts, was a solid addition to the football coaching staff after teaching and coaching for 31 years in middle and high schools at both Durham and Campbellsville.

“It was amazing how he could motivate players,” said fellow assistant coach Eric Graves. “A lot of our success was because of the way he taught our players. He was a big-time competitor who wanted to win everything all the time.” 

Graves was introduced to Wickliffe’s competitive spirit once during a friendly game of horseshoes. Graves said he and his partner had the Wickliffe team down so bad that there was no way they were going to make a comeback.

“All of a sudden he came back,” said Graves. “How in the world he did that I’ll never know.”

Gilbert Robbins, a player brought in during Finley’s first recruiting class and an all-conference defensive end, fondly remembers his years with Wickliffe as his position coach.

Wickliffe helped with the offensive and defensive lines and was in charge of equipment.

“He was a stickler for having everything in its place — socks here, jerseys there, practice pants over there,” said Robbins. “We laughed about it then when he’d say: ‘Do what I say, and we’ll keep it that way.’”

Robbins picked up on Wickliffe’s Christianity early in his career.

“He said God got him through everything and got him to Campbellsville (then College) University, and he wasn’t going to change. He never pushed his religion on anyone, but he set an example that we all learned to respect.

“He would not accept halfway. He would say: ‘Do it right, or do it twice.’”

Robbins was the recipient of Wickliffe’s wrath on several occasions and remembers that coach had one of the longest pointer fingers he’s ever seen.

“He’s wag that finger at you and say … ‘no, no, no.’ We knew then that he wanted our attention.”

Robbins thought he’d pulled one over on his coach one day in practice when Wickliffe got down in a stance with each lineman, telling them to grab him and pull. Then he’d show them the proper technique of shedding that block.

Robbins thought he’d take the drill one step further and when it was his turn, instead of pulling, he pushed his coach.

“He started back peddling for what seemed like 30 yards, arms a flailing. He looked like a bird trying to take flight. But he never fell. He just ran back up to the line and said: ‘I said PULL ME!’

“We all got a good laugh out of it.”

Robbins credits Wickliffe with instilling a work ethic in him that he says has stood the test of time. “Put your best foot forward and get the job done. Do your best in everything you do. He fostered an attitude that has stayed with me all these years.”

Haywood Riner, another CU assistant from the early days of rekindled football, said Wickliffe was a gentleman who lived Christ’s values every minute of every day.

“He was a fine football coach, too,” said Riner. “He was a leader in our community and was a leader among the coaches.”

Riner and Graves both recall a story about Wickliffe when the three had traveled to watch some state football championship games. The threesome was sharing a room in a Louisville hotel. Wickliffe had knelt down to say his bedtime prayers and the two were in awe that he was still in the same position when they returned about 30 minutes later.

“I thought at the time, what an incredible prayer he must be sending to the heavens,” Graves said.

Then the two discover that Wickliffe had knelt there so long that he had just fallen asleep beside the bed.

“I love Sam Wickliffe,” said Riner. “Campbellsville is a better town, and I’m a better man for working with him.”

Riner said he never heard anyone say anything negative about Sam Wickliffe and Wickliffe, in return, never spoke negatively about anybody.

Dr. John Chowning, vice president for church and external relations and executive assistant to the president at Campbellsville University, said Wickliffe was “a wonderful man and true servant leader and will be missed. He touched the lives of many people in his various roles — as a beloved husband and father, devoted member of Fannie Chapel Christian Methodist Episcopal Church, career as coach and teacher in the Campbellsville Independent School System, coaching at Campbellsville University, leadership of the Taylor County Civic League, service on the Board of Greater Campbellsville United, and friend and mentor to countless people. Our community’s loss is truly heaven’s gain!”

Wickliffe was inducted into the Campbellsville University Athletics Hall of Fame in 2003 and was named an American Football Coaches Association NAIA Assistant Coach of the Year in 1998.

Visitation for coach Wickliffe will be after 5 p.m. on Friday, July 31 at Fannie Chapel CME Church, 204 Durham St., Campbellsville; and the funeral will be held at noon Saturday, Aug. 1 at the Ransdall Chapel, 401 N. Hoskins Ave., on the campus of Campbellsville University.

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