John Mark Stallings, the son of former University of Alabama head coach
Gene Stallings and one of the most beloved members of the Crimson Tide football family, died Saturday, August 2, in Paris, Texas, at age 46. Most of you do not know anything about John Mark Stallings. But he happens to be a true hero of the sport of college football.
John Mark was the last of five children and the only son born to Gene and Ruth Ann Stallings. John Mark often joined his father on the practice field, at coaching stops from Texas A&M to the Dallas Cowboys to the St. Louis/Phoenix Cardinals and back to Tuscaloosa, Alabama, where after the 1989 season, Gene Stallings became the head coach of my beloved Crimson Tide.
"There weren’t any lives he (John Mark) touched that weren’t made better by his influence," said Linda Knowles, Stallings’ secretary at Alabama. "He loved life, and he loved Alabama football." "He had a way of lighting up a room," said Alabama Director of Events Larry White, the school’s sports information director during the Stallings years at Alabama.
UA Athletics Director Mal Moore said in a statement last week that "for someone who never played a game or coached a game, I think John Mark may have touched more Alabama fans than any other person ever did."
When John Mark was born June 11, 1962, at Druid City Hospital in Tuscaloosa, a doctor told the family that their son was Mongoloid—the term then used for Down Syndrome at that time. Coach Gene Stallings literally fainted on the spot. "When I woke up, the nurses were standing over me and putting smelling salts in front of me," Stallings said in a 1991 interview. "I guess it was the shock. We cried a bushel of tears."
But the Stallings’ tears soon became their great and abiding joy. John Mark was the love of their lives! In fact, Coach Stallings walked away from coaching, after producing a national champion at Alabama in a few shorts years, because he wanted to live on a ranch in Texas and share his life with his wife and beloved son, John Mark.
I can still remember John Mark on the sidelines and in the press box. The athletes adored him. He patted people on the back, gave them high-fives, and smiled all the time. He was charming and filled with simple delight. He loved the Crimson Tide and he loved people.
Coach Gene Stallings wrote a book about John a few years ago: Another Season: A Coach’s Story of Raising An Exceptional Son. It is a deeply moving tribute to a wonderful man, who touched far more lives than most of the biggest names in football. "When Coach Stallings came back to Alabama, he wasn’t Coach Stallings, he was Johnny’s daddy," one university person said. "He told everyone what an honor it was to be his daddy. He finished his speech by saying if anyone had an automatic ticket to heaven, it was Johnny."
Woody McCorvey, Stallings’ offensive coordinator at Alabama, said Gene Stallings was able to spend more time with his son in the 12 years since his retirement from coaching. But even during his coaching days, McCorvey recalled, Stallings "always made time for Johnny."
John Mark remained a steadfast Alabama fan following his father’s retirement, and still watched Crimson Tide games on TV from the family’s home in Texas. The football program’s equipment room was named in his honor in 2005. He told his father last year that his favorite Alabama coach was Nick Saban. A true Tide fan John Mark, right to the end of his life.
John Mark Stallings never coached or won a game. He never showed a kid how to tackle or block. But he touched life after life. In the larger plan and purpose of God I think we will be shocked at the value and importance of such a life lived well. John Mark Stallings, R.I.P.
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I did several chapels for the NFL during the 1980s and remember Coach Stallings and his son. He was a loving, proud, patient, and devoted dad. I recall Coach’s graciousness. In the halls of the NFL, that is not too common!