It was the morning of Dec. 23, 2011. The high school football season had just ended, and longtime Lufkin High School head football coach John Outlaw was a just a few weeks removed from the 300th victory of his 33-year coaching career.

Shortly before 6 a.m., the great coach took his final breath, dying at the age of 58 from an apparent heart attack.

Outlaw, who began his stint in Lufkin prior to the 1995 season, left behind a lasting legacy -- one that will be celebrated on the field in 2012 and remembered for a lifetime.

Gary Ivins, who has the been the radio voice of Lufkin football for the past six years, remembers one of the toughest days of his life.

“The night before we went to the basketball game at Panther Gymnasium,” he said. “We sat there and after the game was over, we told each other we’d see them tomorrow. Both of my parents are still alive, so he’s probably the closest person I’ve ever lost. It was a bad moment, a moment I’ll never forget.”

The loss took its toll on the Lufkin community.

“It was really surreal. It happened on a Friday two days before Christmas and nobody wanted to believe it,” Ivins said. “The day after Christmas when we had the viewing, that’s when it really started to hit home for people not in his immediate family.

There were thousands upon thousands of people crying. You could really see the effect he’d had on all of them.”

The Outlaw-led Panthers transformed into one of the top football programs in the entire state. In his 17 years on the Lufkin sidelines, Outlaw compiled a record of 163-46-1, which included a state championship in 2001.

Following the run to state, the Panthers reached the semifinals in 2002, 2004 and 2005, falling to eventual state champion Southlake Carroll all three years.

“The team was always going to compete; there was no quit,” Ivins said. “You just knew that an Outlaw-coached team was going to hit you in the mouth until that final buzzer whether they were up 50 or down 50. The kids gave all they had for him and did the same for them.”

Longtime Outlaw assistant Todd Quick assumes the role of head coach.

“The job in Lufkin was not broken, the program is in great shape,” said Quick, who served as an assistant under Outlaw for 26 years. “It’s unlike other job openings where a lot of the time every job has something wrong with it. You didn’t have to change things up and the kids already know how to do everything right.”