By LARRY VAUGHT
Ask John Schlarman what his life might be like if he wasn’t coaching and he’ll tell you he doesn’t know because coaching football is all the Kentucky offensive line coach has ever done.
However, his wife, LeeAnne Federspiel Schlarman, understands that well because she feels the same about being a coach’s wife.
“I can’t imagine doing anything else. John was a GA (graduate assistant at UK) and then got the job as a head high school coach in northern Kentucky and we really enjoyed that,” LeeAnne Schlarman said. “It has just been exciting from the start. The kids love it. It has just been a good ride we have enjoyed.”
They were students at UK when they met. John was a four-year starter in the offensive line at UK from 1994-97 (he was all-SEC his senior season) after an all-state career at Highlands High School. LeeAnne was in a UK sorority with a “bunch of girls” from Highlands and the two had the same circle of friends.
“His senior year his roommate started dating my roommate and another couple and us all went out one night but John and I were even in separate cars. Then we started talking and hit it off. It just worked out for us,” she said.
It’s worked out so well that the couple has four children — sons Joseph, Benjamin and Matthew, and a daughter, Evelyn. LeeAnne’s father, Joe Federspiel, was a star football player at UK who played 10 years in the NFL and then became a Southeastern Conference football official.
Still, nothing prepared LeeAnne, her husband or anyone in the family for what happened last year after the UK assistant coach was diagnosed with cancer. He had to undergo chemotherapy treatments and made trips to Houston for treatments – and still is. He did not miss a game and seldom missed a practice. John Schlarman said before this season started he was feeling better and new medicine was making it easier and more convenient for him to continue his fight with cancer.
“It has been a terrible, awful year,” the coach’s wife said during our interview that was exactly a year after they found out he had cancer. “He has just been so strong through it all. I would go with him and sit five hours for chemo and then he would go straight to practice.
“He has been so strong. It’s not normal but he marches on like it is. I drive him crazy because I ask him every five seconds if he is okay, is he feeling good, can I do anything. If he scratches, I ask him why he did that. If his foot hurts, what is that. I just worry.
“He will do great during the day but in the evenings he definitely crashes and needs to sit down and rest. He hasn’t really gotten sick. He is mostly just tired.”
Going to chemotherapy treatments with a loved one is not easy emotionally for anyone. LeeAnne can vouch for that.
“The first ones I pretty much cried the whole time. After that, I was like, ‘This is John’s battle and he just wants to be normal.’ I had to remember that,” she said.
During chemo treatments her husband would watch game film or maybe talk on the phone to offensive coordinator Eddie Gran.
“He will wake up and will start breaking down film. I think it helps him go through this to do something like that,” LeeAnne said. “I try to keep it as normal as I can. I get lunch and come back and try to keep him feeling normal. It’s not, though, and it is hard. Now he is traveling to Houston every other week (for treatment). That is going to be a challenge during the season. He will probably leave Friday afternoons and fly directly then to where the game is so he shouldn’t miss too much.”
She never quits worrying but knows the more normal she can keep the home life the better it is for her husband when he’s home.
“He doesn’t want to be known for his and doesn’t like the attention but he is battling and doing a great job. So far everything has gone the right direction and he is doing well,” she said.
One plus was UK’s magical 2018 season that ended with a Citrus Bowl victory over Penn State to give UK its first 10-win season since 1977.
“We were going through some very hard times here and I can’t imagine having the stress of the losses and the pressure of all of that combined with trying to beat this monster he is dealing with right now,” she said. “I wish he would scream or bang his head … I really do … but he is always in great mind.
“I cry enough for both of us. He just … sorry (for the tears) … he has his moments but he is so positive and keeps me so positive, too. He is amazing through it all.”
She’ll never forget the way coaches, players and UK fans rallied not only around her husband but also Josh Paschal, a defensive player who was diagnosed with skin cancer about a year ago also.
“It’s been an awful year but it had some positives because so many people had a positive attitude and cared so much for both of them,” LeeAnne said.
The couple’s three boys know more about what is going on with their father than their youngster sister. Fortunately, he hasn’t been sick at home for them to see.
“He has not been in bed for days. That’s not him. He will go out and throw the football, he took Ben fishing. It hasn’t really slowed our life down too much at all. He is tired when he gets home but still in a good mood and he keeps on rolling for the kids,” she said.
Most of us couldn’t tell the former UK offensive lineman was even battling cancer if we did not know.
“That’s what everybody says. Most think it is in remission because he looks so good and I just wish that was true,” LeeAnne said.