Clifford John Prock served as head football coach for the Harding University Bisons from 1964 to 1987. At the time of his retirement, he was one of the all-time most successful football coaches in the National Association of Intercollegiate Athletics (NAIA), with 114 victories. Prock is credited with helping reestablish intercollegiate football at Harding, which resumed play in 1959 after a hiatus of nearly thirty years.
John Prock was born on March 13, 1929, in Hollis, Oklahoma, the only child of Alonzo (Lonnie) Prock and Lillie Mae Hooks Prock. His father was a short-run freight hauler; the 1930 Harmon County census described his vocation as a “drayman” (truck driver). His mother was a homemaker. The Procks struggled to survive during the Depression. Prock’s mother died on May 14, 1931, of blood poisoning. Lonnie Prock married Bobbie Bingham later that year, and the two-year-old John moved in with his paternal grandparents, John Prock and Sallie Jane Prock. Their home was a two-room structure with no electricity or indoor plumbing. Perhaps Prock’s greatest influence during his youth was his third-grade arithmetic teacher, Joe Bailey Metcalf, who also served as an assistant coach (and later head coach) for the football team at Hollis High School.
Prock’s grandfather died in 1934, and his grandmother died in 1941. At twelve years old, he returned to his father and stepmother’s home, where he was frequently mistreated and abused by his stepmother. At fourteen years old, he asked to move into a small building behind their house. The dwelling was just large enough to hold the cot on which he slept.
Prock excelled in all sports, lettering in football, basketball, baseball, and track. Among his teammates were many future luminaries, including University of Texas head football coach Darrell Royal, University of Kansas basketball coach Ted Owens, and longtime Oakland Athletics play-by-play announcer Monte Moore.
Prock married Charlene Knight on July 5, 1948, and they moved to Alva, Oklahoma, where he was a freshman football player for what is now Northwestern Oklahoma State University. The Procks had three children.
Midway through the fall semester of his freshman year, Prock’s father asked him to return to Hollis to help run a filling station. Prock later worked as a road grader operator for the Harmon County road department. He enlisted in the National Guard to earn extra money and was eventually deployed to Korea, where he served as a platoon first sergeant of Company D, 120th Combat Engineers, which was tasked with building roads and bridges for the allied forces.
While Prock served in Korea, his former teacher and coach Joe Bailey Metcalf was named head football coach at what is now Southwestern Oklahoma State University in Weatherford and recruited Prock to play football upon his return home. Prock started at offensive guard for three seasons, earning all–Oklahoma Intercollegiate Conference honors as a senior. Prock was baptized at the Weatherford Church of Christ.
He had accepted the head coaching position at the high school in tiny Buffalo, Oklahoma, when former University of Oklahoma great Carl Allison, newly appointed head coach at Clinton High School, offered Prock an assistant coaching position there. He accepted, coaching four seasons, from 1955 to 1958, in Clinton, Oklahoma.
What was then called Harding College in Searcy (White County)—it became Harding University in 1979—resumed intercollegiate football in 1959 after a twenty-eight-year hiatus. President George Benson asked Allison to serve as the first head coach, and Allison hired Prock to be his assistant a year later. When Allison left Harding in 1964, Prock was named the Bisons’ head coach.
Prock served as Harding’s head coach from 1964 to 1987, winning two Arkansas Intercollegiate Conference (AIC) championships, in 1972 and 1976. His 1972 squad achieved a 10–1 record and was ranked sixth in the final NAIA poll. The team concluded the season with a 30–27 victory over Langston University in the Cowboy Bowl at Lawton, Oklahoma, Prock’s only postseason win. The 1976 Bisons were 7–5 and lost to Abilene Christian University, 22–12, in the San Jacinto Shrine Bowl in Pasadena, Texas.
Resources were always challenges at Harding, but Prock’s teams were known for their hard, physical play and execution of fundamentals. He was named AIC and NAIA District 17 Coach of the Year for three seasons—1969, 1972, and 1976—and NAIA Area IV Coach of the Year in 1976. Prock coached ten NAIA All-Americans, four Academic All-Americans, and sixty-three All-AIC honorees. Nine of his players were drafted or signed National Football League (NFL) free agent contracts.
Prock retired as Harding’s coach following the 1987 season. He continued to teach in Harding’s physical education department until 1996. Following his retirement, Prock was named to five different athletic halls of fame: the Harding Sports Hall of Fame, NAIA Hall of Fame, Southwestern Oklahoma State Hall of Fame, Harmon County/Hollis Sports Hall of Fame, and the Arkansas Sports Hall of Fame.
Following retirement, Prock spent much of his time in his woodshop carving caricatures. An accomplished woodcarver, Prock was invited to demonstrate his techniques in Branson, Missouri, and Mountain View (Stone County). His carvings were featured in the Governor’s Mansion and in numerous newspapers and magazines.
In the late 1990s, Prock began showing symptoms of an undefinable neurological disorder. As the problems progressed, he was finally diagnosed with Lewy body dementia.
Prock died on July 17, 2012, at his home in Searcy. More than 100 former Bison football players attended his funeral. He is interred at White County Memorial Gardens in Searcy.
For additional information:
Bissell, Ken. Many Sons to Glory: The John Prock Story. Searcy, AR: Center Point Communications, 2014.
“Harding Legend Prock Dies Following Long Illness.” Arkansas Democrat-Gazette, July 18, 2012, p. 3C.
“John Prock: One of State’s Most Dedicated Coaches Now Displaying His Talents as a Woodcarver.” Arkansas Democrat, Three Rivers Edition, October 27, 1996.
Obituary of John Prock. Arkansas Democrat-Gazette, July 19, 2012, p. 5B.
“Prock Retires as Bisons’ Coach.” Daily Citizen (Searcy, Arkansas), December 1, 1987.