Tom Larkey ready to join football’s 300-victory club

September 7, 2017 FieldsColumn

Tom Larkey, flanked by his sons Dackery, left, and Chris, has a career record of 299-132 in 37 years at four schools — Laurel County, Rockcastle County, Harlan County and now Perry County Central.

It’s a story most people couldn’t tell – my football, my family.”

— Tom Larkey

BY MIKE FIELDS

If Perry County Central beats Clay County Friday night, Tom Larkey will become the 10th high school football coach in Kentucky history to win 300 games.

One reason Larkey is on the cusp of that milestone is that he’s a tough ol’ cuss. He’s proven that time and again in his 37 years as a head coach:

  • In 2001, when he had Rockcastle County among the state’s elite, Larkey underwent prostate surgery early in the season. Less than a week later, when the Rockets played at Estill County, he couldn’t be on the sidelines, but he watched the game with his wife from their car on a nearby hill. That didn’t keep him from hollering suggestions to his son (and assistant coach) Chris, who was calling plays. “He’s nuts!” Chris said, laughing as he recalled that night in Irvine.
  • In 2004, when he was still at Rockcastle County, Larkey had quadruple-bypass surgery in late spring. Just over a month later, he coached the Kentucky All-Stars to victory over Tennessee.
  • In 2012, when he was at Harlan County, Larkey underwent open-heart surgery a second time, but once again he bounced back quickly and was at school for the first day of spring practice.

“I could’ve given up a long time ago,” Larkey said this week. “But I don’t accept those type of things keeping you from doing what you love.”

Tom Larkey

Larkey, 68, is cut from the same cloth as Belfry’s Philip Haywood, Bell County’s Dudley Hilton and Southwestern’s Larry French. They’re all old-school, fundamental coaches who are still working and winning four decades into their careers.

 “There’s not a problem we haven’t faced, and there’s not a kid that we’ve coached that we’ve ever forgotten,” Larkey said.

He credits Lawrence Kuhl, who coached him at London High School, for inspiring him to live a life full of football. “I just took what I learned from him and went with it,” Larkey said. “I admire him more than anyone.”

Larkey’s first head coaching job was at Laurel County in the 1970s, and early on he wondered if he could endure the tough times. “But it seemed like there was always a kid or two I wanted to coach the next year, so I kept coming back,” he said. “As time went on, it got in my blood and I didn’t know how to quit. So I haven’t.”

Larkey’s work ethic is legendary. He worked at Kern’s Bakery in London for 22 years — starting when he was in college, and through 1991 when he was teaching and coaching at Rockcastle County. Sleep, apparently, was a luxury he didn’t need.

Larkey is best known for building Rockcastle County into a powerhouse. He rolled up 212 victories in 23 seasons there. His Rockets won six region titles, and were Class 3A state runners-up to Boyle County in 2001 and 2002. Larkey said he couldn’t have done it without his close friend Tony Saylor, who was his innovative defensive coordinator.

Larkey’s run at Rockcastle County also allowed him to coach his sons, Chris and Dackery.

Chris later served as an assistant to his dad for almost 20 years before moving on to become a head coach himself. He’s now in his ninth season at North Laurel and has 54 wins.

“I think football’s in dad’s DNA,” Chris said. “I always text him on Fridays, telling him good luck and that I love him. Last week I told him I hoped he’d get No. 299. He texted back and told me it wouldn’t be long till I got to 100. I said, ‘No way!’ I don’t know how he’s done it for so many years.”

Dackery is a state trooper, but over the years has always managed to help out his dad and brother on the sidelines. He’s not surprised his dad is still consumed with football.

Tom Larkey in his senior season at London High School.

“He doesn’t hunt or fish. It’s just football with him. It’s always been that way,” Dackery said. “About a month ago we played in a golf scramble in Lexington, and while we were playing he said, ‘You know what? This is the first time in 20 years I haven’t thought about football. I haven’t thought about it all day.’”

Larkey credits his wife Darlene for letting him pursue his passion for football, and his sons appreciate that, too.

“She’s supported him through it all, the good seasons and the bad seasons,” Chris said.

Since Larkey took over a struggling Perry Central program in 2014, the victories have been hard to come by. The Commodores won only 5 games total the past three years, slowing Larkey’s climb to that 300 plateau. But Perry Central is 3-0 this season, and a win at home against Clay County Friday night will get him there.

“I really would like to get it and get it out of the way,” Larkey said. “It’d be a big honor. But most of all, I’d like my team to be 4-0.”

Looking back on his football life, Tom Larkey feels mighty lucky: “I grew up with the game and always loved it. I have a wife who’s supported me as a coach. I have two boys that played for me, both have coached with me, and we’ve coached against one another.

“It’s a story most people couldn’t tell – my football, my family.”

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