HAZARD—For one of the first times in his 32-year coaching career, Perry Central Coach Randy Napier was nervous before a game.
“That’s not common for me, that don’t happen,” Napier laughed while talking about Wednesday night’s game with Jackson City. “All my family was there, my friends, so I was a little nervous. It made it hard to concentrate.”
With his 794th win and the title of the state’s all-time winningest girls’ basketball coach hanging in the balance, even a senior coach such as Napier would be expected to have some jitters. However, those nerves were unnecessary after Perry rolled over Jackson City with an 85-51 win.
“Going through it all for the last three decades, you don’t think about it as you’re going along. You’re just thinking about the next win, the next season, and just trying to succeed along the way,” Napier said of his new title, a title he may not have achieved had he stuck with his original plans when he first started teaching.
Napier said he started teaching at M.C. Napier in 1979, taking the position of assistant football coach and hoping to further his career in football after having played at M.C. Napier himself.
“I was a football guy … that was my main interest,” he said. “I’d actually never seen a girls’ high school basketball game.”
After his first year there, the district’s superintendent approached Napier, asking if he would consider taking the head coach’s position for the girls’ basketball team.
“Me being a first-year teacher and being offered a little extra money to do another job, you know, we didn’t make a lot of money back then. So, I said, well, I’ll give it a try,” Napier remembered. “I didn’t think I would do that very long, I thought I’d maybe do it a year or something and then continue on as a football coach.”
Napier said those plans were shot after his team made it to the finals of the regional tournament that first year.
“I really fell in love with coaching girls because they were so much more receptive than coaching guys. They didn’t have the big egos. They didn’t all think they were superstars. They were appreciative that you were there to coach them and that impressed me about girls’ basketball,” he said.
A 32-year career, numerous accolades, and 794 wins later, Napier said he’s amazed at how far that career choice has taken him.
“It really is overwhelming to think about because all throughout the years I’ve watched these other guys coach that were successful in the state of Kentucky, girls’ coaches, and I can remember before I ever got to the point where I ever had much success thinking, boy, I’d love to be like those guys, I’d love to play in the state tournament,” he said.
Napier said he’s glad his career may not have gone the way he had originally planned because of the memories he has made that he is now able to look back on.
“Recently when this record came within range I actually started thinking about all the years a little bit more,” he said. “This last year, it really is, a lot of memories have crossed my mind from all the girls that have played for me throughout the years, just a lot of great memories.”
Some of his fondest memories, he said, range from obvious “biggies,” including coaching the Kentucky Girls All-Stars in 2007 and winning the state championship in 1994, to those that are more sentimental, like coaching his daughter and having every girl he’s coached touch his life in some way.
“It really sticks with you,” he said. “It’s been a pretty special experience, the whole ride has.”
A ceremony has been planned to honor Napier, and will be held Friday evening at the John C. Combs Arena between the two basketball games that night. Hazard Mayor Nan Gorman is expected to present Napier with a proclamation declaring Dec. 16, 2013, as “Coach Randy Napier Day.”
“It’s a pretty magical time for me,” Napier laughed.