Remembering the life of Coach Larry Harr
By Chapin Jewell
KEYSER - Coach Larry Harr may have been small in stature, but there was nothing small about the impact he made on the lives of those he coached, those he coached with on the basketball court, and those he taught, and taught with in the classroom.
The evidence of this is the outpouring of many stories and praise for the teaching and coaching career of Larry Harr since word of Harr’s passing at the age of 84 came on Friday.
“It has been very humbling as a family to know that he has touched so many people. It’s been non-stop since Friday evening; so many warm thoughts and stories have been rolling in from the many people whose lives he touched. They don’t come any more genuine than Larry Harr,” his nephew Joel Harr explained.
In many mays, Larry Harr was a journeyman teacher and coach. His journey, however, never took him farther than the Piedmont, Keyser, Elk Garden triangle of Mineral County.
“He loved Mineral County. That’s why he was there his entire life. He had many opportunities to become a head coach somewhere else. That was his home. That’s the one thing I think everybody should know. He had many chances to leave and try other things, but that Piedmont, Keyser, Elk Garden area, that was his home,” the younger Harr said.
A 1959 graduate of Piedmont High School, Harr would go on to graduate from Potomac State, then Shepherd College, and then ultimately West Virginia University with a master’s degree in education. His long teaching career began at Keyser Elementary, then to Elk Garden High School, and finally Keyser High School.
While Harr made an impact in the classroom as a teacher, it was as a basketball coach where he perhaps left his biggest mark. First as the head basketball coach at Elk Garden, then as an assistant coach there after a few year hiatus. During his second stint at Elk Garden, Harr served under Gary Liston. He followed Liston to Potomac State as an assistant for a few years, and then later served under Liston as an assistant at Keyser High School, alongside Scott Furey.
“Larry took so much pride in the word ‘coach,’ and being labeled that. I don’t ever remember calling him anything other than coach, even when I was younger. My father, his own brother, calls him coach,” Joel Harr stated.
According to Joel, “A lot of people were like, ‘how is your uncle a basketball coach, he isn’t but 5’4?’ But he was the best low-post basketball coach I’ve seen in all my years of coaching and playing basketball. To this day, Larry Harr is still the best low-post coach I’ve ever seen. It was old-school stuff, just subtle things.”
As his nephew recalls, however, it wasn’t just with x’s and o’s where Coach Larry Harr was most effective, it was also in the supportive role he played while always trying to help his players. Despite having what the family describes as the straight face and mean mug the Harr men are known for, when it came down to brass tacks, Larry Harr excelled at being a bit of a softy.
According to Joel Harr, “A lot people thought Gary Liston and Larry Harr were good cop, bad cop, with Larry being the bad cop, but it was the opposite. Liston would chew someone out, and that’s when Larry would go down to the end of the bench, put his arm around them, and say, ‘hey, get your chin up, focus on what you need to do, he’ll forget about it in two minutes.’ Larry’s the one that built them back up.”
Gary Liston, Harr’s head coach at three different stops, concurred, “I would rip somebody a new behind, and Larry thought it was his job, and took it on as a responsibility, to go out and pat them on the back and make sure they were okay.
“He was just a wonderful human being. Mean on the outside, but a heart of gold on the inside. A lot of people that didn’t know Larry didn’t see the humorous side, they only saw the rough side. That was a Harr thing,” Liston recalled.
“When we started together at Elk Garden, I’ve told many people, our roles probably should have been reversed. I was the young guy and he was the old guy with experience. He certainly passed on a lot of that knowledge to me,” Liston explained.
Liston freely admits that despite him always having the top role and Harr being the assistant, he benefitted tremendously from the knowledge and support offered from the elder Harr.
“He had a world of knowledge as a basketball coach. His favorite quote to me with basketball was, ‘whatever it takes.’ His knowledge was just immeasurable to me,” Liston stated. “But he never, ever overstepped his boundaries. He never tried to preach any particular philosophy to me. He would offer suggestions, but he never tried to cram things down my throat.
“He was a phenomenal basketball coach. I learned a lot about x’s and o’s from him,” Liston stated.
Aside from playing the good cop to his bad cop, Harr also played the role of buffer or deflector, taking the heat off his head coach when players, parents and fans created any issues. He did this at Elk Garden, Potomac State, and Keyser. At Keyser, Harr and the other assistant coach, Scott Furey, excelled in that role.
“Another thing he and Scott were excellent at was deflecting a lot of the criticism and a lot of bullets directed at me from a parent or a fan. I didn’t realize it as much then but I certainly realize it now. As a head coach, you certainly appreciate those guys that are loyal to you, that will deflect some of the heat off of you and absorb it themselves,” Liston explained.
Scott Furey was one of the chorus of people espousing the value of Larry Harr’s contributions - as a coach, and as a man. “Nobody ever wanted to disappoint him. It was just the way he carried himself, and the way that he presented himself, you just never wanted to let him down,” he said.
“When he talked, our kids listened for sure. It wasn’t like he was out, Bobby Knight-ing it for sure or anything, but it was one of those things that the kids took to him early and he was like a grandfather figure to them. It was funny because we had some Division I athletes on that team, and he established himself early,” Furey explained.
According to Furey, “He really helped me be a better assistant coach. He told me our job was to take as much heat off of the head coach as we can. So, we tried to squash anything we could that was happening, whether it was on the bench or wherever. He was a man of God and a hard, hard, worker. He was stern when he needed to be, but the kids all knew that he loved them.”
Both Liston and Furey have a wealth of stories to tell about their time with Harr, the whole catalog being too large and in some cases too colorful for print.
Liston recalls one in which Potomac State encountered a full on blizzard on a return trip from a game in Pittsburgh. Conditions were so bad that the team did not return home to Keyser until probably 4:30 in the morning. Later that day, Harr did not show for the 4:00 afternoon practice. Liston phoned Harr later that evening to check in.
On the other end of the phone Harr explained that he had endured quite a day. He awoke from sleep at 6:00, it was dark, and he was worried that he was running late for his morning trip up the Mountain to Elk Garden. As he was walking into the school, the custodian asked what he was doing there. “Going to school,” of course was the reply. It was then he realized that it was evening time and that he had slept all day. Thank goodness Mineral County schools were closed that day for bad weather.
Furey recalled a story from their trip to the state basketball tournament in Charleston. Harr was normally a very early riser and a huge fan of coffee. Furey awoke around 7:30 in the morning and headed to the hotel lobby where he encountered an already dressed and ready to go Harr. “Have you had your coffee?” Furey asked.
Harr explained that he had been in the hotel lobby since about 5:15, then pointed to the complimentary coffee that came in those large containers that you pump, and explained that he had already polished off one and was working on the other.
There are countless stories of a life well lived to be told. Countless memories to be recalled. All a reflection of a life well lived. That of a teacher, coach, and family man.
“As early as I can remember, every Sunday afternoon we would be sitting around a dinner table in Keyser. After everyone else left, it would always be those three brothers (Larry, Paul, and Dave) sitting around the table talking. The topic was always sports. It was just non-stop laughter and love,” Joel Harr recalled.
“The funny thing about Larry is that he was quietly sarcastic. He would throw a jab at you, and you didn’t know he threw a jab at you until two hours later when he had already left. But he was all family, all the time, he really was,” Joel stated.
All family, all the time, that’s a very apt description of Larry Harr’s life. That family, however, in this case, extends to every teacher and student impacted by the life of Larry Harr.