Over the next nine days, the Star will reveal its picks for Tucson’s best high school football coaches of all time. Our countdown continues today with Larry Hart, who led Flowing Wells to the state finals six times.
No. 9: Larry Hart
School: Flowing Wells
Years in coaching: 1963-1965 and 1968-1979
Career record: 95-45-6
Accomplishments: In the aftermath of the city’s first ever 0-10 season in 1962, Flowing Wells was in need of a new coach, one willing to take on a huge rebuilding job. Superintendent George N. Smith turned to Hart, a star quarterback and halfback at Amphitheater in the late 1940s. The 31-year-old Hart had proven he could turn around a program, as he did in eight years at Ajo High School. At first, it looked as if Flowing Wells might be too tough a task as the Caballeros stumbled out to an 0-8-1 record in the first year under Hart in 1963. Yet with some seasoning under his belt, Hart didn’t need four seasons to right the ship as he did with the Red Raiders — he brought discipline to the program and the Cabs to the state championship game a year later. Flowing Wells fell 7-0 to Winslow, but the unprecedented title appearance gave the community a taste of what would come under Hart’s watch. His first stint with the Cabs didn’t last long — Hart left after three seasons to become the principal of Avondale Agua Fria High School. Yet he couldn’t stay away from the Old Pueblo and returned two years later .
The Cabs went to their second state title game in 1968, and the wins kept coming for Hart and Flowing Wells. Hart took on a second job as Flowing Wells’ principal in 1975, and eventually gave up coaching in 1980 to concentrate on his post as an administrator. With six state championship trips and 146 total wins on his résumé, Hart was elected into the Arizona Coaches Association Hall of Fame in 1984, along with other greats like Paul Petty, Rollin T. Gridley and Ollie Mayfield.
Memorable moment: After five unsuccessful trips to the state championship game, Flowing Wells needed something special, and a little unconventional, to finally break through the barrier in 1975. A touchdown on a blocked punt and three interceptions? That’ll work. Yet the Cabs still made Hart sweat, as a fumble late in the fourth quarter gave Snowflake the ball, down 14-7 in the Class AA title game. The Lobos drove down the field in seven plays to come within one after failing on a two-point conversion, but a Flowing Wells player jumped offside to give Snowflake a second shot. “I thought we were jinxed there for a while,” Hart told the Star after the game.
Yet the curse finally broke when the Lobos tried to power in the go-ahead two-point conversion, as three Cabs, including two-time All-State lineman David Moore, smothered the Snowflake back to finally secure the elusive championship with a 14-13 win at McClintock High School, clinching a perfect 10-0 record.
From the archives: “All credit of the sudden success lies on the wide shoulders of Larry Hart, who disproves the old saying that nice guys finish last. … He is what Flowing Wells should always have had — a dedicated coach, educator and gentleman.” — former high school sports editor Ed Jordan, in his “Prep Slants” column in the Oct. 21, 1964, Arizona Daily Star
Big number: 6. Hart brought the Caballeros to six state championship games, including three straight (1971-1973) and four in five years. While the results in the big game weren’t usually what Hart and Flowing Wells wanted, the Cabs stayed competitive in most games, losing by fewer than 12 points on average in the five losses.
The feat hasn’t been replicated — the Cabs have won just eight playoff games since 1980, when Hart retired, despite having talented coaches such as Larry Grey, Pat Nugent and Glenn Posey.
Coming up: Find out who is ranked No. 8 in Sunday’s Star.