CINCINNATI — If the Houston Texans' division-clinching celebration was going to happen on the road, Larry Kirksey would be hard-pressed to find a better place than Cincinnati.
When it comes to NFL geography, Paul Brown Stadium is practically native land for Kirksey, who coaches Texans receivers.
Schooled at Harlan High School and Eastern Kentucky University, Kirksey launched his coaching career at nearby Miami University. He later made stops at Kentucky and Kentucky State.
Sunday, Houston got a 6-yard touchdown pass from T.J. Yates to Kevin Walter with two seconds left. Neil Rackers tacked on the extra point to give the Texans a 20-19 victory.
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A few minutes after Houston's win, the New Orleans Saints completed a victory over the Tennessee Titans, clinching the AFC South Division title for the Texans.
"It's been a while. This team's never been to the playoffs, but it's been a while since I've been to the playoffs," said Kirksey, wearing a divisional championship ball cap.
He has been to the NFL playoffs six times, most recently in 2004 as a volunteer assistant special teams coach with the Denver Broncos.
His other five NFL post-seasons came as receivers coach for the San Francisco 49ers (1994-99), including a Super Bowl title in his first season with the team.
Folks tend to remember his star pupil in San Francisco: Hall of Famer Jerry Rice.
Kirksey has mentored several big-name NFL players, including Terrell Owens in San Francisco, Johnnie Morton in Detroit and Jimmy Smith in Jacksonville.
At 60, Kirksey is in his fifth season with the Texans, where the star receiver is five-time Pro Bowler Andre Johnson. However, Johnson has been unable to play much of the season due to injuries to one hamstring and then the other.
On top of missing Johnson, the Texans also lost quarterbacks Matt Schaub and Matt Leinart to season-ending injuries. A rookie third-stringer, Yates, runs the show now.
"The thing about it is, this system's in place and whoever's in there is going to have to run it," Kirksey said.
Yates passed for 300 yards against the Bengals, spraying the ball to nine receivers.
Kirksey is not one to take credit, though.
"It's not so much me. They have to go out and perform," he said. "The thing that I do is I coach them from the standpoint of the concepts, the schemes and things of this nature. But it's up to their playmaking ability to go out and make those plays. I've been fortunate. I've coached some great players to play this game, so it's easy when you've got those great players."
He's doing what he has wanted to do all along.
"Growing up in Harlan, I always knew at an early age what I wanted to do in life," he said. "I wanted to be a coach."
From Harlan High, Kirksey went on to become a three-year starter and four-year letterman at receiver for EKU. As a senior, he was all-Ohio Valley Conference. Roy Kidd, coach of the Colonels, helped launch Kirksey's career.
"I was going to be a high school coach at Madison Central High School under Ed Miracle, and Coach Kidd called me one day and said, 'Hey, they've got a job opening up at Miami of Ohio, and Coach (Tom) Stillwagon called and wanted to know if you'd be interested,'" Kirksey said. "And Coach Kidd said 'I think he'd be a great fit for you.' I was 23 years old and I go to Miami of Ohio, and the rest is history."
Kirksey coached quarterbacks, wide receivers and tight ends for three seasons.
Fran Curci brought him to UK as wide receivers/tight ends coach (1977-81). The Cats finished 10-1 in 1977.
Kirksey held the same spot with Kansas in 1982, then became head coach of Kentucky State in 1983.
"It was one of those situations where, at the time, the budget wasn't what it needed to be, and we didn't have a coaching staff per se," Kirksey said. "We had three of us trying to coach a football team, and we did a lot of things that we had to do and tried to make it work. We gave it our best effort. It was a great opportunity for me and it made me a better coach. It made me more appreciative."
He appreciates his return to the NFL post-season, but isn't looking too far ahead.
"We know our work's still starting. We've got to try to improve, try to get home field advantage if we can," he said. "... That's the most important thing we're going to do: concentrate on winning that next game."