In the weeks since announcing his retirement, former Perry County Central Coach Randy Napier, girls’ basketball’s all-time wins leader in Kentucky, said he’s been overwhelmed with notes and messages from all his players over these many decades.
“The ones that really got to me were the ones that basically just said, ‘Hey, we did things our way, didn’t we Coach?’ or ‘We did it right,’” said Napier who stepped down this summer after 38 years of coaching combined for M.C. Napier and the school it merged into, Perry Central. “They basically just sent me the message that they have the same amount of pride that I do in it. … Every time I saw one of those, there was a lump in the throat because it brought back more memories from those players that were saying, ‘Boy, we were pretty good, weren’t we?”
Inducted into the Kentucky High School Basketball Hall of Fame in 2016, Napier accumulated a record of 886-284 which included a 1994 state title and 10 runs to the Girls’ Sweet Sixteen as 14th Region champions, one with M.C. Napier and nine with Perry Central.
His 1994 M.C. Napier team, which included seven seniors led by all-state performer and tournament MVP Kristie Combs, overwhelmed the Sweet Sixteen that year, putting up championship game records that still stand for points scored (88), field goals made (33) and points in a second half (49).
“It was a special time for us because our school was closing. It was a real special time for our community that we were going to be a contender, even, for a regional championship, not to mention a state championship. As the season went forward, we just got stronger and stronger,” Napier said. He took the Perry Central job when the school opened the next school year.
Combs, who went on to become an assistant coach for Napier for a number of years before becoming a referee and officiating his games, has a unique appreciation for him.
“He’s a dear friend of mine now,” Combs said. “He wasn’t so much back when I played for him. I thought he was kind of crazy at times, but now, we’re real close. … He’s an icon.”
Combs credits Napier’s success and longevity to an old-school approach that demanded much from his players and provided lessons she appreciates more now than maybe she did as a teenager.
“He was a very disciplined, very tough coach, and when I say disciplined, I’m not meaning that in a bad way,” Combs said. “He expected you to do your job and if you did not do your job, regardless of if you were an All-American or the last person on the team, then, well, you might not play much.”
Taking over for Napier at Perry Central will be Misty McAlarnis, another player on that 1994 M.C. Napier team who also served for many years as his assistant at Perry Central before taking her first head coaching job at Breathitt County last season. McAlarnis led the Lady Cats to a 19-13 record and a 55th District title in her one year there only a season removed from the program finishing 3-21.
“He’s been like a father-figure going from playing under him and coaching under him,” McAlarnis said. “He’s always been there for me not just in basketball, but in life.”
Having McAlarnis return to Perry Central made Napier’s decision easier, he said, knowing “his kids” would be in good hands.
“It’s kind of a surreal thing,” McAlarnis said. “I told a referee over the summer who asked, ‘How are you going to replace Randy?’ I said, ‘No one can replace Randy, I just got to be me.’ ... There’s going to be girls who want to compete and I’m going to do my best to help them do that.”
Napier has had mixed emotions since announcing his resignation at the end of the school year. He struggled with the decision, but cited his heath and his family’s concerns for him as a major factor.
“I’d put it off and put it off, because I was hoping that physically I’d feel better and feel like getting back at it,” the 63-year-old Napier said. “Being with the kids is what I’m going to miss so bad.”
Of all his accomplishments, Napier said he was most proud that he was part of a winning program in a rural area. That involved a lot of travel to take on the toughest competition they could find during the regular season so his teams would be prepared to make runs in the Sweet Sixteen.
“I never thought about being in the upper level of coaches in wins or success-wise,” he said. “When it’s all going on, you’re just thinking about the next win or trying to get to the state tournament each year. When it’s over and you look back on it, it’s pretty gratifying. The kids carried me to all this. I really give them all the credit. They have just been phenomenal throughout the decades.”