Saying good-bye to one of Mecklenburg’s best

by C. Jemal Horton

Former Charlotte Latin coach Larry McNulty (center) with his sons and grandchildren after winning his last state championship in 2009.

The last person who’d want a bunch of mushy pomp and circumstance about his retirement is Larry McNulty. Heck, when it came to situations like this, the longtime Charlotte Latin football coach had all the emotional sensitivity of the late Vince Lombardi.

But this is the reality: McNulty, who, after 25 years leading Charlotte Latin announced his retirement this week, is one of the best there ever was around these parts. He deserves a hero’s send-off.

So brace yourself, Coach Mac, here comes the mushiness.

If there’s a Mount Rushmore of Mecklenburg County high school football coaches, McNulty’s mustachioed likeness is on it. Period. Charlotte Catholic’s Jim Oddo and former Independence coach Tom Knotts are the other two locks. A pair of other coaches in the Charlotte Independent Schools Athletic Association – Providence Day’s Bruce Hardin and Charlotte Country Day’s Bob Witman – are candidates, too.

But McNulty, as ornery and quirky as he could be sometimes, is there. Make no bones about it.

There was the sheer genius he displayed during his quarter-century leading the Hawks, especially when it came to offense. While Knotts led Independence to public-school titles with a high-scoring offense, McNulty did the same thing 11 times during his tenure at Charlotte Latin, only with less-heralded and – let’s be honest here – less-talented players, for the most part.

But because McNulty coached in a private-school league, some people didn’t see his accomplishments as equal.

That’s poppycock.

Just ask all the public-school teams Latin played outside Mecklenburg County if McNulty’s Hawks had an inferior brand. Latin beat many of those squads so badly that they eventually refused to play McNulty’s boys again.

McNulty was so good because he didn’t try to force his players into a style. Like any great coach, he examined his personnel and designed his schemes to fit their abilities, which is why he wound up switching from a run-based offense in the ‘90s to more of a Spread attack that better suited quarterbacks such as Kyle Derham and Braden Hanson in the mid-2000s.

I don’t throw this word around all willy-nilly, but McNulty was a coaching genius of sorts, and it was mostly because of hard work.

“This is a very tough league,” McNulty said. “You can say what you want. You look at the coaches and talent that Christian, Country Day and Providence Day and Latin have, it’s very similar to playing in the SEC – there’s not a game that you have a day off. The coaches work their tails off, the kids are very prepared. You don’t trick anybody, so you’ve got to work hard every day.”

Now, he gets to take a break from the long coaching hours and ride off into the sunset.

McNulty’s a smart man, he’s invested well, and he said he’s in good health. He deserves to walk away on his own terms.

Still, to those of us who follow Mecklenburg high school football so closely, it just won’t be the same without McNulty traipsing the sidelines.

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