After leading the Pine View boys basketball team to the 3A state title last year, head coach Darrell Larsen sat in the front of the bus on the way home from Salt Lake City holding the championship trophy.
With the players in the back of the bus celebrating the program’s third basketball title in school history, the Ol’ Ball Coach could think of only one thing.
Was it time to finally hang it all up and ride off into the sunset?
The timing seemed to be almost perfect with just one returning starter coming back for the following season. But in the end, Coach Larsen’s love for the Panther basketball program superseded it all as he came back for one more year.
“Winning the state championship was special,” Larsen said. “Those seniors meant everything to me and we had to overcome so much adversity that year. But in the end, I just wanted to come back for one more season to help keep the program going strong with such a young group coming in.”
Despite not repeating as champions — finishing the season with a 14-10 record and tying for second in region play — Larsen was proud of his guys and the effort they gave throughout the year.
More than just a coach
When asked how many championships he’s won as a coach or player at the high school level, Coach Larsen wouldn’t be able to tell you.
“It’s not championships or wins and losses,” he explained. “Winning is fun and I get that, but there is a lot more to being a coach than that. Sports is a great tool to teach the principles of life and to help turn boys into men.”
Although he tried teaching his players important lessons along the way, Larsen admitted that it was his players who taught him more than he probably ever taught them.
“Blake Ence was someone who really influenced me and is just one of hundreds of kids who have come through this high school,” Larsen said.
After losing his father, Ence could have given up sports after such a heartbreaking loss. But instead of giving up and taking the easy way out, Ence not only shined on the basketball hardwood but out on the baseball diamond as well.
“Blake led by example and stayed the course despite all of his hardships. He was the key ingredient for our championship team and even helped the baseball team win a state title that year too,” Larsen said.
Over the 20-plus years that he spent on the sidelines, Larsen has countless memories that he has written down in his journal. Since he first stepped foot on school grounds, Larsen has kept a daily record of the highs and lows he’s experienced as a Panther and has enjoyed reading through the success stories and those who didn’t let anything get them down.
One of those success stories was basketball manager Riley LeFevre who’s overcome several hardships and medical conditions to get to where he is today.
After asking coaches to play in one of the games, Larsen promised LeFevre that he would if he met the goals set by the coaches. LeFevre not only met those goals, but passed with flying colors. Larsen lived up to that promise as he walked out onto the court against Hurricane and in the starting lineup. LeFevre scored two points in the Panthers 47-41 victory over the Tigers.
Along with LeFevre, senior Tobin Smith made an impact on Larsen after he was almost cut from the basketball team. Smith, was on the bubble during tryouts and after Coach Larsen told him he likely wouldn’t get hardly any playing time, Smith replied, “Coach, you won’t hear me complain.”
“I didn’t promise him anything and he was one of the hardest working kids on the team,” Larsen said. “He could have easily given up knowing that he would likely not play and he ended up playing in a number of games and scoring too.”
One of the moments Larsen is most looking forward to is watching his son play basketball from the stands and not from the sidelines.
“It’s going to be nice to be the guy heckling the coach instead of the one being yelled at all the time,” he said jokingly.
With his son Daniel being a senior next year, Larsen said the timing worked out well so that he could enjoy his son’s senior year, something he didn’t really get to experience with his other children because of the demands that come from being a head coach.
“I just want to be the best dad that I can be,” Larsen said. “I’m not perfect by any means but I want to be better because my family has been so supportive of me. My wife has been my rock since I first met her. A lot of people don’t know how hard it is to be a coach’s wife and she sacrificed a lot for me over these 20 years. Now it’s time for me to give everything back to my family.”
Pine View golfing sensation Noah Schone — who finished third at state this past season — was saddened with the news of Larsen’s retirement and did his best to try and get the coaching legend to come back for just one more year.
“He’s one of the nicest guys that I’ve ever met,” Schone said. “He’s always believed in me and that’s something that I really admire about him. That helped my game out a lot just having that confidence from him. I don’t know if it’s possible to find a better coach than Larsen, but either we already promised that we are going to win state for him.”
“He loved the kids and was all about them,” Pine View Athletic Director Gary Higgins said. “We as an administration really appreciated all that he did. One of my favorite moments was right after the team won the championship. Coach Larsen cut down the last bit of the net and it was really emotional because of the promise the team made to Coach Walker.”
After deciding to step down from coaching, Larsen said that it felt like the weight of the world was lifted from his shoulders as he now focuses on other goals and dreams that he wants to accomplish.
“I’m still going to be at the school, I just won’t be coaching anymore,” he said. “But I would like to thank Pine View for the opportunity I had to coach here and to all of the great kids, assistant coaches, and administrators who helped me along the way.”