Larry Joe Inman assists Chris Fryer
MT. JULIET – Having entered the coaching profession immediately following his graduation from Austin Peay State University in 1970, Larry Joe Inman has learned a number of lessons from coaching the game of basketball over his long career on the sidelines.
Among them, he says, are:
• The success a team enjoys during a season is largely dependent on the talent that is in their program (translate that to mean that not even good coaches can win without good players).
• Teams that are well schooled in the basic fundamentals of the game are far more likely to be successful than those who are not.
• Coaching is about teaching and relationships.
But perhaps the greatest lesson he has learned is that he cannot live without it.
“I’ve tried to quit and/or retire a number of times,” Inman jokingly said.
The operative word in that comment is tried.
And, that’s why today, more than 40 years after guiding Mt. Juliet High School to the Class AAA TSSAA Girls State Basketball Tournament championship, Inman is back on the MJHS sidelines once again.
This time, though, he’s not the head coach but an assistant to Chris Fryer. And, he’s getting to do the fun things that coaches like, such as teaching the fundamentals to young student-athletes, and not having to deal with the minutiae of scheduling of paperwork, scheduling, etc.
“I’m really getting the opportunity to enjoy the players and help them. To me, it’s a chance to give back to the game,” Inman said.
And for Fryer, it’s an opportunity, too.
“After he returned to this area, he began attending some of our games and volunteered to help us in any way he could,” Fryer said. “Last year, I don’t think he missed a game, either at home or on the road.
“He’s been valuable to us. He knows the game. He enjoys it, and it’s great to have our players get to work with another person who can help them.”
At 51 and in his 28 season of coaching, Fryer is no rookie himself.
His 2005 team was the winner of the state championship, and he has guided Mt. Juliet to four of the last six state tournaments. But instead of resenting Inman’s advice, he has welcomed it, and in fact, it was Fryer who approached Inman about joining the program.
“I’ve never had an ego about coaching. I have no fear of a power struggle on the bench,” he said.
“I want people with experience around me and the players – good folks. You don’t have people like Larry Joe Inman come around too often.”
Inman (’77) and Fryer (’05) are bookends on the three state girls basketball titles won by Mt. Juliet, with Tommy Martin (’83) in between. Inman and Fryer became acquainted when Inman, then head coach at Eastern Kentucky, recruited Alysha Clark -- now a WNBA standout.
Inman’s credentials are legendary. Following the Mt. Juliet state title in 1977, he departed for Middle Tennessee State University where he was women’s basketball coach for eight years. Following a short hiatus, he got back into coaching at Eastern Kentucky and spent more than two decades as the Colonels head coach.
Eventually he returned to Middle Tennessee and was a teacher/coach at Lebanon High School, before answering the call from Tennessee State University to direct its women’s basketball program, which he did for a handful of years.
He later was elected to the Wilson County Board of Education before moving to Florida for about a year before coming back to Wilson County to attend to an ailing mother.
In his span of coaching three college teams, he won “17 or 18, I don’t remember exactly” Ohio Valley Conference championships. And that tenure at three college coaching jobs merited him induction to the MTSU Sports Hall of Fame, the Eastern Kentucky Sports Hall of Fame and the Ohio Valley Conference Hall of Fame. But the one thing that hasn’t happened to him over the decades is a sense of being burned out.
“I still love the game and coaching as much as I ever did. Once you get a taste of winning, it’s like a bad habit,” Inman said.
“I have great respect for Chris, and he knows I’ll do anything I can to help. It’s not for me, it’s for the kids. I love watching them grow up, mature, learning and that sort of thing.
“When I grew up, I had a dream. Every kid has a dream. My thing is to help them get closer to that dream. I just love doing it and I hope I can make a difference.”
Through graduation, transfers and injuries, Mt. Juliet has lost the bulk of last season’s starting unit. Inman knew that, Fryer said, before he signed on.
“As young as we are, it’s not like he jumped on the bandwagon of a team expected to win a state championship,” Fryer said. “He knew what he was getting into, and he joined us because he wanted to help.”
MJHS opens its season at home at 6:30 p.m. Tuesday, Nov. 19 against John Overton of Nashville. For Inman, it's just the start of another chapter.
“When you coach, you want to help the players be successful. You spend hours and hours teaching, helping the players to learn to prioritize things in their life, helping them to learn to make the right decisions. If you are fortunate, you get to see them be rewarded on the basketball floor, but what’s greater is when see them make right decisions in life. That’s the best part.”