Larry McKee arrived in Tucson as if by fate in 1968 and nearly left early in his University of Arizona career, but thankfully for this community, he remained.
McKee, a guard on the offensive line, was recruited by Wildcats assistant Bill Belknap, who happened to be in his hometown of Pittsburgh visiting family, when he came across Larry when he played in a high school all-star game.
Larry’s family, including his father, a blue-collar sanitation worker in Pittsburgh, supported his move out West to Tucson, where he became infatuated with the desert scenery and warmer weather.
That all nearly came to an end, however, when an altercation in practice nearly had him kicked off the team. He was also often homesick, The chance to work with his father and continue the family roots in Pittsburgh was enticing.
McKee stuck it out and became one of the best linemen in the WAC drafted by the Cleveland Browns in 1972.
A knee injury derailed his playing career, but McKee, 71, returned to Tucson and became a high school dignitary who coached at Pueblo and Sabino and had his battles with legendary coaches Howard Breinig at Sahuaro, Paul Petty at Sunnyside and Vern Friedli at Amphi.
He started his coaching career as an assistant at Cholla under Ed Brown, the first black head coach hired in Southern Arizona who went on to become a Pima County Sports Hall of Famer and Arizona Sports Hall of Famer. McKee later was a longtime principal at Tucson, Catalina and Sahuarita high schools.
Larry’s son Scott McKee, a Sabino standout, played at Arizona under Dick Tomey and coached at Pueblo from 2004 to 2008 before pursuing the head coaching position at Sahuaro in 2009. He is entering his 13th season with Cougars in 2021.
“If he did not get noticed by Arizona, he would have been running the garbage company for my grandfather,” Scott said in a 2019 interview with AllSportsTucson.com. “That was the deal. My grandfather grew up on the back of a garbage truck. He was the guy who threw the cans. There was not a machine back then.
“My dad might have been a really good garbage man. But he got out here. He got with Ed Brown and Ed Brown taught him the importance of coaching young men. That turned into administration, which turned to principalship and that kind of helped me get where I’m at.”
McKee’s interview as part of the Southern Arizona Coaching Memories is in two parts. The show is co-hosted by Mountain View coach Matt Johnson, who came up with the idea of interviewing those who have made a positive impact over the community’s youth for generations. The shows can be accessed below in the player:
More photos provided by Larry McKee:
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ALLSPORTSTUCSON.com publisher, writer and editor Javier Morales is a former Arizona Press Club award winner. He is a former Arizona Daily Star beat reporter for the Arizona basketball team, including when the Wildcats won the 1996-97 NCAA title. He has also written articles for CollegeAD.com, Bleacher Report, Lindy’s Sports, TucsonCitizen.com, The Arizona Republic, Sporting News and Baseball America, among many other publications. He has also authored the book “The Highest Form of Living”, which is available at Amazon. He became an educator five years ago and is presently a special education teacher at Gallego Fine Arts Intermediate in the Sunnyside Unified School District