Troy’s Blakeney preparing to end 24th, final year

MONTGOMERY, Ala. (AP) Larry Blakeney has been the constant of Troy football through 24 seasons and three levels of competition.

From Division II to the current Football Championship Subdivision and now the Football Bowl Subdivision, Blakeney has paced the sideline at a field now named after him. He’ll do it one more time when the Trojans finish a disappointing season Saturday against Louisiana-Lafayette.

Blakeney announced Oct. 6 that he’s retiring after this season. Only Virginia Tech’s Frank Beamer has presided over his current team longer among FBS coaches.

”Twenty-four years in any profession is a pretty good run,” said former Troy and NFL kicker Lawrence Tynes. ”I think he’s done just about everything you can do there at Troy, from taking them from D-2 to I-AA to I-A, that’s pretty remarkable.

”He’s a rare breed. I don’t think you’ll see that any time in the future the way college football has changed in terms of hiring and firing,”

Blakeney is the state’s third-winningest coach with a career mark of 178-112-1 going into his finale.

A number of his former players, including Tynes, are expected to be in attendance. Blakeney’s challenge is to keep his mind on the game not the emotions of the moment.

”I’m going to have to try to separate it,” Blakeney, 67, said. ”I can’t be jumping up and down with my former players and do my job. I will try to do my job first and then jump up and down with my former players. I think it will take me a few minutes, but I think I can do that.

”I want to win and these guys know I want to win as bad as anyone in the world.”

Winning has been harder to do in recent years for Blakeney and the Trojans (3-8), who have won two straight games. He has posted 15 winning seasons, won 10 or more games six times and led Troy to at least a share of five consecutive Sun Belt Conference championships from 2006-10. The Trojans haven’t had a winning season since then.

But the folksy former Auburn quarterback and Alabama Sports Hall of Famer has managed to pull off upsets of Mississippi State, Missouri and Oklahoma State along the way. Blakeney and Central Florida’s Gene McDowell are the only coaches to direct a program’s rise from Division II to college football’s highest level.

Athletic director John Hartwell formed a 17-member advisory committee to search for a successor. Blakeney will become special assistant to the athletic director, meeting with donors or potential contributors.

”He’s more like a father figure,” Troy offensive lineman Terrence Jones said. ”He really actually cares more about you than your performance on the field, which is the big reason why I came here. I’m sad to see him go. I’m glad I’m a part of his last senior class.

”This is coach’s last game. We want to put him out with a great win.”

Troy, which plays its games on Larry Blakeney Field at Veterans Memorial Stadium, has produced NFL players like DeMarcus Ware and Osi Umenyiora under Blakeney. Tynes, Umenyiora and fellow Trojan alum Jerrel Jernigan were teammates on the 2011 New York Giants team that won the Super Bowl.

Former Troy quarterback Mike Turk didn’t play under Blakeney but spent 13 years on his coaching staff. He will be among those attending Saturday’s game.

”He’s such a family-oriented guy, that’s what he would want,” Turk said. ”It’s going to be a great day for him just all the former players and coaches coming back to be together. That’s what he has built that program on.

”It’ll be a good day, a manifestation really of all the work that he’s done there.”