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A natural coach: Darby knows kids

The year was 2000. The sport soccer.

To this day, Tom Darby admits he knows little about soccer. Yet the results of that season would tell folks plenty about Darby.

That he didn't know the sport didn't seem to matter. Darby knows kids. He knows how to motivate, and he knows how to set standards.

Oh, and Darby knows how to coach. The results speak for themselves.

Though it was his first and only job coaching soccer, the 2000 Citrus team is the best in school history. Darby guided the squad to a regional semifinal, in which the Hurricanes lost to eventual state champion Orlando Bishop Moore in overtime.

No one has taken a Citrus boys soccer team farther in the playoffs.

"My first game with that team was the first soccer game I ever saw and the first game I'd ever coached," Darby said.

"But I had some really good kids who wanted to work hard and needed a little direction," he said.

A perfect fit for Darby, whose success in coaching several sports seems to rest on his ability to balance a no-nonsense approach to discipline with heartfelt affection for his athletes.

On the surface, Darby appears gruff and even a little intimidating. But pick beneath the rough exterior and an unmistakable quality comes through:

Darby cares. He cares about his kids. He cares about the sport he's coaching. And he cares about doing things right.

"You have to have a balance," Darby said. "Kids want discipline. They want to know that you care enough to say "No, you can't do this or behave like that.' They want someone who cares about them, even if they are firm."

Darby's resume, which spans more than 30 years in Citrus and Hernando counties, is loaded with accomplishments.

Darby began coaching at Hernando in 1970, leaving in '78 when he became the defensive ends coach at Eastern Kentucky University. There, Darby helped lead the Colonels to the 1979 NCAA Division I-AA championship.

He moved on to Key West High in 1980 before coming to Citrus in '82, where he has been since and where he helped guide the Hurricanes football squad to three consecutive playoff berths beginning in 1985.

Track has been a staple of Darby's coaching diet since the late 1960s, and his teams at Citrus always have been strong. In 2000, he led the boys squad to its first and only regional title.

To hear him describe it, Darby's philosophy rests on a fine balance between carrot and stick.

"You really don't want to be negative at all," Darby said. "You can be hard and positive at the same time. You can't berate them. If you chastise one, you also need to be the first one to hug them when they do something right.

"I'm always the first to congratulate them when they do something good, but I'm also the first to tell them to get on the bus if they screwed up."

Darby's students aren't the only ones to learn from him. Lecanto track coach Freddie Bullock, who has guided the Panthers team since its inception in 1984, considers Darby a bit of a mentor.

"What he brings to the table, things that the rest of us try to do, is forthrightness, honesty and the fact that he just demands hard work," Bullock said. "For some reason, he can just get it out of the kids."

Though Darby is as competitive as any coach, he is willing to help out an opponent. Bullock remembers an incident at last year's Gulf Coast Athletic Conference track championships.

"Kylene (Colasanti) was hurt, but wanted to run the high hurdles anyway," Bullock said. "He pulled me off to the side and said, "You've got to pull her. If she gets hurt, she's done for districts.' "

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