‘Humble, loyal’ Herky Payne, ex-FHS coach/teacher/UT star, dies

How many student-athletes in college sports history actually helped a team reach the national championship game in one sport, then helped win a national championship in another sport?

Farragut’s own Harold “Herky” Payne was one of the few, as 1951 was quite a year for the former Tennessee Volunteer Football star running back and standout UT Baseball second basemen.

Fast-forward 25 years, and Herky’s first year as a teacher and coach would coincide with the opening of “new” Farragut High School, having moved “on the hill” north of Kingston PIke from its previous home near the intersection of Concord Road and K-Pike in the 1976-77 school year.

“I love Farragut, I greatly care for the school, and I had 22 good years there,” coach Payne said in 2019 about his FHS career as a baseball coach (21 years) and football coach (two years), and health and physical education teacher.

This legendary Vol, a beloved coach and teacher, died last week at the age of 92.

“I felt like they gave me a great opportunity. I went back to school at UT when I was 45 years old, so I got a late start with teaching and coaching,” said Herky in 2019 when inducted into the FHS Athletic Hall of Fame. He was inducted into the Greater Knoxville Sports Hall of Fame in 1998.

“I appreciate Farragut so much,” he added. “I enjoyed practically all of it.”

Coach Payne served as a long-time assistant baseball coach under John Healtherly, former FHS varsity baseball head coach and Admirals Hall of Fame inductee.

“I’ve never had a better and more loyal friend that Herky Payne,” Heatherly said Paof Herky, who served two brief stints as FHS varsity baseball head coach. “He’s impossible to replace with anybody.

“Even with all of his athletic accomplishments and honors, he was always outgoing and friendly with everybody,” Heatherly added.

“... His influence on the players was, and has been, overwhelmingly positive. They called me after the word got out of his passing how sad they were and how much they were going to miss him.”

“I really enjoyed working with the players, the baseball players particularly,” coach Payne said in 2019.

As a freshman track coach in the late 1970s under yet another FHS Hall of Fame head coach, Bill Parker, “Probably the untold story of Herky was how humble a guy he was,” Parker said. “... He never talked much about what he did.”

Building a rock-solid reputation at FHS, coach Payne “really related to the kids well,” said Eddie Courtney, long-time FHS football coach who has been the program’s varsity head coach since 1996.

“He really cared what they did with their lives. Kids would sit and talk to him for a long time. He could talk to anybody and make you feel like he really cared about you as a person,” he added.

“It was hard not to like Herky,” said Lynn E. Sexton, former Admirals varsity basketball head coach/teacher (1962-1991) who also is in the school’s Athletic Hall of Fame. “He had a great personality. He got along with everybody.”

Helping football coaching legend Gen. Robert Neyland win his one national title on Rocky Top, “I led the (Southeastern) Conference in scoring. They used me quite a bit in the red zone, to run inside. I scored 14 touchdowns,” Herky, then a 188-pounder, said about his big senior season in 1951.

A few months previously in Omaha, Nebraska, Payne helped the Baseball Vols reach the 1951 College World Series national championship game before losing to Oklahoma 3-2.

“I was selected on the All-American (baseball) team,” Coach Payne said in 2019.