Hansen: the man behind the mustache


Head football coach Earl Hansen speaks to members of The Viking. This year is the 40th anniversary of his mustache, as well as his 25th year at Paly.

Pippa Raffel, Staff Writer

He is pretty hard to miss. Standing at 6 feet 1 inch tall, with dark sunglasses, a puffy mustache and a booming chuckle, Paly head football coach Earl Hansen has led the Vikings to 195 wins, four Central Coast Section titles and two California State Bowl Game appearances in 27 seasons. He was also named the 2010 Cal-Hi Sports Coach of the Year after a perfect 14-0 season, which culminated in a state championship.

But what is the story behind this coach, teacher and athletic director with an impressive record, dark sunglasses and whitish gray mustache?

Hansen grew up in Palo Alto living with his mother, father, brother, and sister.

In Hansen’s time, Ray Lyman Wilbur Junior High (now called Jane Lathrop Stanford) fed into the now-closed Ellwood P. Cubberley High School, from which Hansen graduated in 1969. The school was closed in 1979 due to low enrollment rates.

Prior to becoming a Paly football coach in 1980, Hansen studied at San Jose State University, traveled to Europe, and worked around Palo Alto.

Hansen and his wife, Marilyn, had a son on May 30, 1979. Peter Hansen (‘97) would later become a player at Paly and the University of Arizona and a coach at Stanford University and for the San Francisco 49ers.

As the head coach at Paly in the 1980s, Hansen coached former NFL quarterback and Stanford head coach Jim Harbaugh (‘82), who is now the head coach of the 49ers.

“Earl Hansen was my football coach,” Harbaugh said. “I owe a lot to him, a wonderful, wonderful coach. [He was one] of my favorite coaches I ever had.”

After the 1983 season, Hansen, the youngest on Paly’s staff, was laid off due to budget cuts.

In his years off from Paly, Hansen coached the Rebels at San Lorenzo Valley High School for five years. Afterwards, he took three years off as a head coach and coached at Mountain View High School.

Hansen was reinstated as head coach once again for the 1991 season, a year after a fight broke out during the Paly-Gunn football game, which led the administration of the time to seek out a new coaching staff.

“One of the reasons he was [re]hired was because during my senior year football program, we were just a mess,” former Paly player and current assistant coach Steve Foug (‘91) said. “We were not disciplined at all and there is this story about this bench-clearing brawl we had with Gunn.”

Jason Fung (‘92) played for Hansen his senior year and currently works with him in both the Paly football program and the physical education department.

“My senior year he came in. He always instilled a fear in you,” Fung said. “He always wanted you to do the best. He taught me a lot about the game of football.”

Hansen seems to have had a profound influence on the Palo Alto football community, as a result of his strict, yet constructive football program.

“I am proud of Earl because many people think he is gruff, but it turns out he has made a difference in a lot of young men’s lives,” Marilyn said. “We have been at many venues where fathers have come up to Earl and thanked him for helping their sons through tough times.”

Anne Anderson, the mother of Michael (‘08), Kevin (‘11) and Jack (‘14), who all played for Hansen, feels as if the current football regime has made an impact on her sons and their peers.

“Every year when we run into alumni players who come back to watch the Vikings, we’re struck by how well they’re doing, how polite they are, how appreciative they are to have played at Paly,” Anderson said. “It’s pretty remarkable, really. I think that in many cases, football made the difference for them.”

Hansen’s coworkers echo the community’s gratitude.

“He has taught me that you cannot treat everybody the same,” Foug said. “You have to treat different people differently based on their personalities.”

Fung also feels like Hansen has taught him tricks about how to become a better coach.

“I think Hansen gave me a lot of responsibilities and I took that as a teaching tool,” Fung said. “Not that I got into teaching because of Hansen but it helped a lot of things I did in life.”

Fung finds that the coach has changed very little during the 20-plus years that he has known Hansen.

“When you’re a good coach, nothing needs to change,” Fung said. “It was a big change from the coach I had before. Hansen was a lot more organized. Earl always had a plan every day just like he does now. He taught me how to be very organized and lead a good practice.”

After over 24 years at Paly, Hansen has maintained his tough approach to practice and has not allowed his success to change his work ethic.

“He has the same energy level now as he did 15 years ago, when I started coaching, and I’ve never seen him take a sip of water,” Foug said. “I kid you not.”

Hansen acknowledges this unique habit.

“[It’s] true, but I load up before I go out there though, like a camel.”

Not only has Hansen maintained his drastic changes of the football program from his first year of coaching, but he has inspired his players by understanding how to make changes to help them succeed.

“Hansen is always open to new ideas,” Foug said. “If he doesn’t like what he is seeing, he will let it be known or make sure its going the way he wants it to. His biggest talent is being able to read different peoples’ personalities and adjust the team based on personalities and strengths. He is good at putting the kids in a position where they can succeed.”

This ability to highlight his team’s strengths combined with his focus on perpetual improvement is evident when regarding low points throughout games.

“People will say to me if [the team is] doing poorly, ‘Oh boy is he going to be mad? Is he going to yell at them at halftime?’” Marilyn said.  “I’ll say, ‘No he is not. He is going to make adjustments and help [the players] do what they are supposed to do.’”

Kicker James Foug (‘13) has a similar perspective on Hansen’s halftime talks.

“Even if we are down at halftime, he won’t show any discouragement, but focuses on preparing us for the second half,” he said.

Hansen reflects on his own personal growth throughout the years.

“[I have] learned a lot,” Hansen said.  “I mean, I just keep trying to learn things all the time, like teaching, it never stops. You’ve just got to keep moving forward.”

Hansen is known for his impressive record on the field and successful management of his team and players.

“He cultivates talent,” Anderson said. “He knows what works and he sticks with it. He is not afraid to surround himself with good coaches though, and that says a lot about him as a head coach.”

In the generations of Paly athletes to come, Hansen looks to continue building on the talent he finds.

“I think the [future] looks very bright,” Hansen said.

Pictures of Hansen as a coach, with his son and his wife. Photos provided by Marilyn Hansen.