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Final Drive

At the end of the school year, football coach and athletic director Earl Hansen will retire from Palo Alto High School. Over Hansen's 26 years of coaching football at Paly, he has led the Vikings to over 200 wins, four Central Coast Section (CCS) titles and two state championship games. In 2010 he led the Viking's to a 15-13 win over Centennial High School in the CIF State Championship game.

Zoe Bhargava and Megan Valencia

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Many things have changed at Palo Alto High School since its founding in 1898. The face of Paly has been altered as new installments have replaced older buildings. The Haymarket Theater, the Tower Building and the George Stirling Stewart Gym or “big gym” are a few Paly icons that still stand today. Earl Hansen stands among these icons, which have given shape and stability for many years to the constantly changing face of the Paly campus. However, 34 years after his initial appearance at Paly in 1980, the head football coach and athletic director will retire in June of 2014.

In his time at Paly, Hansen has led the Vikings to over 200 wins, including four Central Coast Section titles, two California State Bowl Game appearances and the 2010 state championship title. In addition to his success coaching football, Hansen has also enhanced Paly’s athletic program. His departure signals the end of an era of athletic success under his leadership. Beyond his numerous achievements, Hansen has not only been a coach to countless students, but also a friend and a mentor. The impact he makes on his students carries on far past their four years in green and white.

Hansen, known affectionately by his players as “The Silver Fox”, is often remembered as a coach with the ability to make a winning team. The success that has occurred under Hansen’s 26-year tenure as head football coach has not always been easy. However, his ability to overcome odds is not luck, but it is due to his regimented belief in organization and preparation.

“The biggest lessons The Silver Fox has taught me are about persistence and focus,” Michael Cullen (‘11) said. “The structure of practices enabled us to get better every week, and the variety kept practice fun, always. [Hansen] knows football so well it just rubs off on you. He’s a guy who I always wanted to go to war for, and I think that’s the most important thing you look for in a coach, is whether their players will buy in to their philosophy from day one and grind until the desired results are achieved.”

Over two coaching stints at Paly, Hansen has coached hundreds of students. One of these athletes is Jason Fung (‘92), who played on Hansen’s first team during his second stint at Paly. Fung, who won the most valuable player award in 1991, is now a physical education teacher and track and field coach for the Vikings. As both a player and a colleague of Hansen, Fung has learned what makes a great coach from the example he has seen at Paly for the past two decades. Fung will be using what he has learned from Hansen this coming fall, when he takes over as Athletic Director.

“The one thing [Hansen has] always told me is if you prepare well enough, the rest is easy,” Fung said. “Coach Hansen has always been prepared. He prepared for practice, for the week and for the season. That’s one thing I got from him for being the head coach of track: the preparation. If you prepare well enough, everything else falls into place.”

Hansen’s ability to mentally and physically prepare his teams for games translated into many wins. Regardless of his team’s ability or size and the level of opponents, Hansen’s planning often proved as the key to victories on the field.

“We played a lot of teams that probably had more raw talent on their roster than we did over the years, but we still won most of those games, in large part because of our game planning and execution,” Marco Scola (‘10) said. “Come Friday night, we were always ready to compete, no matter the opponent. Not once in two-plus seasons did I take the field without confidence that we could win that particular game. And I think that is the ultimate testament to Coach Hansen.”

In the 2010 state championship game, Hansen’s ability to prepare his team paid off. After an undefeated season, the players on that team not only remember the joys they had while playing on the field, but also the satisfaction of Hansen’s pure happiness after winning the championship.

“After winning state we got on the bus to go back to the hotel and we were going crazy,” Erik Anderson (‘13) said. “As soon as Hansen stepped inside of the bus all fell quiet. There was a three-second moment of silence and then the biggest smile I have ever seen appeared on his face and he began screaming. Then the entire team rose up and continued screaming and celebrating with Coach Hansen. The moment was surreal.”

The 2010 season was a milestone in Hansen’s career and led to his receipt of the Cal Hi Sports Coach of the Year Award. However, Paly students and players have always acknowledged Hansen’s superior level of coaching.

“Hansen [is] one of the best coaches, if not the best coach, Paly has ever had,” Spencer Drazovich (‘13) said. “His record speaks for itself. He has the respect of every one of his players and every other coach on his staff. His dedication and devotion to his teams is something that I will always admire.”

Through years of high level coaching Hansen has been able to pursue his passion for the sport. However, the countless hours he has spent planning practices and teaching classes have not been for the glory that accompanies his many successes.

“I’m in education for one reason: [the students],” Hansen said. “It’s because I enjoy being out on that field.”

Hansen’s zeal for the sport has kept the Paly football program successful since his arrival. Through his constant energy and enthusiasm at daily practices Hansen has passed his love for football on to numerous athletes including Tory Prati (‘12). Prati also played on the 2010 state championship team and currently plays division three college football for Johns Hopkins University.

“I think Coach Hansen proved to me that doing what you love can keep you young at heart,” Prati said. “I can’t remember a practice where he didn’t have his usual focus and enthusiasm. … Hansen got excited for practice in the rain. He inspired me to find something in life that I am passionate about, just as he is passionate about kids and football.”

As much of an influence as Hansen had on his players in the game of football, Hansen’s coaching also went far beyond the field. He encouraged his players and students to preserve their values and helped develop them into responsible young adults.

“Coach Hansen had a profound effect on my development not just as a football player, but as a person,” Will Glazier (‘11) said. “He emphasized hard work, toughness and character, and demanded it out of all our players. The game of football itself is great for teaching those values, but Coach Hansen helped teach me the importance of performing day in and day out and making each practice count.”

As football coach and athletic director, Hansen’s leadership has been key to Paly’s athletic success. However, as a mentor, his abilities as a leader have also made him a role model for his students and players. Many of Hansen’s former students have adopted his leadership skills to aid them in their post-high-school endeavors. One of these athletes is Will Holder (‘09) who continued on to The United States Military Academy at West Point after Paly and graduated as a second lieutenant in 2013.

“Hansen has had an enormous effect on me as an athlete but even more as a leader.” Holder said. “He led by example every day and gave me someone to look up to and emulate.  He always put his players and students first and helped out in any way he could.  He was the kind of coach that not only wanted to make you better on the field, but he wanted to see you succeed in life. The lesson that I got from him is that the most important part of leadership is caring and I have carried that though both my athletic and military career.”

    Holder is currently training with the Olympic Rugby Sevens team with the World Class Athlete Program for Rio Summer 2016 Olympic Games. Holder is one of many of Hansen’s former athletes who have gone on to pursue athletics at an elite level, all of these athletes carry with them the lessons they learned while they were Vikings.

Hansen’s huge and abundant impact on former players is a testament to his ability as a coach. However, Hansen’s impact does not stop at the football team. As both the athletic director and as a P.E. teacher, Hansen has created relationships with countless students outside of the football and athletic programs. Though he may house a seemingly tough exterior, Hansen’s caring and fun nature is uncovered in his ability to create a relationship with nearly any student on campus.

“I think many people outside of Paly don’t realize how big an impact Coach Hansen had on the whole student body, not just the football team,” Prati said. “As an athletic director, he certainly deserves credit for the entire success of Paly athletics. But he was also so personable with many students. He taught PE and remembered all his students. With his office located off the big gym, we would come out and say hello to students passing by. I think many non-athletes felt a connection with Coach Hansen, and that is testament to his caring personality.”

Sophia Bono (‘13) was Hansen’s teaching assistant when she attended Paly. As a volleyball player, Bono did not experience the influence of Hansen as a coach. However, Bono felt the weight of Hansen’s presence at Paly and appreciated his ability to support and relate to all Paly students.

“To me, Hansen was always that authority figure that kept you on track and always motivated you, and people respected that,” Bono said. “But at the same time he was the guy that was like one of us; you could always approach him in a casual manner. He was always there to help if anyone ever needed it.”

Hansen has been devoted to football, athletics and students for the past few decades. With the commitment Hansen has dedicated to his job, he has had very little time for vacation and looks forward to what his retirement will bring him.

“Travel is one [thing I plan to do after I retire],” Hansen said. “I’m going to kick back for a year and relax.  My wife and I have not had a fall off since 1975, so I don’t know what the fall in other parts of the country look like.”

With Hansen’s departure, the Paly community will be seeing a new era of athletics starting in Fall 2014. Although Hansen plans to continue to stay involved indirectly with the football and athletic programs, his retirement reminds current and past students of the vast amount of success he has contributed to Paly.

“He’s a great coach and great person and it’s awesome that he stayed dedicated to coaching at Paly all this time,” James Foug (‘13) said. “It’s kind of sad to see him stop coaching, but it should be viewed as more of a celebration of what he brought to this city. Paly has had a rich success and he’s definitely the main reason why. ”

Hansen’s retirement is not only the departure of a football coach and teacher, but also the departure of an icon. In his 26 years at Palo Alto High School, Hansen has shaped the face of Paly athletics and the talents and characters of hundreds of students.

“I think that his success at Paly transcends the many generations of Paly athletes,” Michael Anderson (’08) said. “With the football stars that have emerged from his program, this point is obvious. But what [aren’t] as apparent are the countless men and women that interacted with him in either sports or school. He always had the best interests of the students and the school in mind. He [is] a true educator and coach, and he will be missed.” <<<

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