By Keith Peters
Palo Alto Online Sports
Earl Hansen was caught off guard when he heard the news that he had been named the ESPN RISE Cal-Hi Sports State Coach of the Year for the 2010 high school football season. He was packing his bags around 11:30 Tuesday morning in Ft. Lauderdale, Fla., after a long night of watching the Stanford football deliver a 40-12 dismantling of Virginia Tech in the Orange Bowl.
"No, I haven't heard," Hansen said upon being told of the honor. "That will make my flight go a little faster."
In his 23rd year at Palo Alto High, Hansen guided the Vikings to a 14-0 record, the Central Coast Section Open Division title and a 15-13 victory over heavily favored Centennial-Corona in the CIF Division I state bowl championship game.
Hansen, 59, who is also the school's athletic director, is the sixth CCS coach to win state coach-of-the-year honors since 1970. The other five are Ed Buller of Oak Grove (San Jose) in 2007, Norm Dow of Live Oak (Morgan Hill) in 1988, Charlie Wedemeyer of Los Gatos in 1985, Ron Calcagno of St. Francis in 1983 and Benny Pierce of Saratoga in 1976.
"That's quite a crew," said Hansen, still a little groggy from Monday's Orange Bowl festivities.
After watching Jim Harbaugh, one of Hansen's former players, coach the Cardinal to its first bowl game victory since 1996, Hansen joined the team celebration at the hospitality room around 2 a.m. (Florida time). He chatted with his son, Peter, a Stanford defensive assistant, and Jack Harbaugh, Jim's father.
"I got to bed about 4 a.m.," Hansen said. "That's way past my bed time."
Thus, Hansen was almost in a dreamy state when informed of the state coaching honor.
"It's just great," he said. "This is for our whole coaching staff. It's not just me. We accomplished something that's never been done before at Palo Alto High. You have to have great assistants, which I have. You have to have great athletes, and we've got the athletes. And you have to create an atmosphere where you can be successful."
Hansen has done just that during his 23-year coaching stint at Paly, where he has compiled a 174-85-3 record. Over the past 10 years, the Vikings have gone 92-29-3 under Hansen's guidance while winning four CCS titles and reaching the state championship game twice since the bowls began in 2006. No other CCS team has done that and Paly is the first CCS team to win one.
While Palo Alto had been undefeated in football five times prior to this season, 2010 turned out to be the best of all-time since the Vikings began playing the sport in 1897. Paly completed a 10-0 regular season, which included capturing the SCVAL De Anza Division title, then made a remarkable run through the section playoffs with victories over West Catholic Athletic League powers Mitty, Bellarmine and Valley Christian to wrap up its second Open Division crown in five years.
The Vikings also reached CCS title games in 2003, '05 and '08.
"Coach Hansen is a great coach," Paly senior quarterback Christoph Bono told Cal-Hi Sports. "I've heard players say that Palo Alto football wouldn't be the same without Hansen. He has been there a long time. He presides over the whole thing like at father figure. A lot of people don't realize how much time he spends in preparing for games. He studies film eight to 10 hours on the weekend, getting us prepared for games."
Hansen was a two-way end at Cubberley High. He graduated in 1969 and got his teaching credential at San Jose State and began his coaching at Wilbur Junior High, now Jane Lathrop Stanford Middle School.
Hansen was named Paly's head football coach in 1981 and coached Harbaugh for two seasons. Hansen left Palo Alto to take over the football program at San Lorenzo Valley from 1983-87, returning to Paly in 1991. Hansen and Harbaugh, however, have remained friends throughout the years. Hansen was on hand when Harbaugh was introduced as Stanford's head coach in 2006.
After Palo Alto won its first state football title on Dec. 17, Harbaugh took time at his own press conference to praise Hansen.
"Coach Hansen is a great coach, a great man and a great teacher," Harbaugh said on Dec. 22. "He cares about people and makes you feel that when you're with him, whether you're on the frosh-soph, a junior or senior. He'll always ask about a family member or your biology class."
So when Palo Alto won the state title game over the weekend, Harbaugh was ecstatic.
"Talk about a coaching job," Harbaugh said. "There's the best coach on the Peninsula, in the Bay Area. He did a phenomenal job and this is his finest season."
"He keeps in contact with a lot of people," Harbaugh continued. "You never really leave an Earl Hansen program. It feels like you've never left high school. His passion for the game remains and he's still as intense as the day I met him. That's a rare quality. Those are the qualities I try to emulate and see if I can measure up to him. If you're a Palo Alto Vikings alumni, or a Stanford alumni, or both, then these are tremendous days."
Earl Hansen would have to agree.