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New St. Peter’s Prep head football coach Richie Hansen (far left) is joined by his father, current head Prep coach Rich Hansen (second from right) and their two nephews Andrew Verdi (second left) and Anthony Verdi (far right). The Verdis’ father Anthony is the head wrestling coach at Prep

Richie Hansen says that he first got the coaching bug when he was just a freshman at St. Peter’s College, after his fine playing days at St. Peter’s Prep were over.

“I guess it was 2003,” Hansen recalls. “The staff with the freshman team at Prep was down one man and the head freshman coach Ed Roselle asked me if I could come and help out. I went to practice that day and never looked back. I fell in love with coaching right away.”

So it was only natural that Richie would follow in the footsteps of his famous father, Rich Hansen, who has been the head coach at Prep since George H.W. Bush – yes, the older one – was President.

“It was a huge evolution for me,” said the 31-year old Richie Hansen. “I have a computer science degree. I never thought of teaching and coaching.”

Young Richie quickly moved his way up the ranks under his father’s tutelage, from linebackers coach to eventually the defensive coordinator position that he held for the last 10 years. All totaled, Richie Hansen has spent 15 years as an assistant coach at Grand and Warren.

Over the last three years or so, the younger Hansen started to feel like he could eventually become a head coach.

“I started to get a little itchy for it,” Richie Hansen said. “Although you can never fully be prepared for it.”

That’s because Richie Hansen had no idea how long his father, now a coaching legend, would stick around as the head coach of the Marauders. How much longer did Richie have to wait to get his shot as a head coach, preferably with the program he once played for and invested 15 years of his life?

The elder Hansen ended all speculation in August, when he officially announced that the 2020 season would be his final campaign with the Marauders. Hansen will stay on as the school’s athletic director, but this is it when it comes to coaching.

“It was the worst secret in New Jersey high school football,” the elder Hansen said of his pending retirement from coaching. I had so many people ask me about when I was going to step down.”

So after the announcement was made in August, the speculation was that the younger Hansen would naturally ascend into the top spot.

“But I didn’t know until a few months ago that he wanted it,” said Hansen, the athletic director. “[School] President [Mike] Gomez and I both agreed that Richie deserved it. He loves the school, loves the program, loves the kids. For the last 15 years, he’s been a main catalyst to our success. He’s been a part of the fabric here for his whole life. I gave him the same responsibility that [former Prep head coach] Gerry Bellotti gave me.”

Last week, the school officially announced that Richie Hansen will become the new head football coach at Prep beginning next season. For now, the father/son combo will finish out the 2020 season, hopefully in a blaze of glory. The state’s No. 1-ranked team doesn’t have a state championship to defend this December. The pandemic eliminated all NJSIAA playoffs for this season.

But the elder Hansen believes that this was the most logical move.

“I feel like I’m turning the program over to a competent coach,” Hansen said. “He just happens to be my son. This is a cycle and I’m glad to keep it in the family, the Prep family and the Hansen family.”

The timing of the move was vital, considering that there are a lot of seventh and eighth graders out there who might be considering attending St. Peter’s Prep and need to know who the head coach is moving forward.

“I think it’s important to our kids in the program that they know who the head coach is going to be,” the elder Hansen said. “I want everyone to know that our program is in a good place. There’s stability here and there always will be. I think that was always in the mindset. The chemistry here is good and the atmosphere here is great.”

Richie Hansen believed that the timing – naming him as the head coach now instead of waiting until the end of the season – was essential.

“I think the purpose of getting it out there and making it official was to make a clear path of succession moving forward,” Richie Hansen said. “I think that it makes things easier for my father. We can move full steam ahead after the season.”

Richie Hansen said that he wasn’t overly antsy about becoming the head coach, that if his father wanted to stick around for a few more years, he was fine with it.

“I was never really anxious for this to happen,” Richie Hansen said. “And I’d be naïve to think that there’s nothing I’m not prepared for. I’ve taken as many steps necessary to believe that. I think I’m as ready as possible. I think I’ve done everything and prepared everything for the foreseeable future.”

So, much like the proud father who hands his son the car keys for the first time, Rich Hansen is ready to turn his program over to his son. Like the elder Hansen said in preseason, associating his program with being a Maserati, Richie Hansen is inheriting a million-dollar sports car.

“I did it my way for 33 years,” the elder Hansen said. “I think Richie has to feel his way around and make it work for him. He’s been a great assistant coach. He’s going to find out soon enough what it’s like to be a head coach, making decisions about everything. I’m confident that his personality will come to be appreciated as a head coach. He’s earned this shot. I think he’s ready.”

Everyone will know for sure come September of 2021.

Jim Hague can be reached via e-mail at OGSMAR@aol.com. You can also read Jim’s blog at www.jimhaguesports.blogspot.com, follow Jim on Twitter @ogsmar and listen to the Hudson County Sports Podcast, brought to you weekly by Stan’s Sports Center, 528 Washington Street in Hoboken, on YouTube, Facebook and Twitter, with this week’s guest being former St. Joseph of the Palisades and Villanova football star and former St. Peter’s Prep head coach Gerry Bellotti.

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