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The end of an era: legendary Prep grid coach Hansen says goodbye to coaching; focuses on future

St. Peter’s Prep head football coach Rich Hansen (center) stands with his seniors before the final game of Hansen’s coaching career last week against Bergen Catholic
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St. Peter’s Prep head football coach Rich Hansen (center) stands with his seniors before the final game of Hansen’s coaching career last week against Bergen Catholic

It wasn’t supposed to end this way.

Rich Hansen’s glorious head coaching career at St. Peter’s Prep, guiding the Marauders from a burgeoning local program to one of the most respected in the entire nation, came to a close Nov. 28 in Oradell, when the Marauders faced archrival Bergen Catholic.

And Hansen’s incredible tenure as the Marauders’ main man ended with not a lot of fanfare. The Marauders, who were ranked at the start of the week as the No. 1 team in the state and No. 6 in the entire country, lost 22-15 to the Crusaders, just five days after losing to Seton Hall Prep by a single point in overtime.

So, the 2020 season that initially began with so many questions concerning the coronavirus, whether there would even be a season, then how many games would they play and who would they play.

The season then began with four impressive victories, then came to a complete screeching halt, first by a COVID-19 quarantine that was supposed to be for two weeks but was extended for almost a full month.

And then there were the two games in five days – both of which ended up as losses.

So there it was, a legendary football coaching career that began in 1988 came to an end.

Hansen’s run was the most legendary coaching career ever by a Jersey City head football coach and ranks only second to the late, great Vince Ascolese of Hoboken and North Bergen in terms of coaching wins and the most by any Hudson County coach at one school.

Hansen’s career at St. Peter’s ends with an incredible 273-74-1 record over 33 seasons. He was the manufacturer of five NJSIAA state championships (1989, 1994, 2005, 2014, 2019), 21 HCIAA and HCIAL championships and 24 county and divisional championships.

Hansen had a streak of six straight years (from 2002 through 2007) where the Marauders won at least 10 games and lost only once each year – with the exception being the 12-0 state championship team in 2005. They went an incredible 64-5 during that span. It’s a legacy that speaks for itself.

But the time had come for Hansen to turn the keys of the castle over to his oldest son Richie who becomes the head coach next year. The elder Hansen will stay on as the athletic director at St. Peter’s, as well as serve as the president of the New Jersey Super Football Conference, two responsibilities that he takes a lot of pride in.

After the game was over Saturday, Hansen parked himself in front of his computer to look at game highlights and realized one thing.

“There’s no reason to do this,” Hansen said.

And then, the time came to reflect just a little. Not at what could have been a storybook ending to a legendary career, but how truly remarkable of a run that the man had. It’s a run that no one in these parts will ever witness again.

No coach will stay at the same job for 33 years anymore. And no coach will ever experience the success that Hansen enjoyed. The sport has changed dramatically. Athletics as a whole have been altered over the years – even more so in a pandemic year.

“That’s why I’m so grateful to so many people,” Hansen said. “I’ve had so many former players reach out to me, parents of former players, people from school, people from outside the school. Frankly, it’s a little overwhelming.”

Hansen was asked if he can truly appreciate the legacy that he leaves at Grand and Warren.

“I always looked at anything we did as being representative of Prep,” Hansen said. “Some of the things we’ve been able to do have been unbelievable for New Jersey football in general.”

Hansen reflected on being the only coach to bring a New Jersey football team to play overseas, when the Marauders went to Ireland to participate in the Global Football Classic—American Football Showcase in 2016, defeating Blessed Trinity of Atlanta. Former Hudson Reporter Male Athlete of the Year Jorge Portorreal scored three touchdowns in that game.

“I guess I see things through a different lens now,” Hansen said. “I never envisioned in 1988 when I took the job that this was what I wanted to do. I was getting an opportunity to help do things for kids. I was helping kids. I never set out to think I would be doing this 39 years later, 33 as a head coach. It is unbelievable.”

But Hansen knew his time had come.

“The last couple of years, I left mentally drained,” Hansen said. “After last year, I considered pulling the trigger, but I wanted to come back for one more year with these kids. After every season, I would take a breath and think about coming back. But now, I think this is the best decision. I can’t guarantee that there won’t be another, but I am totally content with the decision. I look forward to my role as being the athletic director and I plan on being the best AD I can be. I also plan on being the best in the various roles that I currently have.”

Hansen said that he remembered vividly standing in the Prep gym, ready to be named the new head coach, replacing Gerry Bellotti, the man who brought Hansen to Prep.

“I was standing there, staring at all the banners, and the feeling was so surreal,” Hansen said. “The doors of the gym opened up and I looked up and a Jesuit was coming in the door. He asked who I was, and I said I was the new football coach. He said, ‘Well, good luck with that.’ I think part of the reason why Gerry hired me was that he wanted me to change the culture and the mindset there.”

Well, the first change came in Hansen’s second year, when the Marauders mounted a tremendous comeback in the 1989 Parochial A North state championship game against St. Joseph of Montvale to win 22-21.

“I can honestly say that we developed a great work ethic here, a blue-collar mentality,” Hansen said. “I think that’s the biggest reason why we were able to be successful.”

And aside from coaching both of his sons, Richie and Dan, at Prep, with his son poised to step into his father’s shoes as the head coach in the fall, Hansen said that he has another huge sense of pride – that has been sending over 150 players to play in the college football ranks, some to the biggest and best programs in the country.

For example, three former Marauders – namely former Hudson Reporter Male Athlete of the Year Shayne Simon, as well as Justin and Jayson Ademilola, currently grace the roster at Notre Dame. Another former Marauder, namely Minkah Fitzpatrick, is one of the top safeties in the National Football League with the Pittsburgh Steelers.

“That’s my biggest sense of pride,” Hansen said. “All the kids that used football as a platform to get somewhere; that’s the most gratifying thing to me.”

After the team’s last practice last week, Hansen got a little emotional with his team. As the seniors took their last lap around the Perkins Athletic Center – a facility that was helped to be built with Hansen’s vision – Hansen ran with them. Luckily, it was a little jog, not a sprint, so Hansen could run with them. But it was a heart-tugging moment.

So after the last game, Hansen stood on the field for a second. He was greeted by a ton of Bergen Catholic well wishers.

“I was taken back with how great they all were,” Hansen said. “Bergen Catholic kids were coming up to me and congratulating me. That was impressive.”

Just as impressive as one sportswriter enjoying a lot of those moments with the coach, being there for the first game and present for the last – and hundreds in between. It was great to be part of the ride, especially since St. Peter’s Prep is the writer’s alma mater and wears that Pride and Glory every day. With that, I also congratulate Rich Hansen on a fabulous career and for allowing me to be a big part of it every step of the way.

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. Listen to this week’s guest, namely Hoboken native and former sportswriter and top public address announcer Dom Alagia.