By: Nate Schneider
Lansing Catholic Central's Jim Ahern a staple in coaching fraternity
Only 17 football head coaches in MHSAA history have accumulated more wins than Lansing Catholic Central’s Jim Ahern.
Ahern spent 32 seasons as head coach at Ithaca High School from 1972 through 2003, racking up a boatload of victories along the way including a stretch from 1992 until departure that did not include a losing season.
After accomplishing so much with the Yellowjackets, Ahern decided to take on a new venture and headed to Florida where he ended up spending two seasons as head coach at Lehigh Acres East Lee County, a pair of forgettable seasons that have become a blip on the radar.
The move to Florida is something Ahern has been quoted many times since as being “a mistake”, one made exponentially worse when he lost his wife Gerri to cancer in November of 2008.
He returned home and quickly found another coaching opportunity, taking over a program at Lansing Catholic Central in 2009 that was coming off a 2-7 season the year before. Making matters more difficult, the Cougars had achieved only one postseason appearance and three total winning seasons since 1991.
“I just sort of fell into it,” Ahern admitted. “I knew there was a lot of tradition there and they’d just had some down years. They had a strong program in the 1980s under Phil Booth, so I knew there was something there and that we could get it going again.”
Despite the tall odds, Ahern quickly ‘spread’ his magic over the program as the shotgun-based offense proved to be a jumping point for more excitement and turnout for LCC football.
Ahern has led the Cougars to the playoffs each year, culminating with a pair of Division 5 state championship game appearances in 2011 and 2014. The 2011 state title game at Ford Field ended in a 56-26 defeat versus Flint Powers Catholic, while three years later Lansing Catholic Central fell in a 24-20 heartbreaker to Grand Rapids West Catholic.
Two future Central Michigan University quarterbacks have been mentored by Ahern during his time at LCC, first Cooper Rush who took the Cougars to the ‘11 state title game and is now having a strong preseason for the Dallas Cowboys in the National Football League. Shortly thereafter, 6-foot-7 Tony Poljan used his right arm to help LCC to the D5 title game and is now vying for the starting QB job at Central Michigan as a redshirt freshman.
So what keeps Ahern coming back to the sidelines year after year through all the triumphs and tough losses?
“I like to see the kids develop,” Ahern added. “I still like the competition and competitive nature. The part that I like is the game preparation and the games. I’m getting where the offseason stuff isn’t as much fun as it used to be. It’s getting to be a grind a little bit. But getting ready for the games and then the actual games, that is what I still really enjoy.”
Lansing Catholic Central opens the season with an August 25 showdown at Waverly. Kickoff is at 7 p.m.