By: John Raffel
LCC's Ahern welcomes challenges of another season
Make this another football coaching season for a legendary Michigan High School football skipper, Jim Ahern.
The Lansing Catholic skipper started coaching in 1967 and has 51 years under his belt.
He was an assistant the first two years and became head coach in 1969. A 1968 graduate of Western Michigan, Ahern started coaching at Kalamazoo Hackett under Hall of Fame coach Dick Soisson and also served under another Hall of Fame head coach with Don Smeznic at Ogles.
Ahern became head football coach at Palmetto Ridge High School in Fla., in 2004. He’s been a past president of Michigan High School Football Coaches Association and was inducted into the Michigan Hall of Fame in 1996.
He coached at Ithaca 1972 to 2003.
“When I retired at Ithaca, I coached there a couple of years, then I got suckered into going down to Florida,” he said. “If I look back, I probably wouldn’t have done it. I came back in 2008 for my last year and started in 2009 at Lansing Catholic.”
He lost his wife Geri to cancer in 2009 but returned to Michigan and took over the program at Lansing Catholic. He had state runners-up finishes in 2011 and 2014.
His wins total is in the high 200s.
Ahern admits its been tough for him to think about not coaching.
“I still enjoy the Friday nights, I like that part of it,” he said. “The offseason part is getting pretty old, to be honest with you. It’s stuff we used to do when we first started coaching and it gave us an edge. But now if you don’t do the stuff, you’re way behind. I enjoy the season part of it. It’s the offseason that is getting old. I still enjoy the game and the preparation.”
Ahern has been around long enough to realize it’s too early to speculate about 2018, although it’s human nature to have an inkling even before the first practices are conducted.
“We looked good at 7-on-7s which isn’t really football,” Ahern said. “I don’t think we have anyone we’d considered a superstar person. We’re going to be pretty small. I’m worried about the physicality as the season goes on. Our schedule is difficult. We have to stay healthy. We don’t have a lot of depth. We’re not big. That doesn’t hurt you in 7-on-7s. But when you play the actual games, it has to be the whole ball of wax.”
Ahern said there’s been a lot of difference coaching at a public school such as Ithaca in contrast to a private school like LCC.
“I went to parochial school growing up, Owosso-St. Paul,” Ahern said. “I’ve been away from the private parochial school almost all my career. I think within the school, they’re a lot more disciplined. The curriculum is probably the biggest difference. It’s extremely difficult. Kids really have to work hard. Sometimes, they overdo it a little bit. I know the kids are very successful at the college level. About 98 percent of our kids are getting into the college of their choice and they do well.
“We can be a alittle more disciplined just because it is a private school.”
Obviously, coaching has changed in the last 50 seasons.
“It’s almost like it’s circular and it’s coming back to what it used to be,” Ahern said. “You’ll have different offensive things that will come in and defense will catch up with that. I’ve seen that happen. When I started coaching we were primarily a triple option team. A lot of that stuff they talk about now is triple option stuff, only in a little different form.
“We’ve always been a team that throws quite a bit and that hasn’t changed much over the years.”
Ahern said he’s very close to many Ithaca coaches including current skipper Terry Hessbrook.
“Everybody on that staff pretty much played with me or coached with me when I was at Ithaca,” he said. “We still have a pretty close relationship with them. It’s neat to see those guys being successful too.”
There doesn’t seem to be a yet predetermined time when Ahern might coach his final game.
“Up until now, it’s pretty much been as long as I stay healthy, I enjoy doing it,” he said “But each year, like I said, the offseason stuff gets to be old.
“But you have a different group every year and get close to them as juniors and seniors. When one of those groups graduate, it changes the complexities of the teams. To see them grow in their different positions, I still enjoy that part of it.”