CHARLOTTESVILLE — When Jim O’Hara accepted the head football coaching position at Eastern Hancock High School four years ago, he did it for all the right reasons.
The same can be said for his decision to step away.
After 32 years of coaching, including several stints with state football powerhouse Cathedral, O’Hara is officially retiring to pursue another undertaking. But his new career direction won’t stray far from his passion.
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An advanced physical education teacher at Eastern Hancock while also serving as a coach, O’Hara has been hired to teach business at Ben Davis University on Indianapolis’ west side.
His new position, which starts in January, will allow him to utilize his Master of Business Administration degree and assist a school of approximately 380 students develop their ambitious plans for a better future.
At Ben Davis University, students can earn dual credit in high school and college through Vincennes University towards an associate’s degree in a small and supportive academic environment.
“It’s one of those things where I won’t be coaching. But teaching is my passion, and I’ve enjoyed it. This gives me a little bit more family time,” said O’Hara, who recently informed Eastern Hancock of his resignation, pending board approval.
“I’ve done this for a lot of years, and I’ve had fun. I’ve enjoyed the guys I’ve worked with, I’ve been at a lot of schools and the kids and parents are great. It’s just time to slow down a little bit and focus on one thing.”
Teaching and coaching are essentially two full-time jobs, O’Hara admitted, and the 58-year-old is looking forward to the down time to spend with his wife, Natalie, and their four grandchildren.
However, the decision to walk away from coaching didn’t come easy.
O’Hara and football have been linked since he was a standout quarterback and state runner-up at Cathedral in the 1970s before continuing his career at the University of Dayton where he won a NCAA Division III national title in 1980.
He began coaching as an assistant at Cathedral in 1983 and was part of the program’s 1986, 1996, 1998 and 1999 state championship seasons.
From 1988-93 he was the head coach at Hamilton Southeastern and later became the head coach at Cathedral in 2002. O’Hara led the Irish to the 2006 Class 4A state title with a 13-2 record.
After the 2007 season, however, he resigned due to a ruptured disc in his back until he reemerged as an assistant at Noblesville in 2012 and at Anderson in 2013.
Before coming to Eastern Hancock, O’Hara renewed his teaching licence during his brief hiatus, which offered him an opportunity this winter he couldn’t pass up as an educator.
“We want the best for him and we’re thankful for what he gave us,” Eastern Hancock Athletics Director Aaron Spaulding said. “I know he’s excited for his new endeavor. He’s going to be a little bit closer to home. Obviously, when you’re not coaching it’s a little bit less stress and more family time. I know he’s looking forward to that.”
O’Hara, who has a 118-63 coaching record in 16 seasons, was commuting to Charlottesville from Carmel, driving 80 miles and 90 minutes round trip daily, which played a part, he said.
“Eastern Hancock has been a fabulous place to work. Everyone there is kind and cares about you. It’s a small family. It was enjoyable,” O’Hara said. “But I had a long drive, and the game’s changed so much with concussions, heat-illnesses and starting June 1; it didn’t use to be that way. It’s different now. You have a lot more worries.”
One thing O’Hara won’t take with him is regrets.
Bringing a philosophy of trust and love to the Royals football program, O’Hara’s teams were 31-15 in four seasons, winning a sectional championship in 2014 at 10-3.
The Royals had three winning campaigns under O’Hara’s watch. They finished 6-5 this fall, dedicating their season to Riley Settergren, an incoming senior who passed away weeks before the season in a tragic car accident this past July.
O’Hara’s guidance and family approach to the game, Spaulding noted, helped not only the players but the community find the strength it needed to bond together and move forward after Settergren died.
“Jim was really good with the kids right away. He was a big part of funeral services himself in speaking and he managed a really difficult situation extremely well. I know he did everything he could to try to help everyone,” Spaulding said. “He was great with the family and a mentor to all the kids who were really having a hard time throughout that.”
Addressing his players last week to inform them of his resignation was difficult, O’Hara said, expressing his gratitude for his coaching staff and the families.
“Hopefully, we taught them a lot of life lessons about loving each other and taking care of your buddy,” O’Hara said. “It was a nice place to be. They’re family to me.”
No longer coaching will be an adjustment, he remarked, but the memories won’t fade anytime soon.
O’Hara looks back fondly on his time at Eastern Hancock, and at Cathedral, noting the 1986 title team that only had eight seniors on the roster.
“There are probably two teams for me. No. 1 would be the 1996 team at Cathedral. We were really good at 14-0,” O’Hara said. “My second favorite team wasn’t a state champion. It was my son’s (John) senior year in 2001. We had a bunch of ragamuffins. They got beat in the semistate after leading 21-7, but turned the ball over and lost 28-21 to Jasper.
“That team was special because it was my son’s. We didn’t have any superstars, and they played as a team. It was a great memory.”