CHARLOTTESVILLE — A football head coach again for the first time in seven years, Jim O’Hara couldn’t be happier at Eastern Hancock, where he’ll try to maintain the Royals’ recent winning tradition.
Hired in December following the departure of Pat Echeverria to Zionsville, O’Hara immediately took over for Echeverria as head coach, as well as physical education teacher at the high school.
“It’s been great,” O’Hara said Tuesday. “Love the school, the administration. The kids are great. Faculty is very warm and very engaged and very united, so I feel very blessed to be here. I’ve enjoyed it incredibly.”
After a long career in coaching, culminating with a state championship as Cathedral’s head coach in 2006 and a regional title in 2007, O’Hara took some time away to focus on his health. He returned as an assistant with Noblesville in 2012 and with Anderson last season before jumping at the chance to lead Eastern Hancock, which fell to Tri-Central 20-10 in the Class A State Finals Nov. 29 at Lucas Oil Stadium.
O’Hara has been busy assembling his coaching staff. The 1977 Cathedral graduate and former University of Dayton quarterback is bringing in Randy Albano and Jason Gilman from Anderson and Bill Smith and Chris Huntington, who O’Hara knows from his time at Cathedral.
Albano was released from his coaching duties at Anderson in March after five years as head coach. Gilman served with O’Hara on Albano’s staff last season.
Smith was an assistant for O’Hara on the Irish state title team, and Huntington is a 2006 Cathedral grad and former player.
O’Hara is also talking to a pair of other potential new coaches, whom O’Hara declined to name until it becomes official.
“We’re keeping everybody that was on the (Eastern Hancock) staff last year,” O’Hara explained. “What we’re trying to do is platoon, which means (the players) are, for the most part, only going to play one-way. So we’ll need a few more coaches.”
One of the tasks for O’Hara and his staff will be to mount a potent offensive attack without running back Spencer Gilbert, who will attempt to walk on at Ball State this fall after a record-setting career with the Royals. Gilbert rushed for 2,914 yards and scored 308 points for the 14-1 Royals last season, both top 10 all-time single-season IHSAA bests.
O’Hara said he has “a few ideas” on what configuration his team’s offensive attack will take, but he’ll wait until summer practice begins to nail down the particulars. His main concern right now is up front.
“We have talent at the skill positions, but we’re looking for offensive linemen and defensive linemen,” O’Hara said. “So those are things we have to develop and coach ’em up on.”
Four of the Royals’ five starting offensive linemen from the State Finals game are graduating, along with both outside linebackers and a defensive tackle.
Beyond the on-field skill of his personnel, though, O’Hara has been happy just to get to know his new players.
“One of the first things I did, I had them over to the house,” O’Hara said. “Fixed my world famous Coney sauce, had them play bocce ball and ping pong and some card games. Just to say, you know, ‘Hey this is where I live, this is where I come from.’ And let them know that I care about them and that I’m here to work for them.”
“You can’t be successful in any sport or any corporation or any endeavor without team spirit. It’s probably the most important thing to create, everybody trusting each other and everybody being there for each other.”
2014 REGULAR SEASON SCHEDULE
Aug. 22 Northeastern (1A})
Aug. 29 at South Decatur (1A)‡
Sep. 5 Indian Creek (3A)‡
Sep. 12 Milan (2A)‡
Sep. 19 at Knightstown (2A)‡
Sep. 26 North Decatur (1A)‡
Oct. 3 at Wes-Del (1A)
Oct. 10 Shenandoah (2A)
Oct. 17 at Lapel (2A)
‡Mid-Indiana Football Conference game
* Northeastern (Week 1) and Lapel (Week 9) replace Tri-Central (formerly Week 1) and Indianapolis Tindley (formerly Week 9).
* Weeks 2-6 comprise the Royals’ Mid-Indiana Football Conference slate.
* All games are Friday evenings, 7 p.m.