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Mike Herrington: Active Legend

Hart head football coach wanted to reach the top at least once more before the end

Posted: December 12, 2013 10:56 p.m.
Updated: December 12, 2013 10:56 p.m.

Hart football head coach Mike Herrington, 55, has guided Hart to seven CIF championships in his 25 years as head coach.

 

For the first time that we can remember at The Signal, Hart High head coach Mike Herrington mentioned the end.

It was an interesting moment when he said it — minutes after the clock hit zero in Hart’s 28-21 win over Valencia in the CIF-Southern Section Northern Division championship game.

“I didn’t know if we’d ever get back,” Herrington said after the win. “I really wanted at least one more. I don’t have many years left.”

Before people get into a panic, Herrington, who has been the Indians head coach for seven of its nine CIF championships, has a couple of years left.

He is 55 years old and said when he turns 60 he can retire from teaching at Hart High. He will likely do so and end a legendary tenure with the football program.

After nine seasons without a CIF title, though, Herrington got his “at least one more” and further cemented himself as a legendary football coach in the state of California.

And at the same time he reminded people that yes, he can still coach.

But there were doubts about his program, especially in the last five years.

 

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That third quarter hook-and-ladder touchdown from the Valencia 24-yard line that gave the Indians a 21-10 lead in the Northern Division title game last Friday looked like a stroke of genius.

Through the years, Herrington has had perfect timing with his bag-of-tricks plays.

In the 2005 CIF-Southern Section Division II semifinals against Mission Viejo, Hart scored on a play where quarterback Tyler Lyon handed the ball to tailback Delano Howell, who then faked the run, turned around and threw it back to Lyon. Lyon found a wide-open Taylor Embree downfield for a 40-yard touchdown.

Hart went on to win 24-12 to pull off a massive upset and advance to the 2005 championship game.

Hart also played in the 2007 Northern Division championship game.

The Indians lost both championship games. Then they lost their way.

Herrington, along with his brothers Dean and Rick, built Hart into a dynasty.

But Herrington lost Dean — the offensive guru — in 2000 to Occidental College.

Then Rick, the defensive mastermind, left after the 2007 season to join Dean at Bishop Alemany High in Mission Hills.

“When I left, he seemed fine with it. He understood that I wanted to try and do something different,” Rick said.

Then all of a sudden, Hart had its first losing season in Herrington’s 20 years with a 5-6 record in 2008 and the team missed the playoffs in 2010 — the first time that had happened since 1980.

Herrington, his detractors chirped, couldn’t get it done without his brothers. However, Rick said it was his brother who was the major piece in getting it done six times in CIF championship games between 1995 and 2003.

“More than you can imagine,” Rick Herrington said on how much credit his brother deserves for Hart’s CIF titles.

Herrington doesn’t listen to the detractors.

“He took it better than me and (defensive coordinator Pat) Dietz because we felt bad that the playoff streak ended when we were here,” said Hart assistant coach Bryan Martuscello, who played for Herrington in 1993 and 1994. “But he kept pushing us. ‘You guys are doing the best you can.’ But I felt like we let him down.”

Martuscello said Herrington allowed his coaches the ability to learn from mistakes.

“He lets people coach. He doesn’t micromanage the program,” Martuscello said. “I do something, he lets me do it. If something’s screwed up, he just looks at me like, ‘No,’ and we fix it.”

Along the way, Herrington said he never thought about giving up and he relished the challenge of returning Hart to its former status.

The turnaround started in 2011 with an 8-4 season and an influx of talent came into the school.

His program again took hits from outsiders who said he was getting kids from outside of Hart’s boundaries.

But he has been a staunch opponent of private schools and their ability to draw kids from large areas, and he points out that his school is like a lot of others in the Santa Clarita Valley.

“Private schools have a big advantage,” he said. “(People say) ‘Well you have guys not living in the Hart boundary. You have guys living in Valencia and West Ranch (boundary).’ That’s not out of the valley,” Herrington said. “Every school has that with players not living in their boundaries, but we don’t get to go up to the valley or out toward Simi or up toward Palmdale like a private school can.”

In the mid-2000s, Hart’s enrollment took a significant hit, Herrington said, losing as many as 1,000 students.

He cites that as a reason for the lean years.

Despite that, he stayed consistent.

“The consistency of discipline and convincing the guys to be dedicated and committed to what you’re doing has been the same,” Herrington said.

And because of that, Hart football teams don’t change much personality-wise from year to year.

Herrington said he doesn’t notice a team’s personality. But like him, the teams are stoic, don’t say much, and are understated.

The 25th-year head coach said he never wants his players to bring attention to themselves. From dress, to actions, he wants them to be the same.

Which is why he might come off as distant, disinterested in attention and shy to outsiders.

Not to his guys.

“I sort of see him as quiet, but around the team he’s a funny guy, too. His sense of humor is dry,” said junior wide receiver Trent Irwin.

Irwin said he connects like no other to players.

“He’s very understanding. He’s someone you can talk to and relate with,” Irwin said. “He helps you in situations if you need support or if you need anything.”

Martuscello called him a “rock” and someone who could answer any question you have.

And another thing Herrington shows is that he hates losing.

“Losing irritates him a lot,” Irwin said. “The films the next day, it’s usually pretty quiet.”

On top of that, he’s emotional.

Prior to Hart’s loss to Canyon on Nov. 8, he gave his players a rare speech where he wore his heart on his sleeve and told them the meaning of playing for each other.

Irwin said he felt horrible losing after a speech like that.

Yet Hart went on, despite losing its final two Foothill League games and finishing in third place, to win its next four games — including its ninth CIF title.

Herrington said the feeling, like all the other titles, was relief.

Hart plays Chaminade on Saturday in its first CIF State Regional Bowl Game — the Southern California Division II championship game.

A win would put Hart in its first state title game ever.

Herrington said he doesn’t need a state title to validate his career.

“It would be nice and great for the Hart football community. For me, I can retire and be satisfied with seven CIF championships and no state championship. That’s not a factor in the success of my coaching career,” he said. “If it doesn’t happen, it doesn’t happen. But you work toward that goal. There have been other successful moments in my coaching career working with all the young men who have come through and guys who have come back to the program. I got a lot of emails and texts from people in the program (after the Northern Division championship), so those are the things that are rewarding — the guys who have played here before and (we) had an impact on their lives.”

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