Jim Ahern had just told his assistant coaches that he was leaving Ithaca to move to Florida when the assistants adjourned to Terry Hessbrook’s house to discuss the future of the program.
The other assistants decided that Hessbrook should take over the program, which is when Hessbrook had his Tom Cruise moment.
“I used that line from Top Gun: ‘The first time, I crashed and burned,’ ” Hessbrook said.
Hessbrook was referring to his five years as head coach at Blanchard Montabella, where his teams were 2-43.
“I was young; I was God’s gift to coaching; I didn’t even know what I didn’t know,” Hessbrook said. “And every one of those players that I’ve seen that had a chance to play for me back then, I’ve apologized to every one of them. I didn’t have a clue what I was doing.”
Times have changed.
Hessbrook completed his ninth season at his alma mater and is the first coach in state history to win three consecutive state championships with undefeated seasons.
The turning point in Hessbrook’s career came when he was laid off as a Montabella teacher.
“I got a chance to come back here in ’96, and I learned an awful lot from Jim Ahern,” he said. “He was a mentor, and he still is to this day.”
Hessbrook worked under Ahern for eight seasons before succeeding him in 2004. He took the job with the understanding the other assistants would stay.
“In Ithaca we have a lot of talent, and I have a tremendous supporting cast for coaches that help me every single day of the year, not just during the season,” he said. “A lot of the guys have been with me since the beginning.”
Hessbrook has an 87-17 record at Ithaca, and the latest state championship came after All-State quarterback Travis Smith was injured on the second play of the title game.
Hessbrook has a self-effacing sense of humor, and no matter how many games Ithaca wins, he isn’t about to think he invented the game. Instead, he will think about his years at Montabella.
“I wasn’t so brilliant,” he said. “At that time I thought that was the end of my coaching career, and there were a lot of people that probably were excited to hear that.”
Thankfully, he received a second chance, and Tom Cruise’s Maverick character probably would say it is looking good so far.
“I’m so thankful I stayed in this and have this opportunity in the last few years,” Hessbrook said. “I often wonder, why us? There’s an awful lot of tremendous football coaches in the state of Michigan.”
And Hessbrook is at the top of the list.
Contact Mick McCabe: 313-223-4744 or email@example.com . Follow him on Twitter @mickmccabe1.
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