Ron Morris

June 6, 2014

MORRIS: Retiring Irmo coach Bob Hanna says football gave him everything he has

Retiring Irmo coach Bob Hanna says football gave him everything in life

BOB HANNA announced his retirement months ago as the athletics director and football coach at Irmo High. He coached in October the final game of a highly successful 36-season run at five high schools in North Carolina and at Irmo.

Most of the boxes are packed and removed from his office in the Irmo field house. The 65-year-old Hanna is employed through the end of June, then he will head off to North Myrtle Beach to relax and enjoy life.

Of course, Hanna will tell you he is not leaving a job behind. He claims to never have worked a day in his life, except for that one month in a Pittsburgh steel mill during college that convinced him hard labor was not for him.

“Football has given me everything I’ve got,” Hanna says. “It’s given me an education, given me a job that never felt like a job. I’ve been playing the game my whole life. I’ve never gotten up in the morning, and thought, ‘Man, I don’t want to go to work today.’ ”

Hanna leaves a legacy at Irmo, a legacy of winning football with an even-handed and level-headed approach to the game that rubbed off on his athletes. Irmo teams were known for starting slow each season, then playing their best football when the games mattered in October and November.

Until the past few seasons, when smaller linemen and quicker receivers forced his hand and he changed to more of a spread offense, Hanna teams were known for playing outstanding, deny-everything defense and cram-it-down-your-throat offense.

“I’ve always been old school,” Hanna says. “I just figured if you smack a rock, it will eventually break. So, that’s what we tried to do.”

His teams smashed enough rocks to win nine region championships. They were state Class 4A runners-up in 2002, 2004 and 2006. He coached teams to 270 wins in his career, including a 163-93 record at Irmo.

Hanna was reared in McKeesport, Pa., a steel-mill town down the Monongahela River from Pittsburgh. He grew up on Pittsburgh Steelers football. That explains why Irmo uniforms are virtual replicas of those worn by the Steelers, replete with the single “sting” logo on only one side of the helmet.

Because he weighed 130 pounds at age 12, Hanna was too big to play youth football for the famous McKeesport Little Tigers, who traveled the country to play games. Hanna’s first crack at organized football was as a freshman in high school, and by his senior year, his play attracted the attention of North Carolina coaches as a linebacker.

UNC changed coaches before Hanna’s freshman season, and the 47 players recruited and signed by the previous staff dwindled to seven by their sophomore season. Hanna nearly was one of the casualties.

Following that season on the UNC freshman team, Hanna told his father he wanted to quit school and return to McKeesport. Hanna’s father, Tony, got his son a job in a steel mill.

After one month in the mill, Hanna told his father, “I want to go back to school.”

Hanna earned captain status by his senior year at UNC. He knew he wanted to teach and coach upon graduation and vowed that no team he coached would be treated in the manner his UNC freshman class was treated.

After seven years as an assistant high school coach, Hanna first became a coach at Western Alamance High in North Carolina. He was 29, earning about $30,000 a year to be the athletics director, football and track coach. He also taught five physics and chemistry classes.

With each career move came a jump in salary, and Hanna landed at Irmo in 1994 earning $56,000 per year as the athletics director and football coach with no teaching responsibilities. By 2012, Hanna’s salary had topped $100,000.

Before that first season at Irmo, Hanna approached the Irmo principal, Anna Hicks.

“Please don’t fire me,” he recalls telling her, “because we’re not going to win many games the first year.”

Irmo defeated Brookland-Cayce in the opener that season and Lower Richland in the regular-season finale. The Yellow Jackets did not win another game, and managed five wins the following season. Still, Hicks stuck with Hanna.

Not until 2002 did Hanna get it rolling at Irmo. The only loss during the 2002 season was in the state championship game. Over a nine-season stretch concluding in 2010, Irmo won 95 games and lost 27.

“I never made that much out of winning or losing,” Hanna says. “I think you just look to get better. So, when they’re down, they’ve already lost a game, you don’t want to beat them down. Then, when you win a game and you’re high, you don’t want to get too high. You come back and point out the mistakes and get them fixed.”

When Hanna was first hired at Western Alamance High, he had six assistant coaches for a varsity and JV team. This past season, Irmo used 22 assistants to coach four levels of teams. As much as the game has changed during Hanna’s career, he believes there has been one constant.

“The single thing that has not changed are the kids,” Hanna says. “They are all looking to be a part of something. I believe athletics is the one thing left outside of their family and church that can give them a strong foundation that will help them in becoming productive citizens.”

Hanna admits he already misses coaching and leading young men. He says he has not yet figured how he will fill that void in his life. So, do not be surprised if some North Myrtle Beach youth league football team has Bob Hanna, one of South Carolina’s all-time best coaches, leading it this fall.

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