Following the December announcement of Athletic Director and Head Football Coach Earl Hansen’s retirement, Palo Alto High School and the surrounding community held its collective breath as it waited to learn who would take his place. Hansen, who led Paly’s varsity football team for 26 years, earned the reputation as a highly esteemed coach through many victories, most notably the capture of the 2010 CIF Division I state footbwall title.
Meet Jake Halas, Paly Special Education teacher and former defensive coordinator. A football player since age seven, Halas has over 30 years of experience with the game — experience that has prepared him to assume the role of head coach. His appointment, finalized on Jan. 6, was a decision made by a combination of administrators and Hansen.
During the decision-making process, there were other contenders for the head coaching job, whom, according to Hansen, all “dropped out,” or failed to outstand Halas as the obvious choice. Assistant Principal Victoria Kim, who oversees Paly athletics, noted Halas’ excellent qualifications:
“Even the people who could have thrown their name[s] in the ring for the position knew that Halas was the best choice,” Kim said. “There was a deep respect for Coach Halas within the football community.”
Hansen noted that Halas was well-qualified for the position and demonstrated traits that are crucial for the position.
“[Halas] loves the game,” Hansen said. “He’s very intelligent as far as understanding the game of football. He understands the time commitment, which is tremendous.”
According to Hansen, a major factor in Halas’s appointment was his familiarity with Paly and the students.
“It was very important for all of us, to get somebody that was on-campus to be the head coach,” Hansen said.
Halas has a tremendous amount of football experience. After playing linebacker at California University, Halas went on to coach at University of Redlands and Miracoasta High School before coming to Paly as a Special Education teacher in 2007. He served as the Vikings’ defensive coordinator from 2008 to 2012 before taking a year off for family commitments.
Halas, who has been involved in the Special Education integration program at Paly, has been teaching since his arrival at the school. Hansen believes that Halas’s role as a teacher will have a positive impact on his performance as a coach.
“Teachers are organized,” Hansen said. “They have to have their lesson plan, and they have all been trained on how to get information to students.”
Halas agrees that teaching has given him valuable knowledge about communicating with students.
“[As a teacher], I’m able to get my information across to the kids,” Halas said. “I’m not playing — my kids are playing — and I have to be able to relate that information [about football strategy] and I think as a teacher I’m just used to doing that.”
Hansen, who has lead the Vikings to four Central Coast Section titles and one State Championship, is leaving behind an impressive legacy and seemingly impossible shoes to fill. Halas, however, is not fazed by the reputation that Hansen has created.
“I know [Hansen] is a legend in this area, but I’ve learned a lot from him,” Halas said. “I’m not trying to replace him; I’m just trying to continue what he has done and established. I do feel honored and a little bit humbled to take over this job.”
Hansen believes in Halas’ ability to guide the team through the upcoming years with the same adeptness that he had for the last 26 years.
“I feel very comfortable stepping down and having [Halas] take over,” Hansen said. “I think it will be very positive for the school.”
Kim agrees with this sentiment.
“We feel strongly about [Halas] to replace Coach Hansen as the football coach [not only because of] his skills in being such a successful football coach, but [also because of his skills as] an educator on the field,” Kim said.
Halas’ philosophy on coaching centers around developing the team not only into strong athletes, but also into strong individuals.
“I’m here to build these kids into good young men,” Halas said. “I want them to be good, positive contributors to society. I think football is a great learning experience.”
Kim notes that Halas’ doctrine as a coach will benefit the players beyond playing the game.
“He has a strong philosophy about teaching students to become responsible citizens,” Kim said. “It’s not just about football — it’s about using football as an instrument for achieving a greater skill set for success in the outside world.”
Hansen, Kim and Halas all have high expectations for the team in the upcoming season.
“I think [the team] will be very successful,” Hansen said. “Hopefully they will just continue the successful path. The underclassmen are strong.”
Kim believes that with Halas leading the team, the students will be well-rounded individuals as well as competitive athletes.
“I think we can expect a hardworking team who has an understanding of what it means to be a great athlete and a great person,” Kim said.
Halas agrees that above all, the Paly community should expect a strong team that will approach the new season as hard-working athletes.
“[The community] should expect a well-coached football team that plays hard [and] within the rules,” Halas said. “They are going to see a classy program.”