The season of Andale not only came to an end last Friday when McPherson kicked a last-minute field goal to prevail 21-20 in the first round of the Class 4A-I playoffs, but it also marked the end of the career of coach Gary O’Hair at Andale.
O’Hair said before this season started that this would be his finale, concluding a 15-year career that saw him compile a 150-30 record, make the playoffs all 15 seasons, and win three state championships.
I caught up with O’Hair this week and was able to pick his brain about his career at Andale and he gave me some candid answers. If you’re curious about what’s next for O’Hair, then be sure to read this excellent column from Bob Lutz from earlier this season.
I also interviewed a few others close to O’Hair and their favorite stories can be found below the Q&A. Enjoy!
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Taylor Eldridge: I’m sure coming into the playoffs you knew in the back of your head that the next loss was it, but I’m sure you were wrapped up in the game (Andale lost 21-20 to McPherson last Friday on a last-minute field goal). So what was going through your head in the moments after the game and on the bus ride home?
Gary O’Hair: “I certainly had flashes of all of those thoughts. I knew that this could happen and yeah, this could be it. But during the game that’s not really on your mind. It was emotional. But it always is for that last game. You always feel bad for your kids and especially for the seniors. I guess this year I kind of felt like one of the seniors too. I tried to not think about it very much or else I’d get emotional.”
Eldridge: Is there one memory or a couple that have been replaying in your head a lot this week?
O’Hair: “Obviously the state championships (Andale won in 2006, 2007, and 2014) stick out. Anytime you’re running a competitive program though, you’re going to have some heartbreaking losses. Last Friday was one of them. We’ve had some others. We’ve had some teams that we felt like could have won it all and maybe should have won it all, but then you get tripped up along the way. We’ve had so many of those heartbreaking losses and you think about those and you try to compare them. But I think in general, you think about the relationships that you built with your players and with your coaches and just how much fun it all was. I’ve just had to keep reminding myself how lucky I truly was.”
Eldridge: So you told me that you voted against the splitting of Class 4A back when it happened. As a competitor, did you like the fact that it was so hard to win a championship in a 64-team class?
O’Hair: “I think most coaches will tell you that it was the toughest class to win one in. I’m not saying that it was the highest quality of football, I think Class 6A and 5A were much better. But they didn’t have the parity and the equality that 4A did, just because there were so many teams that could win it every year in 4A. When we voted on the split, we wanted to keep it together. We felt like we were able to compete, but I do understand why some of the smaller 4A schools would vote that way. I just thought where would it end? How much is it going to water things down? I didn’t like the idea of everybody getting a trophy. It ought to be something special when you win. Now we ended up winning one after it split and we went undefeated and mowed over the competition every week and that was pretty special, but there is no doubt it was tougher to win back when there were 64.”
Eldridge: I know a lot of people in Andale like to discuss which state title team was your best. It’s a fun debate to talk about and now that you’ve finished up, do you have an opinion you’d like to share?
O’Hair: “It is fun to talk about because each of them were so special. The team in ’06 never trailed. We were never behind all year long. I don’t know if many teams can say that. They were truly a dominant team. Then the team in ’07 we had to come back after losing a lot, but it was a real versatile team. We could run it or throw it about as well as we’ve ever been able to as far as balance goes. And then, gosh, the team in ‘14, I don’t know if I’ve ever had that many good skill players. The 4A teams just couldn’t match up with us. We were just so good that year with so many skill players. So I think all of them had their own special qualities.”
Eldridge: What’s the one thing that you’ve tried to instill in the players who have come through your program over the years?
O’Hair: “You know, the coaches I’ve always respected are the coaches who have not only won, but they did it the right way. The kids were learning life lessons and they understood that was the No. 1 priority. I’ve always tried to remind myself of that and always tried to run our program that way. I hoped that everybody who came through our program, whether he was a great football player or not, he was going to be a better person because of being involved in our program. That’s what I hope happened.”
Eldridge: Any regrets or anything you wish you had done in your career?
O’Hair: “Nope. I’m satisfied.”
Eldridge: Anything you’d like to say to the people of Andale and all of your former players who have been with you through the years?
O’Hair: “The support has been unbelievable through the years. The community really did make me feel like I was the luckiest coach in the state of Kansas. And I knew I would be when I got here 15 years ago. I knew how good of a place this was. So I just appreciate all of the support and I feel like I’ve been super lucky to be able to coach in Andale.”
WHAT OTHERS ARE SAYING
Eisenhower coach Marc Marinelli (Andale assistant from 2006-2009)
“Gary hired me in the spring of 2006 when I was 24 years old and I was fortunate enough to be part of two state titles before leaving for my first head job. Gary taught me so much about how to run a program and more importantly how to run a program the right way. How to hold players accountable, how to always be honest with them, and how to never stop believing that through the course of a year any player who is not satisfied with where they are can become better. Coach O’Hair taught me how hard work can overcome just about anything, how even if you struggle, if you see it through and work as hard as you can and stay committed to the program, then everything else will fall into place. I’ll missing having him down the road, but I know he’s only a phone call away. Without his help along the way and his willingness to take a chance on a 24 year old, I wouldn’t be where I am today. I owe him more than I can ever repay him.”
Greg Smarsh (former long-time Andale assistant who retired in 2015)
“Gary is just very consistent and he never wavered from his viewpoints and his beliefs. He instilled in those kids a life-long respect for everybody and everything. Every time it was ‘Yes, sir’ or “No, sir’ and now 10 years later his kids come back around and they’re still saying, ‘Yes, sir’ and ‘No, sir.’ It was never any one thing with him, it was the entire package. I think the best way to explain it was the 2011 season when we started 0-5. I still believe that was his best year of coaching I’ve ever seen. He kept those kids focused and kept them looking at the big picture and in life in general. He taught them how little setbacks like that could make you grow as a person. We finished with five wins that year and made it to the second round of the playoffs. I still think that was his best year of coaching.”
Andale athletic director Jason Fawcett (played for O’Hair at Andale)
“Andale has always had a strong football tradition, but he really kind of elevated it to the next level. He coached me my senior year in high school and then when I became a coach, I coached against him. And the thing is, Gary has always done it the right way. He’s made sure his kids are respectful, not only on the field, but in the classroom. He believes in hard work and he’s always done things the right way. Sometimes football coaches think they are bigger than the school and bigger than what they actually are. He’s never thought of himself that way.”
Mulvane coach Dave Fennewald
“I can attest to Coach O’Hair being a first-class coach and individual. I remember when his youngest son was a senior on the golf team and Coach O’Hair had to tell his son to DQ himself for a rules violation that probably no one would have ever seen or noticed. But he told his know, ‘You know what you have to do.’ And it’s not like this is any golfer, this was his son, who was a senior, and this was at regionals. His son was one of the top golfers in the state that year, too. I’m sure it crushed Gary, but he did the right thing. He has integrity beyond words. I am proud to be able to call Gary a friend.”
Northwest coach Steve Martin (Andale graduate)
“Gary has had a tremendous impact on the program at Andale. He is so humble that he will always credit it to the kids, but what he was able to do in his time out there is just outstanding. Being an alum out there, I know the expectations the community has for the program and he came in and did a remarkable job in taking the program to new heights. He leaves a void in the program that will be tough to fill. I would like to wish Coach O’Hair and his wife best of luck on their new adventure.”