May 20, 2024

OC Sports Zone: Community First

Moving tributes highlight celebration of life for football coach Terry Henigan

Speakers at the celebration life for Coach Henigan were (from left) Rick Curtis, Marcello Giuliano, Michael Henigan (son), Zaverio Brenner, Lance Neal, Mark Henigan (son), Alicia Henigan (grand-daughter), Erik Terry, Mike Henigan (brother), Larry Lundgren, John Selbe, Tom Ricci and Peter Abe (Photos: Tim Burt, OC Sports Zone).

Terry Henigan had more than 200 career coaching victories, four CIF titles under his belt, seven league titles and led his squads to 20 post-season appearances during his career at Western, Cypress and Irvine.

He was named Orange County coach of the year four times.

Yet most of the tributes at Saturday’s Celebration of Life for the former football coach who died on Dec. 20, 2023 didn’t dwell on his coaching record, but the kind of leader he was of young athletes and what fellow coaches learned from him.

“I’m an Irvine Vaquero and proud of it,” a line coined by Henigan, was one of the themes of the program. Another Henigan saying, “life is good,” was often used.

To see the slide show, click on the first photo:

With his wife of 57 years Francine, sons Michael and Mark, brother Mike and grandchildren in attendance, speakers talked about Henigan’s work ethic, how he would often be in the office as early as 4 a.m. to prepare for the day. Coaches would try to beat him by arriving early, none could.

It was one example of how Henigan wanted to be prepared for his job.

Former Irvine players Tommy Louie and Scott Seal were among the 500 in attendance for the three-hour program.

Football coaches included Sean Curtis from Capistrano Valley, Rick Curtis from Crean Lutheran, JC Clarke from Northwood, Peter Abe from Portola and Marcello Giuliano from Beckman. Also attending were Irvine Unified School District Athletic Director Mark Cunningham, Irvine Principal Monica Colunga and former Irvine coaches including Mark Mednick, Randy Rossi and Kris Klamberg.

Rick Curtis delivered the invocation and talked about a game many years ago when Curtis was the head coach at University and Henigan was leading Irvine. Curtis pointed out the integrity that Henigan showed over the years.

Master of ceremonies Erik Terry, who replaced Henigan and was the head coach from 2010 to 2018, noted that the event was being held about 14 years from the day that Henigan was honored in a ceremony in the Irvine gymnasium marking his retirement and noted the tremendous impact he had on so many.

Terry also recalled about when he himself resigned and consulted Henigan about a replacement, who turned out to be former assistant coach Tom Ricci.

“A the end of the day, it was important in his heart that somebody who had close ties to the program was still running the program, because he had built something really special and he wanted to make sure that some of the legacies continued on, even though he said, ‘do it your way,'” Terry said.

In opening comments, Ricci talked about the intensity that Henigan displayed, noting he “really hit his stride in the 1990’s and became the guru of special teams, which is evident by the fact that all of us in Orange County still run Coach Henigan’s special teams.”

Ricci talked about the support and encouragement that Henigan provided when he took the Irvine job and how he wanted to continue the legacy Henigan established.

Henigan’s brother Mike, said he and his brother were “teammates for life.”

“He loved his family, he was a great, great football coach and a tremendous mentor for those who played for him,” his brother said, adding that Coach Henigan “will always be a part of my life.”

He praised Coach Henigan’s wife, Francine.

“She stood by his side for over 58 years through the good times and the bad times,” he said.

Another speaker, Lance Neal, played for Henigan from 1980 to 1983 and was a coach with him from 1990 to 1998 at Irvine. He’s now the head coach at Century.

“The first thing you learn when you coach with coach Henigan is that no one gets up earlier than Coach Henigan,” Neal said, adding he tried a few times at work, as early as 4 a.m. to beat him to the office.

Each time, Henigan was work in those early mornings and the coffee was already brewing.

“He did that day in and day out for years and years and years,” Neal said. “I cannot figure out how he did it.

Neal said he learned a lot from Henigan, including how to treat opposing teams when the score started to become lopsided.

“He didn’t run up the score (on other teams), that’s a lesson I learned,” Neal said.

Long-time friend and former teammate Larry Lundgren added that, “we were friends for over 70 years and I don’t think any of us will ever forget Terry.”

Long-time friend John Selbe, who coached with Henigan at Cypress and Irvine and was a student at Western, said “the best thing that ever happened was when he (Henigan) came to Western.”

He said the football communities at Western, Cypress and Irvine all benefited from Henigan’s expertise and dedication and recalled how he supported him when he became the head coach at Cypress and congratulated him on getting his first CIF playoff victory.

Giuliano, who played for Henigan from 1998 to 1991, talked about the impact Henigan had on him as a player and how it helped mold him as a coach.

“I was in the third grade when I started going to Irvine football games to watch my old friends play,” Giuliano said. “And coach’s football program captured my imagination in a way that in reality altered the course of my life.”

Giuliano talked about how Henigan would respond at times to players.

“There are precious few of you here today who weren’t afraid of coach,” Giuliano said. “No player wanted to see him bearing down on us, the guys on my team in the 90’s termed it the fast walk. But it was all for a purpose ….. he did not accept mediocrity …..”

Zaverio Brenner, who coached with Henigan from 1976 to 1980 at Cypress and then in different stints from 1981 to 2013, talked about Henigan’s passion for life and the “love of his life (his wife Francine), followed by his sons.”

Abe, the Portola coach who played for Henigan from 1997 to 2000 and coached with him at Irvine until 2012, said players learned about “accountability, commitment and competitive drive.”

An emotional Abe called Henigan “one of the greatest leaders I’ve had the privilege of knowing.”

“During those early years, coach served as a father figure and a role model to a bunch of rambunctious teenagers who just wanted to play some ball,” Abe said. “It was during those years, that the Irvine football tradition and its core values were engrained in all of us: honorable, reliable, respectful and committed. The standards were set by a leader, a man who demanded excellence from the entire program, both on and off the field.”

One of Henigan’s sons Mark, read a poem written by long-time friend and teammate Bill Guerin about Coach Henigan; Henigan’s grand-daughter Alicia Henigan (Class of 2015) talked about how her grand-father would come to Irvine games and cheer her on when she was a cheerleader.

Henigan’s oldest son, Michael, on behalf of the family, thanked those in attendance for their support and added how much he and his brother valued their time with their father.

“He was, is and will always be our hero,” he said. “Our dad wasn’t a perfect human being but Mark and I both felt he was as close to a perfect dad as we could have ever hoped for.”

Michael Henigan also emphasized the love that his father had for Francine Henigan, who was always there to support him through 57 years of marriage.


—Tim Burt, OC Sports Zone;