June 15, 2024

OC Sports Zone: Community First

Terry Henigan, legendary Irvine football coach, wanted players to succeed on and off the field

Terry Henigan (left) with former Irvine football coach Erik Terry in September 2018. (Photo: Tim Burt, OC Sports Zone).

Coach died Wednesday, Dec. 20 after battling Alzheimer’s disease.

Former legendary Irvine High School football coach Terry Henigan, who emphasized how important it was for his players to succeed on and off the field, died on Wednesday, Dec. 20, 2023, family members confirmed.

Henigan was 79. He was diagnosed with Alzheimer’s disease in 2019, according to one of his sons Mark. According to family members, “Terry lived out the rest of his life with grace and dignity, with the loving support of his wife of 57 years, Francine.” Henigan succumbed to the disease Wednesday, his son added.

Through this past season, Henigan was still was able to attend football games of his former team and those who he coached, including Portola’s Peter Abe, who was contacting alumni about Henigan’s death Wednesday. The former Vaquero coach attended an Irvine football game this past October with his son Mark and was introduced to fans.

The former Vaquero coach, who prided himself on establishing the “Irvine Football Family,” retired after the 2009 season after a 29-year run at the school. He had a 192-126-6 record at Irvine and led the Vaqueros to CIF titles in 1991, 1992, 1993 and 2000. The Vaqueros also had six league titles in that span and went to the CIF finals five times.

Irvine football teams advanced to the CIF playoffs 16 times.

Henigan earned many honors. In 2006, Henigan received the CIF Champion For Character award and in 2014, he was inducted into the CIF Coaching Hall of Fame.

In the fall of 2018, former Irvine coach Erik Terry and players from three of Irvine’s CIF championship teams honored Henigan.

“He’s such an important part of a lot of men’s lives,” Terry said. “He’s changed a lot of men’s lives. We all owe him a debt of gratitude for what he taught us and how to it the right way.”

In an interview with OC Sports Zone in July 2018, Henigan, who moved to Palm Desert with his wife Francine, said:

“I have stickers on everything and all my hats say, ‘life is good,’ “I’m a happy dude.” He gave every indication he was enjoying retirement.

Henigan is being fondly remembered at Irvine High School.

“Coach Henigan was the heart and soul behind Irvine football,” said Irvine football coach Tom Ricci.  “He put us on the map with his four CIF titles back in the 90’s.

“Beyond that, he touched the lives of so many Vaqueros over his 29 seasons. Myself, Coach (Marcello) Giuliano over at Beckman, Coach Abe over at Portola and Coach (Ray) Fenton at Los Al are all where we are today because of Coach Henigan.

“He believed in developing a mindset that set us apart from others, that if you work hard enough, good things will come your way.  His pillars of Irvine Football still stand today: Honorable, reliable, respectful, committed and team-oriented.  Each year we give out the Teammate for Life award in honor of Coach Henigan.

“Next season we will wear Coach Henigan’s initials on our helmets to continue to honor his memory.  We will always be Teammates for Life.”

Former Irvine High coach Rick Curtis, now head coach at Crean Lutheran, added that Henigan had a tremendous impact.

“I had the opportunity to coach with Terry Henigan from 1986 to 1999, prior to opening up Northwood,” Curtis said. “I was a defensive coordinator, co-head coach, and an offensive coordinator for him during that time. We worked really well together and had some great times.

“Terry was a great commander, a leader of boys and men, and an outstanding mentor to me. He set the stage for my coaching philosophy with his attention to detail, tough but fair approach, and an openness to change with the times.

“Most of what I learned from Terry I still use today as he was always a step ahead, always learning new strategies and techniques, and always putting the team first. Not only was Terry a great coach, he was a great family man. Even with his health deteriorating the last couple years, he came to several of my games and the games of his players who are now coaching.

“He will be sorely missed, but we will all be comforted, knowing he is no longer suffering, and that he is in Heaven, looking down on us.”

Terry Henigan was was born on Sept. 1, 1944 in Sycamore, Ill and was raised in DeKalb, Illinois, where he became interested in sports.

Henigan was a standout football and baseball player at Northern Illinois University and was named to the university’s athletic Hall of Fame.

After that, he turned to coaching. His first coaching job was at Western High School working with the defense in the fall of 1969, according to his son Mark. He was also a teacher at Western. The Pioneers advanced to the large school division championships in 1971 and 1972 at the Los Angeles Coliseum. Each of his years at Western, Henigan would coach against his brother Mike, who coached at Marina at the time.

Henigan got his first head coaching job at Cypress High School where he took over a struggling program and helped turn it around. The Centurions won their first seven games under Henigan and finished 8-2, winning a CIF playoff game before losing to St. Paul. He was named Orange County coach of the year after that season, his son said.

Henigan was hired at Irvine as head coach in 1981 and was proud to coach sons Michael and Mark while at Irvine between 1982 and 1986. He also coached basketball, baseball, golf and was athletic director at Irvine for a while.

“This is sad news,” said OC Sports Zone writer Tom Connolly. “I knew Terry for a long time and interacted with him for nearly three decades. I saw Terry at the Northwood-Irvine game and we had a great chat. Terry always told it like it was. He always displayed an extreme passion for high school sports. He loved his former players and coaches. He will be remembered as an icon of Orange County high school sports.”

Terry Henigan is survived by his wife Francine, sons Michael and Mark, brother Mike, sister Patricia, five grand-children and numerous nieces and nephews.

His son Mark said the family is planning a celebration of life for Terry Henigan in 2024.

We invite those who wish to share their comments about Coach Henigan to send emails with brief comments for publication. If we receive enough responses, we will run a separate story. Email: timburt@ocsportszone.com

—Tim Burt, OC Sports Zone; timburt@ocsportszone.com

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