May 20, 2024

OC Sports Zone: Community First

Terry Henigan made a lasting impression on football coaches and former players

Irvine High School football coach Tom Ricci welcomes guests attending the celebration of life for Terry Henigan Saturday. (Photos: Tim Burt, OC Sports Zone).

Before about 500 people turned out to honor legendary football coach Terry Henigan on Saturday, those who coached and played for him talked about the impact that Henigan had on their lives.

A celebration of life for Henigan, who died Dec. 20, 2023 after a battle with Alzheimer’s disease, was held in the Irvine gym. Henigan coached and taught at Western from 1969 to 1975, at Cypress from 1976 to 1980 and from Irvine until 1981-2009. He had a 219-146-6 career record and led his teams to 20 CIF playoff appearances.

Henigan was 79.

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

Irvine fans will remember Henigan as the coach who led the Vaqueros to three consecutive CIF titles in 1991, 1992, 1993 and another in 2000.

But CIF titles weren’t the goal for Henigan, it was about preparing his young players to be better people and get them ready for what lied ahead in life.

“He’s kind of the embodiment of Irvine football,” said current Irvine Coach Tom Ricci in an interview. “The way I look at myself, it’s kind of his car, I just kind of got the keys for right now and my job is to keep that car nice. I hope he kind of looks down and he thinks we’re doing a good job here at Irvine, we’re just trying to continue what he started and he started a lot of traditions here that a lot of people are never going to forget.”

Ricci also played for Henigan from 1983 to 1987.

“He was tough, he was fiery and he let you know he was going to go to bat for you and he expected you to go to bat for him,” Ricci said. “He was scary at times, tough, but you knew he cared. And he really kind of pushed us to be better all the way across the board.”

Henigan attended home games for Irvine this past season, including the final playoff game.

“He came to our last game and he was so excited to be here and glad to be on the sidelines,” Ricci said. “It was always great kind of having him there.”

Current Crean Lutheran football Rick Curtis, who coached with Henigan at Irvine, said Henigan was “a legend.”

“I got to coach with the best, I was blessed to be able to coach with him,” said Curtis, who delivered some opening comments and the eulogy. “He was my number one mentor. I had some great mentors but he was the number one guy. When I got a chance to coach with him, I knew this was something special.

“His integrity, his competitiveness, his will to win, his passion for life wrapped up into one. He had a zest for life and competing. When he retired, we did it here and we had a pretty special event. Now, we’re celebrating his life today. I’m honored to be here and honored to be speaking.”

Many former players were also in attendance during the tribute and were asked to stand toward the end of the program to be recognized.

Among them was former Irvine football standout Tommy Louie from the Irvine class of 1994. He played for the Vaquero varsity in the 1992 and 1993 seasons and was also a baseball standout at Irvine. Louie was named Irvine’s male athlete of the year in 1994 by the Irvine World News.

“Coach Henigan was teaching you more than football,” said Louie, who is now involved in commercial real estate, in an interview.

“He was teaching you about life skills and translating those tough times on the field on the practice (field) dealing with different types of characters on your team and being able to relate that to what you can transition and use in life and I look back at all the times I’ve dealt with growing up after high school and in college and to this day about all the struggles and challenges I deal with and I look back at all the teachings and experiences I had with coach Henigan and it remind me that you just battle through it and keep your head up and things will come out on top for you.

“To this day, I still use a lot of his teachings and it’s impacted me greatly, it shaped me who I am today.”

Louie said he has fond memories of being on two CIF football championship teams in 1992 and 1993.

“We knew we had something special,” Louie said. “We knew in my junior year we would absolutely be able to go deep in the playoffs and perhaps win the whole thing and continue on after winning that rolling with another team with new guys coming up and great talent and winning again in my senior year, it was great.”

Louie lives in San Clemente with his wife Jamie and three daughters who are involved in athletics.

“They are all involved in sports, now it’s the next generation for me to cheer on and coach them whenever I can, they don’t listen to me, but that’s the way it is.”

Louie, like his former coach, indicated he’s happy with how his life has gone.

“It’s been fantastic,” he said.

—-Tim Burt, OC Sports Zone;

RELATED: A look back at the life of football coach Terry Henigan.