Hank Tierney returns to Archbishop Shaw for celebration of storied football past

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1987 Shaw state football champions
(Photo: Gregory Juan).

Photos: Shaw football 30-year reunion

It was a long time coming.

As one of the most accomplished, greatest coaches in Louisiana prep football history with 271 victories, Hank Tierney’s legacy is secure. His 271 wins are tied for 10th in the history of Louisiana prep football. He has won 74 percent of his games.

Entering his 32nd year as a head coach, Tierney spent 25 years at Archbishop Shaw, including 19 as the head coach leading the Eagles to the Class 4A state championship in 1987 and taking Shaw to the 4A title game in 1988 and to the Class 5A state championship game in both 1997 and 2000.

At West Jefferson, Tierney turned around a struggling program from 0-10 and posted an unbeaten 10-0 season in his second year in 2003. He served as head coach at West Jefferson for six seasons (2002-08), taking the Buccaneers to the state playoffs in all six seasons while posting a 36-27 record.

At Ponchatoula, Tierney has presided over a consistent winner for the past six years (since 2011), posting an impressive 50-22 record.

While his accomplishments at West Jefferson and Ponchatoula are substantive, Tierney made his name and will always be remembered for his tremendous tenure at Shaw, where he won 12 Catholic League championships on the field in 19 seasons at Shaw between 1983-2001. His Eagle teams went to the state playoffs 18 times in 19 years as Tierney posted a tremendous record of 185-48, a winning percentage of 79.4 percent.

Since his departure from Shaw, Tierney had not returned to the school or any of its functions after departing on less than stellar terms with a new administration at the Marrero school on Jan. 31, 2002. That all changed on July 29 at Boomtown Casino in Harvey when Tierney attended a reunion of the 1987 state championship team, attended by all of his assistant coaches and 30 players from the team.

The coaching staff was quite impressive, including future head coaches Darren Barbier, Lou Valdin and Richard Walker.

Hank TierneyTierney was presented with the 2017 Archbishop Shaw Honorary Alumnus Award while Vance Joseph, who quarterbacked the Eagles to the 1987 state championship, received the Shaw Alumni Association’s Distinguished Alumni Award. Joseph was recently named head coach of the Denver Broncos.

It was a class move by new Archbishop Shaw principal Mike Williams, Class of 1985, who was at Shaw at the beginning of Tierney’s tenure as head coach, played for Tierney and coached for him. School director Fr. Lou Molinelli while alumnus Mike Fahrenholt and his wife, Lillie, did an outstanding job of putting the event together and organizing it.

New Archbishop Shaw head coach Tommy Connors was also on hand with members of his staff, along with Joe Zimmerman, who preceded Tierney as head coach of the Eagles (1969-82) and hired him as an assistant coach in 1977. The symmetry of Zimmerman, Tierney and Connors tied the past to the present of Shaw football.

Regrettably, the only key member of the Shaw football legacy not attending was former Shaw star, assistant coach and head coach Scott Bairnsfather, who played for Tierney and Zimmerman (1981-84), coached under Tierney (1889-1997) and succeeded him as head coach for 15 years (2002-16), posting an 87-81 record and leading the Eagles to three consecutive Class 4A state championship games from 2006-08. Williams and Bairnsfather graduated from Shaw together in 1985 and Williams served as Bairnsfather’s defensive coordinator early in his tenure at Shaw.

Prior to taking over at Shaw, Bairnsfather posted a 25-19 record at Holy Cross as head coach from 1998-2001. Bairnsfather worked under Tierney as an assistant coach from 1989-97. Bairnsfather departed Shaw following the 2016 season and is now the offensive coordinator at Jesuit under Mark Songy, whom he started with in the business as an assistant at Shaw.

It was a special night for many, most notably for Tierney. Shaw lost its 1987 regular season finale to a tremendously talented St. Augustine team 34-0 in a game we were fortunate to do on the Cox Communications Game of the Week. To predict what would happen five weeks later was not plausible.

“I saw so many guys that I had not seen since they graduated,” Tierney said. “It was well attended and a pleasure. Our four captains were there. It brought back terrific memories. The best thing that can happen was to win a state championship. It was not our most talented team at all. It was a group that worked so hard to accomplish a goal. They lost the regular season finale 34-0 to St. Aug in the game you did. They did not waver. They were tough, determined and resilient.”

While the football success will always be remembered, Tierney pointed to what has happened since as his biggest joy.

Shaw Eagles“It is such a pleasure to see how well they have done in life,” Tierney said. “That is what brings me the most joy. They remembered everything about the season, about specific plays and scores. Robby Green was there and he had 15 interceptions that year. It was something which I will always cherish. It was a special accomplishment for a school and community. It is one of the great memories of my lifetime.”

While some have hoped or even tried to bring Tierney back to the Shaw fold for many years, it was the effort of one new school leader which made the difference.

“I give credit to Mark Williams for brining everyone together,” Tierney said. “He and I have been good friends for a long time. When he became the principal, he immediately reached out to me. He was the first Shaw person to do that since I left. He told me that it was home and that it was never forgotten what we accomplished. That meant a lot to JoAnn and I. Mike Fahrenholt was great as well. He has been trying to get us back for years.”

Making the trip from Tangipahoa Parish to Marrero was a path less chosen but the former surroundings suddenly brought a feeling and sense of home.

“My wife and I arrived on the West Bank a little early so we passed by the school,” Tierney said. “It was the first time I have been back since I left Shaw. It was special to me and to my wife. It was a great time in our life. We feel blessed that they included us in it. Life is too long. You don’t want to carry any grudges. It was never about the young men or the coaches that were there. We loved Shaw and loved our time at Shaw.”

Fortunately, the feeling is now mutual. While our lives are full of peaks and valleys, ultimately, we must all strive to get to a good place in this existence. That involves forgiving, moving on and settling differences. Tierney and Shaw have done so and that is a good thing for all involved.

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