Interview: Ponchatoula’s Hank Tierney has 300 wins in sight, amazing coaching tree
The legacy is secure.
For Hank Tierney, in 33 years as a head coach at Archbishop Shaw, West Jefferson and Ponchatoula, he has amassed 279 victories, tenth most in the history of Louisiana prep football.
Only eight coaches in Louisiana history have won 300 games. Three are still active, including J.T. Curtis, Jim Hightower and Lewis Cook.
Speaking on The Three Tailgaters Show Saturday morning on 106.1 FM with Ed Daniels and me Saturday morning, Tierney said he is not obsessed with the magical win total.
“Honestly, its not,” Tierney said. “I’ve been fortunate to have a lot of good players and a lot of good coaches to win a lot of games. If you remember, in June of 2008, I basically retired from head coaching. I went from West Jefferson to Ponchatoula as Mike Baiamonte’s assistant. In my mind, I was going to be an assistant for the rest of my life. I worked three years as Mike’s offensive coordinator and I enjoyed the heck out of it.”
Then, fate intervened.
“I really had no desire at all to become a head coach again,” Tierney said. “Mike decided to get out of coaching and it kind of fell in my lap. There was no one else to take it. I like the school. I like the kids. I was done with it but I got renewed with a wonderful town and wonderful kids. What I’m most excited about is I think we are going to have a pretty good team this year. The 300 wins would be a great honor but I do not think about it.”
Tierney’s Shaw Eagles won the state championship in 1987 and reached the state title game in 1988, 1997 and 2000.
Tierney led West Jefferson to a 10-0 season and has taken Ponchatoula to the quarterfinals (2015).
“I still enjoy working with young men,” Tierney said. “We have great young men and a good school at Ponchatoula.”
When you consider the wins, district titles, the state championship and title game appearances, it is impressive.
When you consider the coaching tree of Tierney, it is amazing, second to none in Louisiana history.
Certainly, there have been others locally such as Gernon Brown, John Kalbacher, Jack Salter and Don Perret, to name a few.
Consider those who have gone on to become head coaches who worked under Tierney.
Frank Allelo, Baiamonte, Scott Bairnsfather, Darren Barbier, Scott Hildebrand, Billy North, Jay Roth, Malter Scobel, Marcus Scott, Mark Songy, Lou Valdin, Richard Walker all became successful head coaches.
Barbier, Roth, Songy and Valdin coached state championship teams at Hahnville, Rummel and Jesuit, respectively, Bairnsfather took Shaw to three state title games while Hildebrand did so at Hahnville. North won a ton of games at John Ehret and Scott is building an impressive resume from his days at West Jeff and Ehret, now at Destrehan.
When you combine the state titles won by his pupils, that would be six. When you consider the number of wins combined by Tierney’s former assistants as head coaches, it is in excess of 500 victories.
“Those guys, all of them were with me back in my Shaw days and we were winning,” Tierney said. “Shaw became a place to go if you wanted to get involved with a program that was winning. They used that winning to get a coordinator’s job or a head coaching job. It was kind of like a train that we really had going and those guys were instrumental to the success of our program as great football coaches. They were the reason, as much as me, why Shaw won.”
Roth retired from coaching at Rummel following the 218 season as the winningest coach in Catholic League history. Tierney got him started toward that great success at Shaw.
“Jay came to watch us scrimmage and we scored a lot of points,” Tierney recalled. “He told me he wanted in. He coached with us for three years. Jay went on to a fabulous career at Rummel. All of those guys that were with us, it helped them, they went on to win and they helped Shaw win. I was fortunate to have those kind of quality people.”
While Tierney has gotten so many coaches started, he has not forgotten how he got his start.
“It would be remiss of me not to mention Joe Zimmerman,” Tierney said. “He gave me my chance 40 years ago. He taught me the game of football. He’s been my mentor. I still talk to him on a regular basis. He still comes to Ponchatoula games. I owe so much to honor him.”
Tierney also coached three coaches who have gone on to big things in that industry.
Vance Joseph became the head coach of the Denver Broncos. Mickey Joseph is the wide receivers coach at LSU. Terry Joseph is the defensive backs coach at Notre Dame.
“None of those surprise me,” Tierney said. “Mickey and Terry have great futures in the game. Vance is so smart. Nothing he has done surprises me.”
While the past has been a testament to Tierney’s greatness, the present and future is very much in play for him to enhance his tremendous legacy.
“We started eight sophomores last year on offense,” Tierney said. “We return nine starters on that side of the ball. We were one play from being district champions a year ago. We won a lot of games. We got way behind Destrehan in the playoffs and got back in the game. They’ve been to war and they are all back. They are mostly all juniors. We should be good next year, too! Our district will be a dogfight as usual.”
While Ponchatoula lost a terrific talent to LSU in quarterback TJ Finley, the primary reason for Tierney’s excitement about his 2020 Green Wave team surrounds the brilliance of Finley’s replacement.
“I understand that TJ is doing very well at LSU,” Tierney said. “He’s going to be a heck of a player. I’m looking for him to do great things. We return one of the best athletes I’ve ever coached in Jacoby Matthews. He’s always been a quarterback but when he came here, he played receiver and safety and did very well. He will return at quarterback for the next two years. He will still play safety.
He is bring recruited by a lot of folks. He is more in line with what I played with at Shaw. He can really run it and run the option. We will be more of a run/pass team. We were a spread team with TJ.”
Good coaches fit their schemes to their talent, not the other way around.
Great coaches do the most with the talent at hand.
Hank Tierney is a great coach who still has great goals set for his future.
“It is what I do,” Tierney said. “I have been so fortunate to work around guys like you two for so many years.”
So have we, coach. Covering you and your teams has been a blessing in both of our careers.
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Born and raised in the New Orleans area, CCSE CEO Ken Trahan has been a sports media fixture in the community for nearly four decades. Ken started NewOrleans.com/Sports with Bill Hammack and Don Jones in 2008. In 2011, the site became SportsNOLA.com. On August 1, 2017, Ken helped launch CrescentCitySports.com. Having accumulated national awards/recognition (National Sports Media Association, National Football…