Perhaps it was inevitable that new Reagan boys basketball John Hirst would become a high school teacher and coach.
His father was a coach and his mother was a teacher at Harlingen High School, which was like a second home to the Hirst family.
“Since both of my parents worked at the high school, it was the center of our lives,” Hirst said. “When I wasn’t in class, I was in the gym playing basketball or on the tennis courts following my father around. My mother always was involved with activities after school, too.”
Jerry Hirst was tennis coach at Harlingen High for 40 years and Alice Hirst, who “taught everything,” was on the school’s faculty for 36 years.
That pretty much describes the life experience that has shaped John Hirst, who was hired last week to succeed Jimmy Littleton, the only head boys basketball coach in Reagan’s history before he resigned under pressure Jan. 25.
Littleton stepped down before the North East Independent School District concluded an investigation into complaints he used “inappropriate language” toward his players and generally crossed the line of acceptable behavior as a coach.
Assistant Norm Galyon took over as interim coach and led the Rattlers to a third-place finish in District 26-5A. Reagan lost in the first round of the playoffs, finishing 23-11.
The Rattlers went 9-4 under Galyon, who was a finalist for the job that went to Hirst.
Really, the NEISD couldn’t have gone wrong with either man. And I’ll leave it that.
Hirst, 43, is an affable guy with a passion for basketball and working with high school kids. While there are some in the Reagan community who have expressed disappointment Galyon didn’t get the nod, they won’t be disappointed in Hirst once they get to know him.
Hirst moves across town from Stevens, where he had been head boys basketball since the Northside ISD school opened in 2005. The Falcons went 90-41 and made the playoffs in each of their four varsity seasons under Hirst, who has a 204-112 career record.
Hirst’s best season at Stevens was in 2008-09 when the Falcons finished 31-4, losing to Wagner at the buzzer in the regional quarterfinals.
Stevens was 18-15 this past season and finished third in District 28-5A. Judson beat the Falcons 39-37 in the first round of the playoffs.
“The Reagan job is the only one I would have considered leaving Stevens for,” said Hirst, who lives in the Reagan community. “Stevens is a great community with great kids, parents and an administration that is supportive in every way.
“It was a very difficult decision for me because I love those people at Stevens. At the same time, I’m very excited to have the chance to coach at Reagan because it also is an outstanding community.”
Hirst’s last day at Stevens is Friday and he begins working at Reagan on Monday.
Hirst was head coach at Los Fresnos High School for five seasons before moving to Clark, where he was an assistant under Kevin Hamilton from 2002 until going to Stevens three years later.
A 1991 Texas Tech graduate, Hirst started his career with a three-year stint at Harlingen Middle School. He was an assistant at McAllen High School for one year before taking over at Los Fresnos, where he led the Falcons to the playoffs four times during his five-year tenure.
Hirst started thinking about a career in coaching after he and a friend coached his brother Steve’s Little League team. A high school senior then, John enjoyed the experience from the get-go.
“I was 18 and my brother was 8,” he said. “It was my first taste of coaching and I loved it. I had a lot of fun with it. It was so much fun to teach those kids the basics and see them get better as the season went on.”
Hirst, who played basketball at Harlingen under Carl Owens, gravitated toward a coaching career shortly after enrolling at Tech.
His family wasn’t particularly thrilled with the idea initially.
“I pretty much knew what I wanted to do,” Hirst said. “Because he was a coach, my dad told me how demanding the job could be. I remember my brother telling me, ‘You can do something better.’
“But when I told them, ‘This is what I want to do,’ I think they realized that I really had thought about it. My dad told me, ‘You’ll never get rich doing this, but you’ll never wake up and think you have to go to a job, because I’ve never thought of coaching as a job.’ I feel the same way now.”
Hirst and his father, who coached basketball at Royce City early in his career, continued a family tradition this week when they attended their 15th consecutive National Association of Basketball Coaches convention together.
The NABC convention is held in conjunction with the men’s Final Four each year. Hirst and his father watched the semifinal games in Indianapolis on Saturday, but they didn’t stay for Monday’s final because John had too much business pending in San Antonio.
Here’s hoping the transition goes smoothly for everybody involved.