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Retiring Paly Coach Has Deep Connections With the Niners

Only Jim Harbaugh knows how much Earl Hansen influenced his path

Jason O. Watson

Palo Alto High School football coach Earl Hansen announced his retirement last week. For most people, you might return that statement with a perplexed look or a "who is Earl Hansen?" I won't hold either reaction against you. I imagine there are only a few readers on this site that knew Coach Hansen or had the opportunity to play for him, but his connections to the 49ers run deeper than you might think.

Earl Hansen was the head football coach at Palo Alto High School for 26 years over two turns with the school. The first stint included the 1980-82 seasons when he coached a young quarterback named Jim Harbaugh. Harbaugh starred at Paly then moved on to Michigan and the NFL, before returning to the Bay Area in 2007 at Stanford. The rest of his story 49ers fans should know by heart. Coach Harbaugh was asked about Coach Hansen's retirement on Wednesday:

"Yes. Learned that yesterday and congratulations to Coach Hansen on a wonderful, wonderful career. The impact he had on my life and so many of the players that he coached and youth that he taught was very impactful. Great leadership qualities. He's been a dear friend, at the point now you can call him a lifelong friend. It'll be interesting. He's such a football coach. Such a coach and such a teacher that he may be back. It's hard to picture him not coaching. I congratulate him on a stellar career and what it meant, how many people he impacted. I think of It's a Wonderful Life. It's Jimmy Stewart and the amount of people that he impacted. He would be a very good comparison to Coach Hansen."

As close as the two still are (Harbaugh was a "special guest" at Paly's season opener this year) Coach Hansen's 49er connections do not end there. After a stellar 2-sport career at the University of Arizona and stints playing both football and basketball in Europe, Peter Hansen, Earl's son, joined Harbaugh's staff at Stanford as a defensive assistant under Vic Fangio. When Fangio followed Harbaugh to the 49ers so did Peter Hansen.

In 2011, Christoph Bono, the son of former 49er Steve Bono, under tutelage of Earl Hansen, led Palo Alto to a state championship. His father along with 49er great Steve Young, who also resides in Palo Alto, have served as consultants with Paly's coaching staff.

This season Coach Hansen has been leading another signal caller who might be even more highly touted than Harbaugh was before he landed at Michigan. Keller Chryst is ranked by as the No. 2 Pro-Style quarterback in the class of 2014. He has committed to play right across the street (literally) at Stanford University starting next year. If his name sounds familiar it is because his father, Geep Chryst, is currently the 49ers quarterbacks coach.

It might be hard to see these connections as anything but coincidences or plain good luck for Paly. You could easily point out its proximity to Stanford and say that it makes perfect sense for the children of Stanford coaches to attend the school. And it does make sense, but from an athletic standpoint there are plenty of other private schools in the area with greater history and appeal. Tom Brady's alma mater, Junipero Serra High School, is just a few towns away. St Francis is just a couple miles down the road and they have produced a score of CCS titles as well as few NFL players. Arch Bishop Mitty High School is a short drive away and Max Preps ranked their athletic program No. 4 in the country the last two years. Bellarmine is another private school in the area with a rich athletic history (due to a rugby rivalry dating back to my high school days I have nothing else nice to say about Bellarmine).

These local athletic powers all have better facilities, more money, and a higher profile than Palo Alto High School does as a public institution. What they do not have is a coach like Earl Hansen.

I only played one season of football at Paly and even then I was some JV scrub who would have been blessed to be labeled "has potential." Hansen was also my PE teacher, and despite my lack of football skills and contribution to the team, he never ignored me. Even when I went in to his office the summer before my junior year and told him I didn't want to play football anymore he reacted with nothing but calm and understanding. In the nicest way possible he told me I would regret my decision and sure enough he was right, but even after that moment his demeanor towards me on campus never wavered. He still offered a gruff but friendly hello when I would pass him in the halls and he treated me the same as he always had.

He may not be a part of the 49ers coaching tree but his connections to the organization run deep. His ability to mentor talent is undeniable and his influence on Paly will be missed.