LANSING, Mich (WLNS) – 2020 saw its fair share of iconic coaches in Mid-Michigan decide to step away from the game they love and, on Tuesday, Lansing Catholic’s Jim Ahern carried the tradition into the new year.
After 53 years of roaming up and down the sidelines he is retiring.
“When you’ve done something as long as I have and you’re going to stop doing it, it’s tough,” said Ahern. “I still like being around the kids. I enjoy the game prep, and games, but the offseason stuff is getting pretty old. I mean it’s become a year-round sport. You’re basically giving up your summers and I just decided it’s time.”
Of those 53 years he spent 47 as a head football coach and the last 12 were at Lansing Catholic, a program he didn’t ‘turn around’ but rather ‘restored’ when he took over in 2009.
“I think the big thing, when I got here, the program was down a little bit, and everybody said there wasn’t any tradition and I didn’t believe that,” said Ahern. “Phil Booth was the coach here, a few years, in the mid-80’s and had great success and won a state championship in 1985. My goal at that time was to renew the tradition that was here when Phil was coaching. To get it back where there was respect for the program and I think we’ve accomplished that. That was probably one of my main goals here.”
Ahern more than accomplished that goal by not only capturing the Division 5 state championship in 2019, but in his 12 years at Lansing Catholic he led the Cougars to 12 straight playoff appearances. Even when he thought 2020 would be a down year, due to the loss of several lineman and starting quarterback Zach Gillespie, the Cougars found a way to make it all the way back to the Division 5 state semifinal. Junior Alex Watters was also the only skilled player Ahern had returning in 2020.
“That meant so much to everybody on that team,” said Watters when asked about winning it all last season. “He more than deserved that for everything he’s put into the sport. I think we were just happy we could give that to him.”
Ahern also surpassed the 300-win mark in his career in 2019 and after this season he finishes with a total of 309 wins in his career, which is tied for eighth in the Michigan High School Athletic Association’s history. A lot of those wins can also be attributed to his time as the head coach of the Ithaca Yellowjackets. Another program he also helped ‘rebuild’ in the early 1970’s.
“This was a good place for me to be at that time in my life,” said Ahern. “From the administration, to the parents, have been great through the years that I’ve been here and I’ve been really fortunate that it was the same thing at Ithaca. I got great support there from the parents and the administration, so in my years as a coach I’ve been really blessed.”