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The time is right for Hentges to return as Helias football coach

The time is right for Hentges to return as Helias football coach

January 12th, 2018 by Tom Rackers in Sports Prep

New and returning Helias Catholic High School head football coach Chris Hentges is introduced during a news conference Thursday, Jan. 11, 2018, as Helias President the Rev. Stephen Jones looks on. Hentges was the Crusaders' head football coach from 2006-10.

Photo by Mark Wilson /News Tribune.

The timing isn't ideal.

But it is the right time for Chris Hentges to return for a second stint as head coach of the Helias football program.

"Times, circumstances and events happen and when the job opened up again, it's something I had to consider," Hentges said during a press conference announcing the hiring Thursday at the school.

Hentges previously served as Helias' head coach from 2006-10, then was offensive coordinator the next four seasons. He stepped away from the football program in part because he and his family wanted to watch his son, Hale, play football at the University of Alabama.

Hale still has his senior season to play and that left Chris with a tough decision to make about getting back into coaching with the chance he may have to miss some Crimson Tide games this fall.

But the son made the decision easy for the father.

"He is very supportive, he told me I was meant to coach," Chris Hentges said. "That ended that discussion, I had his blessing.

"Hale is such a good kid, he knows how much football has meant to me and the family. It was a big source of pride for him, too. He knows how much it means to me and he wants me to do it."

Hentges was one of 20 applicants for the position, which was whittled to five finalists.

"We felt all of them could have been great potential coaches for our school and our community," Helias president Fr. Stephen Jones said.

In the end, the decision was apparent.

"The best candidate was right under our nose," Fr. Jones said. "He's a man of great faith, a man of great integrity, a man of great honor who is also a pretty dang good football coach."

Hentges has been a teacher at Helias for 25 years and has been an assistant or head coach in football for 22 of those years.

"I missed it the last three years," he said. "When something is so much a part of your life and you step away from it, there's a hole. It's hard to define. But I realized God was calling me to come back, it's the best thing for the school at this time."

Hentges knows what he is getting into the second time around.

"I'm more relaxed and prepared this time," he said. "There was some anxiety about what this was going to be like 12 years ago.

"After having been head coach for five years, I understand what it's going to take to be successful. We were highly successful in my five years and that will be the blueprint to follow."

The Crusaders were 50-12 under Hentges, including state championship game appearances in the 2008 and 2009 seasons.

Hentges introduced the spread offense at Helias in his first stint as head coach and the Crusaders will return to that this fall. He knows there will be a learning curve for the players, who he met with Thursday morning.

"There is no player in the program now who understands what we're trying to accomplish with the spread offense," Hentges, who will be the offensive coordinator, said. "We need to focus on how to get this offense to work. It's fairly easy once you learn a few of the basic run and pass concepts.

"Our kids are great kids, they are going to give you their absolute best and that's all you can ask for as a coach."

Among Hentges' top priorities is putting together a coaching staff. He said he has reached out to coaches he has worked with before at Helias, as well as holdovers from Tim Rulo's staff who will be staying as teachers at the school.

"I feel good about some initial conversations and I believe we will put together a very strong staff," Hentges said. "I know how critical it is to surround yourself with great assistant coaches."

Hentges has not decided on a defensive coordinator.

"That's the biggest decision I have to make," he said.

A few things have changed around the Helias program since Hentges stepped away.

One of the big challenges for many years was putting together a football schedule. But with the school joining the Archdiocesan Athletic Association next fall — a St. Louis-based conference of private schools — that won't be a problem. Helias will play five conference games, along with games against traditional foes such as Rock Bridge, Hickman and Hannibal.

Another is Helias actually has a home field — Ray Hentges Stadium, which opened last fall.

"I can't tell you how thrilling it will be to take to the football field again at a stadium named after my father and legendary coach Ray Hentges," Chris Hentges said. "It means so much, he's a mentor and a role model, the reason I got into coaching.

"To lead the program in that stadium will be meaningful."

Thursday's announcement was just part of a big week for the Hentges' family. On Monday night, Hale Hentges played for Alabama in the College Football Playoff title game, winning in overtime against Georgia in Atlanta.

"It's been crazy, but a wonderful week," Chris Hentges said.

It's the second national title for Alabama in Hentges' three years.

"Watching Hale play football at the University of Alabama has been one of the greatest things of my life, it's been fantastic," Hentges said, choking up.

Alabama is led by coach Nick Saban, considered by many to be the best coach in the history of college football.

"I ask Hale an awful lot about how coach Saban does it, the consistency of what they do, the expectations of doing your job," Hentges said. "All coaches can learn from great ones like Saban, he's a great leader of a program."

Hentges has high expectations for Crusaders.

"We want this to be the best football program in the state," he said. "We want the kids are to give us their very best, each and every day. Handle themselves with class, on and off the field. To be true leaders in the school. To be strong and men of faith."