GILBERT, Ariz. - Just call Staff Sgt. Timothy O’Hara of the Chandler Army Recruiting Center “Coach O’Hara.” O’Hara spends most of his off-duty time these days studying X’s and O’s as the head football coach of the Desert Hills High School Cougars in Gilbert.
“During my initial visit to Desert Hills, I told the school administration that I’d like to do some volunteer work to include helping the coaching staff,” O’Hara said. He thought his request would garner him a job grading papers or monitoring the lunchroom, so the initial offer from the school came as quite a shock. “Soon after my meeting with school officials, I was approached by the head football coach and offered a position as the linebacker coach.”
O’Hara was no stranger to linebacker having played that position at West Branch High School in Chesapeake, Va. O’Hara has always been a strong advocate of high school athletics and credits his high school linebacker coach with not only making him a better all around football player but also being a better student.
Prior to the Desert Hills coaching job, O’Hara had coached little league baseball and adult softball at various duty assignments.
“Although I started as the linebacker coach, by the time the season started I was promoted to defensive coordinator,” O’Hara said. “Last December, the Desert Hills principal offered me the head coaching job.” And although the school was winless last season, hence the need for a new coach, O’Hara sees good things in the future. “Things are looking up and we have the potential to make the state championships.” That’s no easy task since Desert Hills is a charter school with only 400 students. On the positive side, the Desert Hills team was the Arizona Charter 4A football champion in 2006.
Art Madden, the principal at Desert Hills High School, calls O’Hara a perfect fit for the coaching job. “Coach O’Hara exhibits a great work ethic and enthusiasm for working with young people,” Madden said. “Coach is a role model and the students know they can count on him.” Madden sums up the school’s selection in that Desert Hills “is lucky to have a person of O’Hara’s caliber as its football coach.”
Desert Hills athletic director Teresa Quinn says O’Hara has a no-nonsense coaching style that transitions well with the school’s football program. “He understands the young people he works with, both their strengths and weakness, and focuses on bringing out the best in each player,” Quinn said. “He can be tough on his players, accepting no excuses, but he understands that he is developing not only a football player but a young man too so he is compassionate in his approach.” Quinn says she knows that the team will work hard and no matter what the win-loss record is the season is already a success.
O’Hara, a 17-year Army careerist and military policeman, credits his Army training as a big influence on his coaching success. “The leadership training, the mentoring of Soldiers and the skills to provide direction have helped me in coaching young adults,” O’Hara said. He also credits his stepfather, a one-time prospect for the Boston Red Sox, as one of his coaching mentors. “He was a huge influence on my playing style in baseball and my coaching style in all sports,” O’Hara said. His coaching role models include Pittsburg Steelers head coaches Chuck Knoll and Bill Cowher and former New York Yankees manager Joe Torre. And he also includes the dean of coaching, former Green Bay Packers head coach Vince Lombardi, as his number one coaching role model.
The residual effect of his coaching at Desert Hills is the great relationship the Army recruiter Staff Sgt. O’Hara has with the school. “It’s helped with our access to the school and that’s helped with our recruiting efforts,” O’Hara said.
O’Hara can assess his coaching style in one word, “aggressive.” He says he plans to pattern his defense on the 4-3 style used by the Pittsburg Steelers and Baltimore Ravens. “My defensive focus is to stop the run and blitz from all directions and at all different times,” O’Hara said. “My offense is a run first style.” O’Hara is quick to point out where he credits the future success of the team. “I would not be in the position I am today if it wasn’t for the coaching staff I have assembled,” O’Hara said. That staff includes Donald Suggs, brother of Baltimore Ravens linebacker Terrell Suggs.
It’s no mystery that Coach O’Hara admits that his dream job after the Army is coaching with the Pittsburg Steelers or the New York Yankees.
The real test for O’Hara will be when the Cougars kick off the season against the West Phoenix High School Eagles.