Hicks leaves Harrison for college job at AIC in Springfield

When Danny Hicks was hired as the head football coach at Harrison High School a little over a year ago, it seemed like it was an absolute perfect fit.

Hicks was very young (26 years old), extremely energetic and well liked, both by the athletes he coached at Harrison and his coaching colleagues at the school and opposition schools.

Hicks was given the job to coach at his high school alma mater and was even hired as a full-time teacher at the school, which in recent years had been a rarity.

And Hicks was the ultimate student of the game, constantly attending camps and clinics to get better as a coach. He volunteered his time to coach at All-Star games like the Robeson Classic in East Orange, donating his time with the idea that he could learn from some of the other coaching legends involved in the sport.

It just seemed as if Hicks was going to be the kind of coach who would be around for a lifetime.

But that lifetime only lasted one season, because Hicks decided to take a position as an assistant coach at American International College in Springfield, Massachusetts, while working at the school to complete his master’s degree.

“It’s really not something I was preparing to do,” Hicks said. “It was an offer I couldn’t refuse. I’m totally happy and so sad at the same time, if that makes any sense. I’m going to explore the world a little. So that part is exhilarating.”

Hicks sat his team down last Thursday and told them about his plans.

“It was one of the toughest things I’ve ever had to do,” Hicks said. “I really do have mixed feelings about this. Harrison is always going to be home for me. To tell these kids that I’m leaving was really a flustering moment. It’s a new chapter to my life.”

Ironically, Hicks never thought he would become a football coach, even though his dream always was becoming a football.

“When I was younger, I never intended to get into coaching,” Hicks said. “But one day, I met with Nick Edwards and that changed things. I truly became addicted.”

In 2013, Hicks was a 21-year-old kid just out of college when he joined the coaching staff at Kearny High School, headed by friend Edwards.

“The second I stepped into the locker room, I knew I was hooked,” Hicks said. “I got thrown into the fire and started to find my legs. But I was hooked.”

Hicks remained with Edwards for two seasons, but when Edwards resigned at Kearny, Hicks took some time away from coaching.

That break didn’t even last a year.

Harrison hired a new head coach in Mike Hinchcliffe in 2016 and Hinchcliffe turned the reins of the offense over to the young Hicks.

“Hinchy approached me with a chance to run the offense,” Hicks said. “That was hard to turn down. I grew up in the (Harrison) Gardens across the street from the school. I think he knew how passionate I was about coaching at Harrison. That passion resonated in me.

Added Hicks, “Some people wanted to be cops and firemen. I wanted to be a football coach. I knew I wanted to be affiliated with the game. Once my playing career ended, I wanted to somehow extend my career and I did that through coaching.”

Hicks’ first year as the offensive coordinator produced a team that went to the NJSIAA Central Jersey Group II playoffs against Roselle. It marked the first time the Blue Tide went to the state playoffs since the Ray Lucas-Ralph Borgess team that won the North Jersey Section 1, Group II championship.

It also turned out to be the best season the Blue Tide enjoyed since the 2003 season, when then-head coach Mike Landy took Harrison to a 5-5 record.

After two seasons, Hinchcliffe left Harrison to become an assistant coach at North Arlington. It made all the sense in the world to promote Hicks to the head man.

Hicks took the job, led the Blue Tide to another 5-5 record, a year after the Blue Tide owned a 1-7 mark.

It appeared as if he was headed for a long and fruitful career at his alma mater.

But the grass – or even FieldTurf – is always greener in the college game. Hicks doesn’t have to concern himself with teaching. He can be a football coach at AIC – and nothing else.

“It’s not like my departure changes things for this team,” Hicks said. “Everything is in place for whoever takes over. This team is ready for the challenge head. Me not being here doesn’t change that. We have been working out every day at 6:45 a.m. and three days a week, we’re in the weight room. We’ve meant business since the season ended (last November).”

The Blue Tide will welcome back All-NJIC quarterback Mateo DeSosa this fall. DeSosa threw for nearly 1,500 yards and rushed for almost 600 more while compiling a total of 19 touchdowns last season. Not a bad way to start for the new guy.

Harrison athletic director Kim Huaranga applauded Hicks’ work ethic and achievements with the football team. Hicks was also an assistant coach with the Harrison softball team as well.

“He’s a good, young football coach with a bright future,” Huaranga said. “He did a great job here. You knew that if another opportunity came along, he would want to pursue it. Dan has a lot to offer in the college football game. He’s getting a Master’s degree while coaching. I wish him the best of luck in the future.”

Huaranga said that the position has been posted within the district and she will be conducting interviews for Hicks’ replacement in the days to come.

“We’re going to look rather quickly for a new coach,” Huaranga said.

But losing this one hurts. Harrison has had a revolving door of head football coaches. Hicks’ replacement will be the seventh different Harrison head football coach since 2012. Successful programs breed having consistency in head coaches, not looking for replacements almost on a yearly thing.

Hicks didn’t foresee this happening, nor did he encourage it. He thought he was in it for the long haul, but the better opportunity arose. Now, Harrison has to find a suitable replacement.

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Jim Hague | Observer Sports Writer

Sports Writer Jim Hague was with The Observer for 20+ years — and his name is one of the most recognizable in all of sports journalism. The St. Peter’s Prep and Marquette alum kicked off his journalism career post Marquette at the Daily Record, where he remained until 1985. Following shorts stints at two other newspapers, in September 1986, he joined the now-closed Hudson Dispatch, where he remained until 1991, when its doors were finally shut.

It was during his tenure at The Dispatch that Hague’s name and reputation as one of country’s hardest-working sports reporters grew. He won several New Jersey Press Association and North Jersey Press Club Awards in that timeframe.

In 1991, he became a columnist for The Hudson Reporter chain of newspapers — and he remains with them to this day.

In addition to his work at The Observer and The Hudson Reporter, Hague is also an Associated Press stringer, where he covers Seton Hall University men’s basketball, New York Red Bulls soccer and occasionally, New Jersey Devils hockey.

He’s also doing work at The Morristown Daily Record, the very newspaper where his journalism career began.

During his career, he also worked for Dorf Feature Services, which provided material for the Star-Ledger. While there, he covered the New York Knicks and the New Jersey Nets.

Hague is also known for his announcing work — and he’s done PA work for Rutgers Newark and NJIT.

Hague is the author of the book “Braddock: The Rise of the Cinderella Man.”