After 36 years, former Costa Mesa City Manager Tom Hatch lands his dream job

Former City Manager Tom Hatch has landed a job as an assistant football coach at Costa Mesa High School.
(Don Leach / Staff Photographer)
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Tom Hatch has done some pretty heavy lifting in his 36-year career, working for eight different municipalities, including a stint as Costa Mesa’s city manager from 2011 to 2018, and serving as Orange County’s chief human resources officer.

Even after his retirement in 2022, the Costa Mesa resident took on interim city manager roles in Santa Ana and Santa Fe Springs, temporarily helming the vast organizations while they searched for new leaders.

But just last Monday, the lifelong civil servant finally landed in what he describes as his “dream job,” a place where the rigors of leadership and service are exercised on an even broader playing field — the kind with 100 yards and two end zones.

Tom Hatch works with the freshman football team during summer practice at Costa Mesa High School Tuesday.
(Don Leach / Staff Photographer)

Hatch, 58, currently serves as assistant coach of the freshman boys football team at Costa Mesa High School and is overseeing regular summer practice sessions ahead of the 2024-25 season.

Although he grew up in Covina, the new gig feels like a bit of a homecoming, as his two adult daughters, now 31 and 29, graduated on the same Mustangs Field where he and wife Vanessa cheer on student athletes from the sidelines and where he now reports for coaching duties daily.

“I always had a dream of being a football coach, to try to instill some values of life and develop grit in kids and help them overcome things and prepare them for life,” Hatch said Tuesday, recalling his own high school years on the gridiron and the lifelong friendships he forged with teammates he still calls friends.

“I always thought about that, but I was busy with my career and coaching my daughters and all kinds of other things.”

Former Costa Mesa City Manager Tom Hatch on Tuesday works with Costa Mesa High's freshman football team in summer practice.
(Don Leach / Staff Photographer)

So a few weeks ago, when Hatch got a call from Costa Mesa High head football coach Gary Gonzalez, asking if he might have any interest in working with the freshman boys’ team, he jumped at the chance. When offered a stipend, he declined.

“Gary asked me if I wanted to be paid, and I said no,” he recalled. “I want to help bring resources to the program. My wife and I are going to be sponsors and help raise money.

The community needs to support programs like this.”

Now, during rigorous training sessions, rising freshmen spend hours on and off the field, performing drills and learning plays, undergoing weight training and partaking in the hard work and discipline that grows adolescents into capable and confident young adults.

It’s a far cry from Hatch’s former jobs, where the rigors endured were less physical and, at times, more politically complicated than freshman football.

He steered the city of Costa Mesa through a particularly turbulent period, during which City Council members looking to alleviate post-recession financial troubles sought to outsource portions of the city’s labor force, particularly within the police department.

“Every hour felt like a day, and every day felt like a week,” he recalled of that time.

Hatch said he’s always seen the role of a city manager as a humble servant hired to carry out the wishes of the council majority (at the time Costa Mesa had a five-member panel, not seven as it has today), even when those decisions were somewhat controversial.

“I have a professional ethic. We don’t play games — when three votes tell us to do something, that’s what you do,” he added. “My role was to hold it all together.”

Despite the ups and downs of the job, Hatch believes a lot was accomplished during his time as city manager, and assistant city manager five years before that, including crafting a vision of Costa Mesa as a place with its own unique “culture of cool” that helped set it apart from neighboring cities.

The city successfully courted the Los Angeles Chargers, which agreed to use Jack Hammett Sports Complex as its practice facility and training camp. The popular resident-created holiday attraction Snoopy House came to City Hall in a tradition that continues to this day, and the city became a haven for entrepreneurs in the retail and restaurant industries.

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“It was a challenging time, but it was exhausting,” Hatch said of his tenure with the city, which ended with the preparation of a severance agreement that passed in a 3-2 vote in 2018, when a largely conservative council configuration shifted following Election Day.

“Being a city manager is a grind. You get chewed up and spit out. It’s a lot of pressure, and every decision you make, some people may like it and some people may not like it.”

Hatch went on in 2019 to become chief human resources officer for Orange County, a position he would work for the next two years during the coronavirus pandemic before accepting an interim city manager position in the city of Orange.

Although he officially retired there, he accepted similar interim positions in Santa Fe Springs and Santa Ana and today imagines he might continue to work in some manner as a consultant.

Former Costa Mesa City Manager Tom Hatch accepted a job as assistant coach for the school's freshman boys football team.
Tom Hatch, a former city manager whose daughters graduated from Costa Mesa High School, accepted a job as assistant coach for the school’s freshman boys football team.
(Don Leach / Staff Photographer)

But serious thought about any future engagements will have to wait until football season ends, because that’s where Hatch’s mind and energies are concentrated these days.

“Now, I’ve got a real job,” he quipped.

In an interview Tuesday, Mustangs head coach Gonzalez, who got to know the former Costa Mesa city manager through his wife’s friendship with Hatch’s daughter, Allison, said he tapped Hatch for the assistant coach position because of his passion for football and deep ties to the local school community as a parent, PTA member and athletic booster.

“What he brings is good leadership and good morale. He’s like a chameleon — he melds well wherever he is, and he’s able to adapt,” Gonzalez said.

Tom Hatch with Costa Mesa High's freshman football team with coach Demetrius Cash and fellow assistant coach, Jaycen Cash.
(Don Leach / Staff Photographer)

“He just wants to help, and he wants to get a place better than it was when he got there. He’s doing great.”

Hatch said despite his rewarding and challenging career, and having played and loved football for most of his life, he’s excited to still be learning new things on Mustangs Field.

“I’m blessed to be there, and I’m learning, and I’ll do anything,” he said. “If you need me to pick up trash, I’ll pick up trash. It’s not about me, it’s about how can the program get better to help those kids. That’s what I love.”