Virgen: Not the type of attention Hirst wants

If Larry Hirst had it his way, he would not have been interviewed Friday night about the recent Newport Harbor High boys' basketball controversy.

He doesn't enjoy this type of attention. Recently his life has been a whirlwind after finding violent, criminal threats made toward him and his family at his home in Huntington Beach and at Newport Harbor.

"I don't want to incite the people who are furious about it," said Hirst, who stepped down as coach Friday. "I don't want any more controversy on the program. My family has been through enough."

Hirst, 50, has been coaching for 28 years, 16 at Newport Harbor. He never thought he would retire from coaching like this. Principal Michael Vossen has suspended the boys' basketball program indefinitely because of the threats made toward Hirst and his wife, Sheridan. The Newport Beach and Huntington Beach Police Departments are investigating the threats, Vossen said in an email. Possible suspects include individuals involved with the Newport Harbor boys' basketball program, Vossen said.

The school has a great tradition in athletics, as it is home to five-time Olympic gold medalist swimmer Aaron Peirsol, two-time Olympic gold medalist beach volleyball legend Misty May-Treanor and basketball Hall of Famer George Yardley.

This was not the way Hirst and Newport Harbor wanted to receive more notoriety.

Hirst won't go into detail about the threats because of the investigation.

A report in a March 12 crime log on the Orange County Register's website could be about Hirst, according to an anonymous source. The report about a home in Huntington Beach reads: "A resident reported finding their vehicle's tires deflated and papers with, 'Quit or die,' printed on them left in their yard. The resident said they suspected that vandalism was related to a current controversy at her husband's place of employment."

Ever since, Hirst has been through a wide range of emotions that included the feeling of leaving his job as coach of the boys' basketball team. He remains a physical education teacher at the school, where Sheridan is a business teacher. Hirst is also an assistant coach for the girls' track and field team.

After reporting the information to police and then trying to find resolution through several conversations with his family, Hirst described his feelings as not of anger, disappointment or fear.

"At this point in time I'm numb more than anything, because it's coming from all fronts," Hirst said Friday night. "You get the dealings from everyday work and then you get dealings from talking with officers and then you're trying to do what's best for the program. And then you go through the handling of telling your kids about what's going on. My mom lives in Newport Beach and she hears all that's going on, and you deal with that.

"You deal with how you talk to your kids every day. You get this outpouring of support from your friends. It's emotional. You go from highs and lows and everything in between. The safest thing to say of what I'm going through is I'm just numb because I've been hit from so many different ways."

Hirst believed stepping away from the program would be the best option. Vossen isn't sure when he'll lift the suspension. He said he's taking it one day at a time.

Hirst can identify with that.

It must've been hard to step away from the profession he loves so much. He tried to make it seem as if he is content, calling it a great 28-year run.

During his 16 years at Newport Harbor, he had a 12-year streak of guiding the Sailors to the playoffs. Recently, the program has struggled. Newport Harbor finished 7-17, 2-8 in the Sunset League this past season.

"It's just that time to go," Hirst said. "I come from an era that may need to be a past era. There are some progressions and advancements in numerous facets that I don't think I want to adapt to."

Hirst took a personal leave of absence from the team in January amid a 10-game losing streak. Two months later, he returned as coach after the season ended.

He has taken a leave of absence as coach three times in the past four seasons, but this time he said he has retired.

The only way he would come out of retirement is if he found a perfect situation, he said.

In the meantime, he said he is looking forward to spending time with his family. He wants to attend more sporting events at the University of Oregon, where his son, Tanner, is a student. Hirst also wants to watch his daughter, Whitney, play volleyball. She'll be a junior in the fall at Edison.

Hirst is moving on, turning the page. He hopes the program can find someone as coach and that the program can rebound from this controversy.

Newport Harbor Athletic Director Mike Zimmerman said finding a new coach might be difficult, since they will need to insure the new hire will be safe from threats.

Vossen expressed disappointment about the recent news.

"I'm just extremely upset that we lost a really good coach as a result of this," Vossen said.

STEVE VIRGEN is the sports editor. He can be reached at (714) 966-4616 or Follow him on Twitter: @SteveVirgen.

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