Comeback story: Rick Herrington returns as Hart coach after heart transplant

Football coach Rick Herrington poses in his office at Hart High.
Hart football coach Rick Herrington has returned to coaching after heart transplant surgery in April.
(Eric Sondheimer / Los Angeles Times)
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On a pleasant Monday morning in Newhall, Rick Herrington, the 63-year-old head football coach at Hart High, was putting his team through its first practice in helmets and shoulder pads.

But more important, how is Herrington’s new heart doing after he received a transplant in April?

“I’m doing real good,” he said. “Swelling has gone down in my leg. I’ve golfed three times. Not as good because I can’t hit it as far.”


Give him time.

“I was hitting 150 yards when I started playing,” he said. “I hit one 200 yards.”

Players notice that Herrington is as feisty as usual.

“He’s been coaching like normal, yelling at defensive players,” receiver Shawn Irwin said.

It’s been a long road back from the transplant surgery April 16.

“I had to learn to walk again,” Herrington said.

His problems began last November while playing golf, leading to triple bypass surgery. Brother Mike Herrington, Hart’s Hall of Fame head coach who was serving as an assistant to Rick, took over running the program. Then Rick fainted a couple months later, was put in a coma for eight days and was told he needed a new heart.

Who wants to return to coaching after everything he has endured?

“It was crazy,” Hart quarterback Tim Larkins said of his coach’s journey.

The Herringtons are Hart legends. Besides Mike, who was voted into the California High School Football Hall of Fame that’s being unveiled in a new home at the Rose Bowl on Aug. 26, Rick is the middle brother who took over as head coach in 2020 after being an assistant for 42 years. The youngest brother, Dean, is head coach at St. Francis. Hart won nine Southern Section titles with Mike in charge and his brothers assisting him during most of the titles.

Rick has been using a golf cart to travel around the field since his illness. He likes it so much he might not admit he doesn’t need it anymore.

Quarterback Tim Larkins.
Quarterback Tim Larkins will be starting for the fourth consecutive season for Hart.
(Eric Sondheimer / Los Angeles Times)

He is grateful Mike, the offensive coordinator, is staying busy during his retirement to help coach.

“He’s done more of my job, so I’ll have to pay him more,” Rick said.

Hart’s player participation is up, allowing the program to add a freshman team. The varsity’s offense should be very good with Larkins, entering his fourth year as a starter, and Irwin, the younger brother of Cincinnati Bengals receiver Trent Irwin, leading the squad.