Nice article on Wofford assistant coach Lee Hanning

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Nice article on Wofford assistant coach Lee Hanning

Postby BestOfBreed on Tue Sep 05, 2006 1:06 pm ... 441023.htm

Hanning finds peace on sidelines
By Ian Guerin
The Sun News

Lee Hanning could walk into the Wofford football meeting room at any time and grab everyone's attention.

The team - comprised mostly of young men a quarter of Hanning's age - could hear first-hand accounts of events they'd only seen in movies like "Saving Private Ryan" or the television series "Band of Brothers."

His recollections of World War II would likely boost his respect quotient, maybe even eliminate any doubt from the occasional player who finds it hard to listen to an 83-year-old man.

In preparation for a tough college football season or even just one game - like Wofford's contest against Coastal Carolina on Saturday - the motivation derived from Hanning's heroic role in World War II could fire up the entire Terriers team or the kickers and punters he's been coaching for the better part of two decades.

The muster of one powerful line itself might do the trick.

Hanning knows all too well after participating in two of the bloodiest battles of World War II.

When he was 20 - a year younger than current Wofford place kicker Nick Robinson and a year older than current punter Chris Tommie - Hanning's 101st Airborne division was part of the Normandy invasion.

Six months later, he was dropping into the Ardennes forests during the Battle of the Bulge.

Hanning, though, will never directly deliver the message of his memories to his players.

"He doesn't talk that much about it," Wofford head coach Mike Ayers said. "If someone asks, he'll basically say, 'Yes, I did that.' But he doesn't go into details."

For Hanning, most of those details are too emotional.

On June 6, 1944, the day Operation Overlord began and the Allied Forces began to make strides in the war, the 101st Airborne lost a large portion of its men.

Hanning made it through D-Day, as well as his division's role in the Battle of the Bulge, relatively unscathed physically.

Only when his pack tangled during a drop into Cologne, Germany, in 1945, did he suffer enough physical damage to warrant a medical discharge. The awkward landing left the cartilage and ligaments in his left knee scrambled.

But his football-like injury never compared to the residual effects he still deals with today.

"I've lost a lot of good buddies," Hanning said last week. "And I've wondered why I'm here and they're there."

Never a football man

Hanning gets his share of questions about his own football career.

That, however, is a pretty short story.

He last played football at Coraopolis High School in Pittsburgh. It was briefly after that he enrolled at the University of Hard Knocks, his reference for his time in the Army.

He did serve briefly in scouting and equipment roles for several programs. Only after asking to join and then take on more responsibility at Wofford did he land his current position.

It often takes his players aback; they don't understand how he can understand his position as well as he does. After all, under Hanning, two Wofford punters have gone on to sign NFL contracts. Two former place kickers earned All-America honors.

And current Terrier kicker Nick Robinson, who played high-school soccer instead of football, is now in his fourth year as a starter for Wofford.

Hanning's ability to teach actually breaks the old adage that an old dog can't learn new tricks.

The assistant coach serves as one of the Carolina Panthers' equipment assistants when the Panthers conduct their preseason camps in Spartanburg. During those years, Hanning worked himself into position to ask professional punters and kickers the intricacies of their jobs.

When camp ends every year, Hanning has something else to teach.

"He studied it. He studied the game really hard," Ayers said. "[Now] he's got a track record."

What he doesn't get, however, is a paycheck. In every one of Hanning's 17 years at Wofford, he has been classified as a volunteer assistant.

Ayers said he has offered Hanning a salary or even a small stipend on numerous occasions. Every time, though, Hanning's answer is the same: Give it to someone else.

"I don't get paid a penny," he said, "And I don't want any."

Facing mortality

Hanning has a pretty straight-forward plan for the remainder of his coaching career.

"I always tell them I'm not going to retire 'til I die," Hanning said. "Then I'm going to be cremated and have my ashes scattered on the sidelines."

The description, Hanning continues, will give Ayers something to kick around when Wofford isn't having the best of games.

Ayers' response: "I don't think that's a joke."

Hanning could be giving up football and working on a golf game that he admits has been suffering of late, but he needs just one reason not to hang it up. Going to practice rejuvenated virtually every day.

That's why he ended a brief, one-year retirement in 1998. It's why he can still be spotted running with offensive linemen during practices.

It's also why he doesn't attend WWII veterans' reunions. He doesn't want to rehash the same emotional stories, hear about friends he lost.

With what he has now, he has little reason to talk about the past.
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Postby Ruckus on Tue Sep 05, 2006 1:23 pm

Thanks to men like Coach Hanning, it's a perspective most of us won't ever have to face.
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