HYRUM – Early in January, former Mountain Crest baseball head coach Steve Hansen received a call from the president of the National High School Baseball Coaches Association. The news from the other end is something the 27-year veteran of high school coaching had maybe been expecting, but now was confirmed. Hansen was informed he will be inducted into the 2023 class of the NHSBCA Hall of Fame.
“It’s humbling without a doubt,” Hansen said in an exclusive interview with the Full Court Press on 106.9 The FAN last week. “Just knowing some of the other coaches that are in it.”
After hearing the news, Hansen immediately told his wife, Jill, who celebrated with him as one of the people who had helped Hansen the most through what can now be called a Hall of Fame career.
“Everybody knows if they’ve been around Mountain Crest baseball, she’s the backbone of it all,” Hansen said.
Hansen entered the coaching profession immediately after graduating from Southern Utah University in 1990. The young Hansen had been a standout player at Hillcrest High School and then Snow College. But with his playing career over, Hansen went into coaching.
His first job came at Tooele High School where Hansen coached six seasons from 1990 to 1997. In 1996, Tooele took home the state title and Hansen also took home the 4A Coach of the Year award, both of those being just the beginning of a string of hardware Hansen would earn.
In that 1996 state tournament, Tooele beat Mountain Crest High School en route to its championship victory and it was one of many encounters Hansen had with then-Mustangs head coach Jim Blotter. Hansen grew to like the Hyrum area and the culture around the program.
“I always liked the area up here,” Hansen said, “and I always liked Mountain Crest. Just the school spirit they always showed. It was just unbelievable to me.”
With that growing love for the area, Hansen set a goal to one day coach the Mustangs, going so far as to ask Blotter to help him make that happen down the road.
“I said ‘When it’s time for you to hang it up, let me know cause I’m going to put in for your job,’” Hansen recalled telling Blotter.
After the 1997 season, Blotter stepped down and, sure enough, let Hansen know the job was open the very same day. Right after hearing that from Blotter, Hansen called the Mountain Crest principle. And so in 1998, Hansen took over for the Mustangs and quickly got to work.
In just his second year in Hyrum, Hansen led Mountain Crest to its first-ever state title in baseball. The Mustangs had to do it in an unconventional way since they lost a game during the double-elimination state tournament and had to win seven games in five days to capture the championship.
Ten years later in 2009, the Mustangs had to go through the losing side of the bracket and beat Dixie twice on the final day of the tournament to win the second title of Hansen’s tenure.
“Both of those (titles) were thrilling and exciting things to do,” Hansen said, later adding that “there’s nothing better than a state tournament in baseball. It’s just the ups and downs, the different pitchers that have to pitch, that sort of stuff. It’s just the craziest thing ever. Those are fun memories.”
Following the 2012 season, Hansen decided to step away from coaching. He already had a distinguished career but there was something else he wanted to be able to do more of – watch his kids play. His daughter, Jori was playing softball and he’d not been able to watch very often. And his son, Trace, was about to embark on a college career. Trace was a three-time Region MVP playing under his dad at Mountain Crest, one of the better prep baseball players Cache Valley has seen.
Trace went on to play two seasons at BYU and then another two at West Texas A&M where he was one of the Buffaloes’ best hitters and base-stealers in 2015 and 2016. And Hansen made sure to see as much of it as he could.
“That’s been one of the biggest thrills of my life was watching him play in college,” Hansen said.
Just as Trace ended his collegiate career, a new opportunity arose for Steve to get back into coaching. Mountain Crest was being split with the formation of Ridgeline High School. Hansen’s replacement at Mountain Crest was going to coach the Riverhawks, leaving an opening in Hyrum. Once again Hansen applied and took over his old role.
With many of the experienced athletes across all sports choosing to play at the new school, Hansen had to rebuild the proud program he had taken to its highest heights. And after two seasons with a losing record, Hansen got things turned around with a 16-10 season and then – after a largely canceled 2019-20 season due to the COVID-19 pandemic – a 23-9 season where the Mustangs finished as the runner-up to the state champions.
“Rebuilding the Mountain Crest program after that has been real fun for me and a real thrill,” Hansen said.
Alongside his coaching accomplishments, Hansen did many things outside of games to advance Mountain Crest and Cache Valley baseball. One of his accomplishments is the establishment of “The Yard,” the Mustangs’ home field which earned NHSBCA Region 7 Field of the Year for the 2020-21 season. The Yard has become an iconic landmark in Cache Valley baseball. Hansen also founded the Mountain Crest Legion baseball program in 1997. Thanks to his help, baseball in Cache Valley has grown a lot from where it was when Hansen arrived.
“When I came up here, Northern Utah baseball, it was decent but wasn’t on the state level as much as they should have,” Hansen said. “And I believe we’ve just gotten better and better up here in the north. Established a good American Legion league during the summertime and everybody’s gotten excited more up here. Northern Utah baseball is very good right now.”
At the conclusion of the 2021 season, Hansen again stepped away, ending his career with 449 wins (353 of those at Mountain Crest), 15 region titles, three state championships, and two runner-up finishes. He also earned three Coach of the Year awards with his teams qualifying for the state tournament in 26 of his 27 seasons. It’s the end of his direct involvement in a sport that has largely defined his life
“Baseball has been everything to me,” Hansen said. “Everything I’ve done along with my family – my wife Jill and my two kids Trace and Jori – everything we do is geared around baseball. It’s been my life throughout and I’ve enjoyed it. The game of baseball has taken me many places and given me a lot of experiences.”
Once again, Hansen’s son, Trace, was involved in the retirement process. Trace took over for his father in the role of Mountain Crest head coach. Oddly enough, Hansen has had a hand in many current Cache Valley coaches’ upbringing. Mountain Crest boys basketball coach Chandler Smith and Ridgeline football coach Travis Cox both played under Hansen, Smith doing so as part of Mountain Crest’s 2009 championship team.
As for Hansen’s own coaching legacy, he will become just the second Utah high school coach in the NHSBCA Hall of Fame alongside Bingham’s Joe Sato. Hansen said it’s “a humbling experience” to be in the same rarified air as someone he admired.
“He’s a coach that I’ve always looked up to and to be in the same category as him, that’s a real honor,” Hansen said.
The induction will take place in a December Ceremony at the NHSBCA National Convention in Phoenix, Arizona. Three other coaches will be inducted alongside Hansen – Doug Miller, Rick Carpenter, and Al Amdahl.