April 8, 2014
By Mark Janssen
First things first: it's Mike a-HEARN, and not Mike A-hearn.
That comes from the Ahearn family. It's a short "a."
It was around this time of the year back in 1946 that Ahearn, K-State's athletic director, began his push for a new facility to replace the ancient 2,800-seat Nichols Gymnasium, which he referred to as "the crackerbox."
Mike Ahearn's mission would be completed four years later, but he would not see it as he died at the young age of 69 in 1948, which is the year that ground was broken on the $2 million facility.
In taking his efforts to the Kansas legislators, Ahearn said, "It's bad enough that a fourth of Kansas State's students must be turned away from basketball games because of cramped facilities, but this is minor to the extreme need for more indoor space to carry out our physical education and all-college sports programs."
The facility was opened in 1950, and four years later through the urging of President James McCain, the facility was named Ahearn Field House.
A native of Rotherham, England, Ahearn graduated from Massachusetts "Agricultural" State College (known as the University of Massachusetts, Amherst today) where he lettered football, basketball, baseball and ice hockey.
He arrived in the Flint Hills of Kansas in 1904 as a 26-year-old professor in the Department of Horticulture, plus served as foreman of the greenhouses.
The next year he also became the school's football coach, leading the Aggies to 39 wins between 1905 and 1910. Ahearn's six-year record of 39-12 ranked him as Kansas State's all-time winningest football coach until... get this... Bill Snyder.
Ahearn's duties expanded to basketball coach from 1906-1911, baseball coach from 1906 until 1911, plus he helped the tennis program.
His basketball teams went 28-27 in his five years as coach and his baseball troops were 93-33-2 during his six-year stint, which stood as winningest diamond coach until Bob Brasher's teams won 129 games over an eight-year period in the 1960s and early-70s.
It was during this time that Nichols Gymnasium was completed in 1911, and in 1924, the old 17,000-seat Memorial Stadium on the Kansas State campus opened its doors.
In 1920, new K-State president W.M. Jardine hired Ahearn to be the school's athletics director, which was a position he held until 1946.
Today, a plaque still hangs on the wall of the foyer as a permanent tribute to Ahearn: "His geniality, fair play and sportsmanship live forever in the minds and the hearts of thousands of Kansas State students and friends."
In his nomination to the National Football Foundation Hall of Fame, former Notre Dame coach Frank Leahy said, "Mike Ahearn personified all that is fine and inspiring, not only as a coach and administrator, but also as an American."
Ex-Missouri football coach Don Faurot said of the first Mr. K-State, "Mike Ahearn is a great, honest, very fair and sincere. He's a good sportsman."
And as "Doc" Howard Hill of the K-State speech department said of Ahearn, "Mike was a great football coach and the grandest Irishman the Lord ever made."