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Merv Habenicht

Head Coach —  1971-99


Born in Fort Dodge, Iowa, Merv Habenicht's success in football started early:  in 1952, he earned 4th Team All-State honors as a guard by the Iowa Daily Press Association and later started at that same position at the Iowa State Teacher's College (now known as the University of Northern Iowa) from where he graduated in 1960.  He first worked at Bettendorf as an assistant sophomore coach under Earl Page for four years.

Beginning in 1965, Habenicht then spent the next five years as a varsity assistant under legendary Bettendorf coach Merrit Parsons.  When Ray Oles became the new Bulldog coach in 1967, Habenicht then asked to become the head sophomore coach to gain leadership experience.  Four years later, Habenicht became Bettendorf’s new head coach and from 1971-1999 and would not only make history, but also a dynasty.           

Habenicht’s accomplishments as Bettendorf’s head coach are unmatched in Class 4A.  For starters, he made fifteen total playoff appearances while winning five state titles in 1981, ‘87, ‘88, 1991, and ’92. As well, he was the first coach in Class 4A to win back-to-back championships—and he accomplished that feat twice!  His other Bettendorf squads were also mainstays in the playoffs:  a state runner-up in 1980, the Bulldogs also made four Semifinals (1989, 1994, ‘98, ‘99), a Quarterfinal (1993), and four 1st Round appearances (1983, ’86, ’95, ’96).  In 29 seasons, Habenicht compiled a record of 228-72-1 (with a 30-10 playoff record) while also winning nine (9) conference championships.  To add to his legacy, Habenicht also coached three undefeated squads in 1987 (12-0), 1988 (13-0) and 1992 (13-0) while also earning two national rankings (#18 in 1988 and #21 in 1992 by the L.A. Times).  As well, the 1989 squad was a “Team to Watch” by USA Today.    

During his tenure, the Bulldogs also had two extended winning streaks of 36 (1987-89) and 30 games (1991-93).  Married to the former Evelyn Halligan who also supported Bettendorf squads by—among other things—attending practices, Merv Habenicht will always be known for his intensity, quirky axioms (that nonetheless were truths), and for the fact that he sincerely cared about his players, fellow coaches, and teams.

Coach Habenicht earned several Conference and District "Coach-of-the-Year" awards such as in 1988 and ‘89.  Also, he was the Des Moines Register "Coach of the Year" in 1988 and earned the same honor in 1998 by the Iowa Football Coaches Association.  In 1998 Coach Habenicht was also inducted into the Quad City Times "Hall of Fame" and in 2000 was the Runner-up for the "Quad City Football Coach of the Century."  Habenicht also was an assistant in the Shrine Bowl in 1981 and was the head coach of the All-Star game in 1999.

Coach Habenicht was inducted into the Iowa Football Coaches Hall of Fame on Friday, November 13, 1987, Habenicht made the following statement after being awarded the Des Moines Register Coach-of-the-Year honor in 1988 and his words still ring true today regarding both his legacy and character:           

"This award reflects the hard work of my varsity assistants and great credit should also be given to the sophomore and freshmen coaches whose efforts helped to prepare our players. It also reflects the great backing we have received from the Bettendorf School Administration, the Bettendorf Community in general, and the love and support of my family. Finally, the greatest credit of all should be given to the young men in our football program whose efforts on the field made our ‘coaching’ a success."