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Dick Hoak, Steelers Running Back 1961-1970, Steelers Coach 1972-2007

October 12, 2011
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Dick Hoak – Pittsburgh Steelers:

Thanks for taking the time to talk with me tonight Dick. First, Can you let readers know what you’re doing with yourself these days?

Not too much. Since I retired, I’m playing more golf -maybe one or two times a week, and fly-fishing when I can when the weather holds out. I’m also working on the yard and spending time with my seven grandkids.

I travel one to two times a year with my wife as well.

I also like to take in a couple Penn State game a year – my daughter and her friends tailgate there so I like to join them when I can. I didn’t get to take in many Penn State games when I was coaching….

Do you talk with the Steelers players/front office much?

I’m not really around the team anymore.  I stay in touch with some – play at golf events with some of the older players a couple of times a year and one with some current players.

I also stop in the office to when I’m in Pittsburgh to say hi to the office staff.

What made you decide to become a coach and what aspect of coaching did you enjoy most?

I never thought about coaching until high school but always wanted to be a coach since. I had a coach I respected a lot who was a sociology teacher and coach and I liked him a lot.

I knew then it wasn’t something I wanted to do only after I retired. You really have to want to be a coach – you can’t have a career then decide to be a coach – it doesn’t work. You have to want to coach from the start.

When Coach Noll hired you in 1972 – what was it that you think he saw in you?

Oh I don’t know. Maybe because I knew about everything going on on the field – not just my job.

At Penn State I played quarterback, running back and defensive back. Back then you played both ways in college. Because of that I think I studied the game – I stood on the sidelines and saw it all and took it in.

When I took the job, I had an offer from the University of Pittsburgh as well. The coach there asked if I wanted to get into college coaching and I was interested. They said they’d call in 2 weeks and Coach Noll called me for an interview as well.

I set up interviews for both teams on the same day, but after the interview with the Steelers I called the University of Pittsburgh and told them I have to take the Steelers job.

I think the next year they fired the entire University of Pittsburgh staff!

What do you feel were some of your greatest coaching accomplishments in terms of working with the players?

I was lucky – I got there at the right time. My first year we drafted Franco Harris – he didn’t need a lot of coaching. He knew how to run and catch the ball – he was a great player.

One time I remember was when we played Denver in the playoffs before Super Bowl 40. I was studying film and noticed their blitzing and told the staff we should run this play we ran years ago. They thought I was crazy.

Well we used the play and Jerome ran the ball for a 30 yard touchdown. Unfortunately Ward lined up wrong  for a penalty – I think he was off the ball. But it turned out ok – we won anyway.

Really, players make you a good coach. I played with Rocky for a couple of years and some other guys as well.

I know that sometimes its hard to get the respect of those you played with. But the players respected me – I wasn’t too friendly. I ended up being the older guy when I left.

How did the role of the running back change over those 20 years?

The position has changed a lot. It was all one-back offenses when I got in the league. There was little I-formation. The halfback was almost always split.

Then OJ {Simpson} arrived and it went to the I-formation and people did that. Now, its lots of one-back offenses – teams throw the ball so much now with 3-4 wide receivers the one-back offense has come back.

How has the game changed in general?

The biggest change in the game is specialization.

Back then, we needed to play 22 guys – that was really it. Players were on the field for every play. As my coaching career went on, there started being extra defensive backs on third downs so teams brought in a third wide receiver. We have guys that, for the most part, all they do is kick field goals and punt. Those used to be position players doing that.

Now, you have players that are specialists. They can do one thing but not much else.

Is this for the better or worse?

I think the game doesn’t miss the way it was – its more exciting. I think it’s a better game.

Bradshaw threw 20-25 times a game – and that was a lot.

Yes – he’d be called a game-manager today.

Yeah exactly, Now quarterbacks are throwing 30-35 times a game.

How did your role change under Coach Cowher, and what were the differences in how he worked with his coaches versus Noll?

Chuck got things done quietly – he didn’t do a lot of speaking. He didn’t speak to you every day. Maybe the day before the game and the day after he’d talk about the game.

Chuck was a person that acted the same if we won or lost.

A good example was one season where we started off against Cleveland and lost 51-0. The second game we played Cincinnati and they beat us 41-10. The next game was against a very good Vikings team – on the Tuesday morning before the game Chuck came in and just started talking about how we would beat the Vikings – like we won the first two games (laughing).

Chuck had an even keel about him – he wasn’t too high or too low.

Now, Bill got upset about things and would rant and rave some – and get elated about things too.

Bill also had more of an open door policy – Chuck had an open door policy too, but players were afraid to use it (laughs again). Bill would also call players into his office more.

There are a  lot of ways to skin a cat. The biggest thing about coaching – and I saw that with a lot of Pittsburgh coaches – is you have to be yourself. Players will know if you aren’t – they’ll sense the BS and not accept you.

Both were themselves. Chuck learned under Shula and Gilman. But he still did things as Chuck – he did things his way,

Any thoughts on Cowher for the Hall of Fame?

If you compare him to the other guys – sure, he should be there.

You were offered jobs elsewhere but turned them down. Why?

I had a chance to go with Tony Dungy to Tampa Bay and be his offensive coordinator, had two head coaching offers with the USFL Maulers and others, but Rooney treated me so good, I couldn’t leave.

My last year as a player for the Steelers I suffered a concussion with four games left. I got another concussion the next week. I told my wife I was going to retire and spent two weeks in the hospital.

Every day the Chief came to see me to make sure I was all right.

In 1968, my best year, I was having a good year but the team was not so good. We practiced on the South Side then but got our checks in a hotel where the offices were in Pittsburgh. When I went to get my check I was told the Chief wanted to see me. I went up and he gave me a substantial check and said he knew we’re not having a good year, but take this check.

In the last game, after I made the pro bowl, I separated my shoulder a week before the pro bowl. The secretary said Dan {Rooney} wanted to see me. He gives me another check. I told Dan the Chief already gave me one last week. Dan said he knew, but the Chief wanted me to have this one too.

A number of former Steelers players have become coaches – Winston, Banaszak, Dungy, Lake, etc… Is that a tribute to the Steelers coaching staff?

It’s hard to say. They all earned it – they started at the bottom and made it.

It had to be what they wanted to do.

What advice would you give anyone entering the coaching profession?

You have to be ready. Lot’s of people think coaching is a 20-25 week job then they’re off. You have to be ready for lots of hours – all year round – and not seeing your family.

And you have to be able to handle a lot of pressure too.

It’s that way with players too now. We used to have to get jobs in the offseason to pay the bills. Now players get paid well and train all year long.

Any last thoughts for readers – anything that would surprise readers?

The 70’s run of four Super Bowls in six years (probably should have been five) were extraordinary. You have to give credit to Noll and the scouting department. Noll came in – you could see he had a plan to build the team through the draft instead of trading away draft picks all the time like they did before.

He stuck with it – with the scouts and Rooneys.

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