Hoak calls it a day

PITTSBURGH – With newsmen hanging on every word and cameras whirring, the big press conference was underway.

"I know you are all disappointed," Dick Hoak said from the podium. "You were expecting something else at this press conference."

The reporters laughed. Some had been sent because of an erroneous report that the Rooneys are demanding an immediate decision from Bill Cowher. It's untrue. But the rest of the reporters got their story: Hoak is retiring after 45 years of service with the Pittsburgh Steelers.

"I just think it is time," Hoak said. "I have five grandsons and a granddaughter and another grandson on the way and I just want to spend a little time with them. The one that is eight years old is a great athlete, so I want to watch him play in some of his activities."

Added Hoak: "That is one reason."

The other reason might have to do with the expected transition in the coaching staff, but reporters were asked by the Steelers' public relations staff not to ask about Cowher's pending decision concerning his future with the team. So Hoak was asked why he'd never moved on to a bigger and better coaching position.

"Because of the organization, the Rooney family," he said.

Born in Jeannette and educated at Penn State, Hoak, 67, was drafted by the Steelers in the seventh round of the 1961 draft. He played 10 seasons with the team, compiled 3,965 rushing yards and played in the Pro Bowl following the 1968 season. He retired following the 1970 season to take a job at Wheeling Catholic High School. It was the only year – 1971 – of the last 46 that Hoak spent out of the Pittsburgh Steelers organization.

Hoak yesterday recounted the story behind his hiring by the Steelers. It started with a phone call from then-Pitt coach Carl DePasqua.

"He said ‘I will call you back to set up an interview,'" Hoak recalled. "In the meantime, about a week later, the phone rang and it was a secretary and … she said, ‘This is coach [Chuck] Noll's secretary.' Coach asked me if I wanted to get into pro coaching. I said sure, so we set up an interview. I set up an interview for Pitt with Carl and for coach Noll the same day. The first interview was with coach Noll and after I walked out of there I called coach DePasqua and told him that I was going to take the job with the Steelers, and he said I was crazy if I didn't. The thing that's funny about that is that year I think Pitt went 1-9 and they all got fired. They were all gone. So I guess I made the right choice."

Indeed. Over the course of the next 35 years, Hoak won five rings, turned out a Hall of Famer in Franco Harris, a soon-to-be Hall of Famer in Jerome Bettis, and one who has all the earmarkings of a Hall of Famer, at least according to Hoak.

"Willie Parker," Hoak said of his last Pro Bowl back, "I'm going to miss out on how good he's going to be. That's the toughest."

Parker, who came to the Steelers as an undrafted free agent, was the plum of a group of four running backs with whom the Steelers ended this past season. Two others were also undrafted and the fourth – Najeh Davenport – was picked up off the street during the season. The fact that the run-oriented Steelers could post a 6-2 second-half record with such a group only underscores Hoak's coaching ability and what the team will miss. Not that he was taken for granted.

"Being with Dick for 45 years has really been outstanding and I am really sorry that he is going to retire," said team chairman Dan Rooney. "His contribution to the Steelers was second to none. Everything he did was always a very positive thing. He is a great man, a great person and he was part of making the Steelers special. We will miss him and I just hope he will have a great life and stay active and doesn't just sit down and put his feet up in Jeannette and Greensburg. Keep going." Hoak and his wife Lynn have lived in the same home in Hempfield Township since 1972, and he plans on staying there.

"I'm sure I'll play a little more golf and do more fly fishing," Hoak said. "People ask me what I'm going to do once I retire. I say, I'll retire. I'm not going to do anything.

"My wife and I will take a vacation. They ask me where I'm going to move to. I'm not going to move anywhere. If I want to go somewhere, I'll go and come back home. That's what I'm going to do."

NOTES – The Arizona Cardinals received permission from the Steelers to interview Ken Whisenhunt and Russ Grimm for their head coaching vacancy. The Atlanta Falcons received permission to interview Whisenhunt for their head coaching vacancy, and are expected to seek permission to interview Grimm as well.

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