Steelers assistant Hoak retires

Updated: January 2, 2007, 4:24 PM ET
By Len Pasquarelli | ESPN.com

Dick Hoak, a fixture with the Pittsburgh Steelers as a player and assistant coach for all but one year since 1961, has decided to retire.

Hoak, 67, played running back for the Steelers for 10 seasons (1961-70) and still ranks No. 5 in franchise history in rushing yards.

After his retirement as a player, Hoak coached at the high school level for one season, then was hired by Chuck Noll as the Steelers' backfield coach. When Bill Cowher succeeded Noll in 1992, Hoak was the only assistant from the Noll staff that he retained.

Hoak ended an unprecedented 45 seasons with the Pittsburgh Steelers by retiring as running backs coach, completing the longest continuous tenure by an NFL assistant coach with any team.

"I beat the system," said Hoak, an assistant for 35 seasons after spending 10 as a player. "Coaches are hired to be fired. I was hired, but I was never fired."

It is believed that Hoak has been considering retirement for some time and that his decision is not related to Cowher's status. Cowher has one year remaining on his contract and his status figures to be resolved within the next week. Most team officials expect Cowher to retire, at least temporarily.

A native of Jeannette, Pa., Hoak played quarterback and tailback at Penn State, was chosen as the Nittany Lions' most valuable player in his senior season, then selected by the Steelers in the seventh round of the 1961 draft. In 10 seasons, the versatile Hoak rushed for 3,965 yards and scored 33 touchdowns.

His knowledge of the running back position and ability to effectively communicate with his charges made him one of the NFL's top backfield assistants for much of his coaching career.

One reason for his longevity was that Hoak rejected jobs other coaches would have taken. He went from a high school sideline to the Steelers' as the offensive backfield coach in 1972, turning down a job as a Pitt assistant. The Pitt staff was fired a year later.

In 1983, he twice rejected offers to become the USFL's Pittsburgh Maulers' head coach. The team folded in a year after having three coaches.

"I just couldn't see myself going across the street to a rival football league in Pittsburgh," Hoak said Tuesday. "There was no way I could have done that."

Chuck Noll (23 seasons) and Bill Cowher (15 seasons) are the only head coaches the Steelers have had since 1969, and Hoak was involved in all but one of those seasons. He coached Wheeling (W.Va.) Central Catholic High in 1971, but was hired by Noll as offensive backfield coach a season later.

His resignation may coincide with Cowher's, but Hoak suggested that didn't enter into his decision.

"I just think it's time," said Hoak, a five-time Super Bowl winner. "You just feel it."

Hoak was offered several offensive coordinator jobs during his career, including one in Tampa Bay under Tony Dungy, but felt more comfortable as a position coach.

"His contribution to the Steelers was second to none," Steelers chairman Dan Rooney said. "He was a great man, a great person and was part of making the Steelers special."

With Hoak now retired, Bengals running backs coach Jim Anderson becomes the NFL's most tenured assistant with 23 consecutive seasons. In Cincinnati, Hoak is better remembered for hanging the nickname Wicky Wacky on former coach Sam Wyche following a game in which some of Wyche's trick-play calls didn't work.

Senior writer Len Pasquarelli covers the NFL for ESPN.com. Information from The Associated Press was used in this report.