The best Steelers to wear each number: #42 Dick Hoak

Each week of the 2021 offseason, Steel City Underground will look back at some great careers to find out which Steelers were the best to wear each jersey number. Stay tuned to see which fan favorites or forgotten greats are mentioned in this weekly series!

This week, we focus on a man who was not only an influential player for the Pittsburgh Steelers, wearing number “42”, but also an integral part of the organization for many years, in several ways: Dick Hoak.

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Before Richard Don Hoak, a Jeanette (PA) native, became one of the longest continuous tenured coaching assistants in the NFL – 35 seasons – he was a running back for the Steelers from 1961-70 that retired in 1972 as the No. 2 all-time rusher for the Steelers franchise. Hoak was a two-way starter for Penn State (running back and defensive back). His play during his senior season with the Nittany Lions earned him the title of “most valuable player”.

In the seventh round of the 1961 NFL Draft, Hoak was selected by the Steelers to play running back. During his career, Hoak was named to the Pro Bowl (1968) and recorded 3,965 rushing yards and 25 touchdowns. A versatile back, Hoak added 1,452 receiving yards and eight touchdowns to his professional record as a team leader in rushing three times. Most of the time Hoak was a player, the Steelers weren’t considered a “winning team” but he was always considered able to put ego aside and put in the work to play at his best.

After his retirement as a player (1970), Pittsburgh head coach Chuck Noll brought Hoak in as the Steelers’ running backs coach (1972). When Noll retired (1991), Hoak was the only assistant that was retained by new head coach Bill Cowher. Despite being offered several offensive coordinator positions in the NFL, including with the Steelers, Hoak was humble out of the spotlight and loyal to the Rooney family, remaining with Pittsburgh for a total of 45 years. When he was offered to coach the USFL’s Pittsburgh Maulers in 1983, Hoak felt that pull of loyalty and remained with the Steelers.

“He was very happy just doing a good job and helping to build a winning team.” – Tony Dungy

Under Hoak, the Steelers recorded over 30,000 yards rushing (setting an NFL record during that time period). Hoak, who played with Hall of Famers Bobby Layne, Ernie Stautner, Joe Greene, and Terry Bradshaw had the distinction of also playing with Hall of Fame rusher Rocky Bleier and coaching him; he also worked closely with Hall of Famers Franco Harris and Jerome Bettis as their position coach.

“There’s a saying in football among assistant coaches: You are hired to be fired. I’ve actually beaten the system. I’ve been hired, but I haven’t been fired. That was important to me. That’s why I stayed (with the Steelers).” – Dick Hoak to Gerry Dulac (Jan. 3, 2007)

At the time of his retirement (Jan. 1, 2007), Hoak had been with the Steelers for 742 games out of the Steelers’ 1,057 total; he’d been a part of every championship game and playoff victory up to that date. “I have to say he deserves it,” Dan Rooney said at the time of Hoak’s retirement. “He earned it. His contribution to the Steelers was second to none.” Rooney was the only person in the organization with more seniority at that time. The loss was felt by the whole franchise.

“He knew what he wanted to do. He knew what his contributions would be and he was dedicated to it. He found an ideal situation here. It’s great the Rooneys recognized that.” – Mike Wagner

Hoak is a member of the Pittsburgh Pro Football Hall of Fame (2014 class) and has been placed in the Steelers’ Hall of Honor (2017). He has received several other awards as well.

 

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