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Gerry Hart died Monday at 83 in Pittsburgh. He was the father of Mary Ferentz, the wife of Iowa football coach Kirk Ferentz.
It’s kind of funny to say, but a Big Ten head football coach married into a football family.
Hart played football at Notre Dame and Army, and later was an NFL official for 10 years. He was a friend of Cedar Rapids’ Bill Quinby, one of our city’s true civic leaders for a long time and a former NFL ref himself.
Hart’s son, Kevin, played football at Penn State. Ferentz and Kevin Hart were teammates and buddies at Upper St. Clair (Pa.) High School.
Here is the link to the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette’s story about Gerry Hart. It’s a very interesting piece.
Here is Hart’s obituary. Quite a life.
I met Hart in 2007 at the U.S. Open golf tournament. Here is the column I wrote about it:
OAKMONT, Pa. -- Kirk Ferentz didn’t come from a place that pampers.
You visit Pittsburgh for the first time, as I’m doing this week, and you kind of get why Ferentz hasn’t big-timed anybody since he’s been the head football coach at the University of Iowa.
I can’t recall being in another large U.S. city where people are as approachable. While it has vibrant neighborhoods, a downtown with a pulse, and great architecture, Pittsburgh is still home to U.S. Steel, Heinz 57 and plain folks.
Though he grew up in Brooklyn, Gerry Hart may be the essence of Pittsburgh. He also, by the way, is Ferentz’s father-in-law. He’s an Oakmont Country Club member of 24 years and the marshal at the 18th green for the U.S. Open that starts here this morning.
“I know everybody in Pittsburgh,” he insisted.
That includes Oakmont course superintendent John Zimmers, who at 36 is 40 years younger than Hart.
“This guy’s scared of me,” Hart said. “You know why? It’s because he’s worried his wife has her eye on me.”
Hart would rather joke than brawl. But if someone near his 18th green runs afoul of United States Golf Association rules or proper decorum, Hart will quell matters in a hurry even though he walks with a cane. He’s done it at U.S. Opens here before.
Having worked in the steel business here much of his life in addition to playing for the NFL’s Detroit Lions and officiating in the NFL for 10 years, the father of Ferentz’s wife is pure steel.
Well, steel with some blarney mixed in. You’re around him for maybe 15 seconds before learning he’s a kidder. The first thing he said to me Wednesday was, “Bill Quinby (fellow ex-NFL official from Cedar Rapids) called me last night and told me to look for you. He told me to slap you around.”
Anyone who knows Quinby knows he’s a man of peace. That was just Hart ‘s way of introducing himself.
Later, he said: “One of my buddies at the club said ‘Gerry, my God, I just read in the (Pittsburgh) Post-Gazette this morning that Kirk turned down going to the Pittsburgh Steelers.’
“I knew he did that. I knew he wasn’t interested in the job.
“But my friend asked me if I saw the Post-Gazette and read the reason he wouldn’t consider it. I said `No, I didn’t.’ He said `Kirk said he can’t go to Pittsburgh. He’d have to live in the same town as his father-in-law.’ “
But Hart doesn’t joke about his feelings for his family members in Iowa City. That’s daughter Mary, the five children she bore, and the son-in-law who coaches the Hawkeyes.
“He’s a great kid, Kirk is,” Hart said. “I’m just happy with what he’s done at Iowa, not surprised.”
Ferentz dated Mary Hart when they were classmates at Upper St. Clair High, 15 miles from downtown Pittsburgh. He and Mary’s brother, Kevin Hart , were co-captains of the Upper St. Clair Panthers football team.
Kevin lettered at linebacker for Joe Paterno at Penn State in 1976. Ferentz played the same position at Connecticut. Kevin’s son, Mike, was a walk-on quarterback for Paterno at Penn State. Ferentz’s son Brian played center for him at Iowa. Another son, James, will join the
Hawkeyes in 2008.
Oh, and who did Gerry Hart play football with at Jesuit school Brooklyn Prep about 60 years ago? His lifelong pal, Paterno. Had he desired, Hart could possibly have been as big a national household name as JoePa.
“Back in 1968, the NFL decided they’d have games on Monday nights starting in 1970,” Hart said. “I was told they were going to have this guy on who didn’t know a damn thing about football named Howard Cosell. So they wanted to have me take a screen test for it, because I played and officiated in the league.
“To be polite, I took the screen test. After I passed it, I spent three hours arguing with (ABC Sports president) Roone Arledge because I wouldn’t take the job. I had 15 years in the steel business, and who’d give that up for Monday night announcing? Who knew what that would be?”
A national phenomenon, that’s what. But Hart said he has no regrets, saying it wouldn’t have been the right fit for him. Instead, Don Meredith was given the job.
As Hart told that story, a foursome including Zach Johnson finished a practice round at 18. Hart was eager to meet him.
“My son-in-law says you’re a heck of a guy,” the stranger told Johnson.
“Thanks, who’s your son-in-law?” Johnson replied.
That put a smile on the face of a big Hawkeyes fan.
“He’s truly one of my favorite individuals that I’ve ever met,” Johnson told Hart, virtually marveling. “He’s as normal as anybody I’ve ever met in my life.”
Of course, you don’t come from Pittsburgh and act haughty. Ask any steelworker or Steelers fan around here. Better yet, ask the father of Ferentz’s wife.
Now here’s an article Hart wrote for Oakmont Country Club’s newsletter on pro golfer Tom Watson in 2006:
Back in the 1960’s, Tom Watson was hired as a rising new pro golfer to play nine or ten, two-to-three-day golf outings for about 20 or so customers by my company, J&L Steel Company. Each event was with different groups and at different country clubs around the United States.
About the third or fourth year of Tom’s work with J&L, I, as an assistant district sales manager, played in two or three different events with customers. I was really impressed with Watson’s relationship with our customers. He had great respect for them and also had a real ability to communicate with each and every customer.
In 1973, I was named General Manager of Sales for J&L and played in almost every one of the events with Watson and our customers. I continued to be awed by Tom’s knowledge and friendliness to the customers. After not seeing them for at least a year in some cases, he’d greet each one by their first name and mention the name of their wife and family and comment about their company’s activities. I was amazed as to how he could do this.
One day, I asked him how he was able to keep all these facts at his disposal. His response was: “After golfing with each guy during the day, when I get to my room each evening, I write down the guy’s name and try to list all the facts I learned about him that day. Then, before we begin to play the next year I study those notes so that we can relate with each other.”
I was so impressed with Watson’s attitude, his effort to relate and his ability to pay attention to details with our major customers, that I decided to find out how much we were paying this great asset to our sales program. I went to our financial department and discovered that our nine-year program with Watson paid him about $30,000 a year plus all his expenses for the golf trips with us.
So, I met with our president and explained to him the positive impact Tom was having with our customers. I felt he should get a raise from us. After a few more meetings and discussions, the president said he was impressed and would recommend a change to our arrangement that would make Tom’s contract with us worth $100,000 per year.
It was then about five or six days before our next outing which was at Pine Valley Golf Club. We invited mostly Pennsylvania and New Jersey customers to this outing. I called Tom and told him that I wanted to meet him before the outing and asked if he could come in a little early. I picked him up at the Philadelphia airport and we drove to Pine Valley for dinner together.
As we got into dinner, I told him how much we appreciated his class and involvement with our customers. With that, I took a check for $100,000 out of my pocket and handed it to him saying that from now on his yearly check would be for that amount.
Watson took the check, ripped it up, dropped it on the table and said, “Ger, a deal is a deal. I can’t take this money.”
Tom Watson had given us proof as to why he was one of the most professional people we had ever worked with and, without question, one of the greatest individuals in golf.