Small College Sports

Rick Hartzell finds happy home at Upper Iowa

Ogden column: 10 years after leaving UNI, Hartzell is back in the game

In this 2007 photo, Jill Hartzell talks with her husband, Rick Hartzell, about the game clock during at a Prime Time Basketball League game in North Liberty. Hartzell is the new athletics director at Upper Iowa and Jill is back working as a chiropractor in Waterloo after from rough times. (Cliff Jette/The Gazette)
In this 2007 photo, Jill Hartzell talks with her husband, Rick Hartzell, about the game clock during at a Prime Time Basketball League game in North Liberty. Hartzell is the new athletics director at Upper Iowa and Jill is back working as a chiropractor in Waterloo after from rough times. (Cliff Jette/The Gazette)

Rick Hartzell is back in the game. And he’s loving it.

Hartzell is the new athletics director at Upper Iowa University, overseeing 15 NCAA Division II sports.

It seems a far cry from his days at the University of Northern Iowa, where he oversaw some of the top mid-major programs in the country from 1999 until February 2008 and hired such coaches as Mark Farley, Greg McDermott and Bobbi Petersen.

He also was the director of athletics at Bucknell (1988-99) and Maryland-Baltimore County (1985-88).

Now he’s in Fayette. And it seems to be the perfect fit.

“I wanted back in the worst way,” said Hartzell, who was a well-known figure in Major Open fast-pitch softball in Cedar Rapids in the 1970s and also coached at Coe, UNI and Iowa before going into administration.

“There are so many great people here,” he said. “There’s a lot to do. There’s a lot we can do.”

Hartzell has spent the last 10 years giving motivational talks, refereeing Division I men’s basketball and looking for that right fit. He came up short in bids to be AD at Loyola-Chicago, North Dakota State, Southern Illinois and Coe. He said that all led to where he is now.

He also spent time taking care of his wife, Jill, and their two children, 11-year-old Jackson and 3-year-old Jace.

Things haven’t been easy for Jill, who has battled through tough times over the last 10 years.

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“We all hung in there together,” he said, adding after Jace was born “Jill came back to life.”

She is again working as a chiropractor in Waterloo.

“He is clearly the reason,” Hartzell said of Jace, who he called their “oops” baby.

Things couldn’t be better.

“It’s all good,” he said. “There’s plenty to do” at Upper Iowa.

“I’m revitalized by the effort it takes.”

You see, even though Hartzell is 65 years old, he doesn’t feel or act like it. He mentioned Satchel Paige’s quote — “how old would you be if you didn’t know how old your are?” — when talking about an age where many are considering retirement.

“I am no good at sitting around,” he said.

He has a lot of goals for the athletics program at UIU and knows some battles will be harder than others. He wants to help the college increase it’s enrollment, he wants to see some new or at least improved facilities and he’d like to help his coaches reach new heights.

“I’d like to see a couple, three-four of our programs play at a championship level,” he said, “see the overall competitiveness ratchet up a notch.

“And this is going to sound odd, but one of my goals is helping some really good coaches take the next step in their careers.”

He also wants to add some sports. UIU already announced women’s lacrosse is coming for the 2018-19 season and Hartzell said men’s and women’s bowling are on their way. He’s in discussion about adding “esports.” And he’s planning on bringing men’s track and field back.

“There’s plenty to do.” he said.

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And, although he doesn’t like using age as an excuse, he said he is hanging up and whistle and retiring from refereeing men’s basketball after this season. He’s been an official in the ACC, Big East, Big Ten and Big 12, among other conferences, for many years.

“Father time is undefeated,” he said. “It’s just time. I’m going to miss that. I love the hard games.”

He also loves being happy again.

“I think we can do what they’re asking us to do,” he said. “I think I can make a big difference.

“I’m having fun.”

l Comments: (319) 368-8696; jr.ogden@thegazette.com

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