Ned Harkness - 1998 Legend of College Hockey
An amazingly gifted coach and teacher, Ned Harkness is without question one of the USA'S greatest coaching legends. Whether it was on the hockey rink or the lacrosse field, Ned always found a way to not only win, but to make winners out of ordinary men. One of the most highly respected hockey minds that the game has ever known, the Decathlon Club is proud to honor Ned Harkness as a true Legend of College Hockey.
Ned Harkness was born in Ottawa, Canada, in 1922, the son of Irish immigrants. The family moved to Glens Falls, New York, about 40 miles north of Troy, and there his father became young Ned's first hockey and lacrosse teacher. William "Pop" Harkness went on to coach both sports at Union College in Schenectady (a feat his son was to duplicate almost half a century later), and was eventually inducted into both the hockey and lacrosse national halls of fame. "I learned every¬thing from him," said Harkness. "He taught me the games, the sense of competitiveness, but he also taught me how to be a teacher myself. I owe everything to what he taught me."
He played hockey, lacrosse, and was a foot¬ball fullback, at Worcester Academy, where he graduated in 1939. The following year, he went on to play professional hockey in Miami, Fla.
In 1941, just before the start of World War II, Harkness enlisted in the Royal Canadian Air Force. For two years, he served as a physical training instructor, played hockey on several ser¬vice teams, and was middleweight boxing Cham-pion of the RCAF. He went on to spend two years as a bombardier in Europe, flying 39 combat mis¬sions.
At the war's end in the spring of 1945, Hark¬ness was working at the Adirondack Steel Co. in Watervliet, across the Hudson River from Troy, when RPI President Livingston Houston hired him, with no college degree and little formal ex¬perience, to coach the lacrosse team.
There was no tradition of lacrosse at RPI- nor was there a regular place to play it. On Harkness' initiative, and with $500,000 secured by Dr. Houston, the school bought a used airplane hangar in Quonset, R.I., and moved it to campus. That first season, the Houston Field House was little more than walls and ceiling, in a field off Burdett Avenue. Lighting was provided by a gen¬erator. The floor was dirt, and the players raised an awful cloud of dust until Harkness had it oiled.
Within a year, RPI's lacrosse team was na¬tionally ranked. In 1948, the team was invited to the Olympic Games in London. In Wembley Stadium, before the queen and a crowd of 60,000 (the largest ever to witness a lacrosse match), RPI tied the British All-Star Team, and left England with a record of 8-0-1.
"When they played for me, they had to work hard - and study hard," Harkness said. "That re¬ally wasn't so difficult, because these guys were already academically disciplined. They were en¬gineers. All of them had to take two years of chemistry, two years of physics, two years of cal¬culus."
Four years later, in 1952, RPI won the nation¬al lacrosse championship, and never lost a single game. During his 13 years of coaching lacrosse at Rensselaer, his teams established an unprece¬dented 112-26-2 record.
In 1950, Harkness also revived varsity hock¬ey at Rensselaer, after it had been dropped a decade earlier. By 1954, RPI won the national championship, making Harkness the first coach to win national titles in both hockey and lacrosse. In that 1954 national championship game, the underdog Engineers pulled off one of the greatest college hockey upsets of all time, by beating John Mariucci's Minnesota Gophers. After knocking off the Michigan Wolverines in the semifinals, RPI outlasted the mighty Gophers, who were led by All-Americans: John Mayasich, Dick Dougherty, Ken Yackel, and Jim Mattson, 5-4, in an overtime thriller at the infamous Broadmoor World Arena, in Colorado Springs.
In 14 years of coaching RPI hockey, Harkness amassed a .641 winning percentage, with a record of 178-98-7. He coached seven All-Ameri¬can players and founded the RPI Invitational Hockey Tournament, the oldest college hockey tournament in the country.
In 1963, Harkness left Rensselaer (or Cornell University. There, where the lacrosse team had been the doormat of the Ivy League, winning only seven out of 24 games in the two seasons pre¬ceding Harkness's arrival, the new coach turned the team around. In his first three seasons, the Cornell stickmen went 35-1.
Harkness probably reached the pinnacle of his coaching career with the hockey dynasty he established at Cornell - still the greatest in colle¬giate history. In seven years, he achieved a record of 163-27-1. His team won an unmatched five consecutive Ivy League titles, four straight ECAC titles, and two NCAA titles (1967 & 1970).
With nearly 400 career victories, he remains the only coach to capture national titles at two schools, and his won-lost percentage of .758 makes him still, the winningest coach in college hockey history. In 1970, his team achieved col-lege hockey's single greatest season, with a 29-0 record. That year, Harkness became the first col¬lege coach to go directly to a head coaching job in the National Hockey League, joining the Detroit Red Wings as coach, and later, general manager.
The next few years also included a highly suc¬cessful stint as hockey coach at Union College, his father's alma mater, where he garnered two 20-plus win seasons from 1975-1977.
In 1978, Harkness returned home and be¬came director of the Glens Falls Civic Center, then still under construction. The next year, he found¬ed the Adirondack Red Wings, an American Hock¬ey League franchise. In the team's first year, it at¬tracted the highest paid attendance in the AHL, and Harkness was named AHL Executive of the Year - the only time the honor has gone to a man in his first season.
In 1982, Harkness entered yet another phase in his career, becoming the first president and CEO of-the New York Olympic Regional Develop¬ment Authority (ORDA), which runs the 1980 Olympic facilities in Lake Placid. Under his lead¬ership, the complex became the busiest winter sports facility in the world.
Harkness left the ORDA in 1993, and became part-owner, chairman of the board and governor of the Albany River Rats, an American Hockey League franchise. "It's in my blood," said Ned. "It's what I do. I still love hockey. I'm not coach¬ing anymore, but I still enjoy being part of the game."
Presently Ned resides in both Palm Harbor, Fla, and also South Glens Falls, N.Y. He has three children: Nancy, Laurie and Tom, as well as two grandchildren. Recently, the father of varsity hockey and lacrosse at RPI, coach of four nation¬al championship teams, holder of the winningest record of any collegiate hockey coach, got his due when the ground was broken for the new, state-of-the-art, Ned Harkness Athletic Track and Field. Fittingly, the effort to create the new playing field was spearheaded by several alumni who competed in hockey and lacrosse during Hark¬ness' tenure.
When asked about the secret to his success, the modest Harkness replied: "I had great play¬ers. My job was to make them better than they thought they could be. I was a disciplinarian, but they respected me."
"I don't know how he did it," said John Magadini, a freshman on the 1952 national lacrosse championship team. "Ned was such a motivator. I don't know how he got us to play beyond our ca¬pabilities. He'd give us these Knute Rockne-type of speeches, walking up and down the locker room, and somehow it worked. You wanted to win for Ned, but for yourself, too," Magadini added.
More than 30 years after Harkness left RPI to coach in the Ivy League and further burnish his legend, Harkness's players still speak of him with reverence tempered with joshing fondness. He's like a favorite uncle, a mentor, whose influence on their lives transcends mere athletics. "He was a second father to me," said former player John Griffis. "He took an interest in my personal life like nobody ever has. He instilled a competitive spirit that has stayed with me throughout my career."
Congratulations Ned, and thanks for your contribution to American hockey.