A former ND high school football coach, Ron Erhardt continued his success to both the collegiate and eventually professional levels. He served from 1979-1981 as head coach of pro-football's National Football League (NFL) New England Patriots.
Born on February 27, 1932 to Chris and Rose (Dukart) Erhardt, Ron and his sister Dorothy grew up in Mandan. He participated in a wide range of sports including American Legion baseball. Ron attended St. Joseph Elementary School and graduated from Mandan High in 1949. He led both the 1947 and 1948 MHS Boys Football State Championship Teams as quarterback.
Erhardt credited his high school football coach Johnny Mach as the person who most influenced his life. He boasted to audiences during his frequent public speaking engagements his education in Mandan was second to none.
1948 State Football Champions - Mandan High School
He continued his collegiate football career as team quarterback at Jamestown College where he graduated in 1953. He spent the next two years serving in the military. After leaving the service, he was hired in 1956 as an assistant coach at Williston High School in North Dakota. The following year, he began an outstanding six-year run as a head coach at two North Dakota Catholic high schools: from 1957-1959, his teams at New England St. Mary's compiled a mark of 25-3-1, followed by another three-year run at Bishop Ryan High School in Minot, where he was 20-6-1.
That success elevated him to the collegiate level, where he served as an assistant at North Dakota State University for three years beginning in 1963. On February 10, 1966, he became head coach at the school, setting the stage for another strong tenure in which he put together a record of 61-7-1 in his seven years. Erhardt would also serve as the Bisons' athletic director, winning a pair of Division II national championships.
In 1973, he became backfield coach of the New England Patriots, a post he served in for four years before being promoted to offensive coordinator in 1977. After missing the playoffs that year, the Patriots seemed ready to challenge for a Super Bowl berth in 1978 but Chuck Fairbanks announced late in the season he was leaving to coach the University of Colorado. The team suspended Fairbanks and made Erhardt and fellow assistant Hank Bullough co-coaches for the final game. The Patriots dropped that contest, then lost their opening round playoff matchup to the Houston Oilers.
Erhardt officially took the head coach position in 1979. Noting his 89% winning percentage at North Dakota State, Erhardt said, "I've never been a loser in football and I don't intend to start now." After nearly reaching the postseason in his first two years, the Patriots posted a team-worst 2-14 record in 1981. Citing the fact that Erhardt "was just too nice a guy," owner Billy Sullivan dismissed him at the conclusion of the 1981 season.
1991 Superbowl Ring
Erhardt was subsequently hired as offensive coordinator of the New York Giants by head coach Ray Perkins and continued to serve in that capacity under head coach Bill Parcells. The Giants went on to win two Super Bowls, with Erhardt working around a key injury during the run toward Super Bowl XXV. Quarterback Phil Simms had suffered a season-ending injury late in the season. Coach Erhardt guided his replacement, Jeff Hostetler, to navigate the team to its world championship title.
After Parcell's retirement, Erhardt moved on to serve as offensive coordinator for the Pittsburgh Steelers in 1992. Emphasizing the run, Erhardt ran the offense for four years, helping the team reach Super Bowl XXX in 1996. Erhardt left the the Steelers and returned to New York, and an offensive coordinator position with the Jets but eventually retired from coaching professional football in January 1998.
He and his wife Anita retired to the Boca Raton, Florida area, enjoyed visiting their 4 children and 8 grandchildren and returning frequently to Mandan to visit family. He also continued to serve as a consultant to pro-football teams as late as 2010. While his wife claimed Ron only knew football, he maintained a golf handicap of between 16 and 18 even in retirement.
Ron Erhardt died on March 21, 2012 in Boca Raton, Florida.
The Society would like to thank the New England Patriots of the National Football League for providing photographs for this Legacy Program biography.
The MHSoc's museum and office is located at 3827 30th Avenue NW; PO Box 98; Mandan, ND 58554 Contact us at email@example.com