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Staying Connected

Memories of Ned

(Rerun from the December 2008 issue)

Former players reflect on the legacy of Ned Harkness | “Roast and Toast” delivered by Dave Brunell ’57 (PDF)

Rensselaer lost a legend when Ned Harkness died Sept. 19 on his 89th birthday. Harkness coached RPI hockey and lacrosse teams to national championships, becoming the first coach in NCAA history to win national titles in two sports. It took an uncommon man to mold rookies into champions, and those who played for him were transformed for life. Some of their memories follow.

Ned Harkness—he impacted so many lives. In my case, he took a young 17-year-old from a small town in Canada and changed his life forever—he was not only my coach, he was my father, my teacher, my mentor, and above all became a lifelong friend right up until the day he passed away—there are so many wonderful memories of a truly remarkable man.

Photo by Mark McCarty

Garry Kearns ’58
Troy, N.Y.

What made Ned a great lacrosse coach was his knowledge of the game, his desire to win, and his willingness to put in whatever time it took to achieve success. Ned really cared for his players and they knew it. If you were willing to come to practice and work hard you were on the team. He never cut anyone who really wanted to play. In life most of us meet an unforgettable person, and after a 60-year friendship, Ned is still mine.

Bill Lillis ’52
Guilford, Conn.

A sometimes overlooked facet of Ned’s tremendous success at RPI is that his teams were made up entirely of student athletes. There was no such thing as an athletic scholarship at RPI during Ned’s tenure in Troy. To repeatedly field teams capable of competing at such a high level under those restrictions is truly remarkable.

“I have frequently said that I learned as much on the hockey rink at RPI as I did in the classroom.”

Jim Shildneck ’54
Wolfeboro, N.H.

Certainly Ned was the finest coach in NCAA Division I history. Who else has a 76.8 win percentage over 814 games while coaching two sports, four national championships (also involving two sports), two second places, and two third places? In addition, he is the only D I coach to have ever coached an undefeated, untied hockey team (29-0 at Cornell).

However, far more important than Ned being such an amazing coach are the lessons we absorbed from him. He gave us an education there is no classroom for, that went far beyond the rink or lacrosse field. He pushed us hard (very, very hard). He repeatedly said, “If you work hard and always do your best the results will take care of themselves, far more often than not with a win.”

He taught us to never give up, that the other team would always be more tired than us (I must admit though, I am not sure that was the case when we went to overtime against Minnesota). He said winning was always possible if we played as a team with every teammate working hard and doing his best; that every player was critical to our success; that determination, dedication, focus, to never let up and never ever give up, that what really mattered was to always get up faster than when you were knocked down; that paying attention to detail and winning all the small battles was critical; that all these factors together made the difference between winning and losing. He never worked any of us over for making a mistake but made our life hell for lack of hustle. And if he did the latter, after that one-way high decibel conversation, he would always tell you how great you were, that you could do better and that he and the team were counting on you. At that point you knew you would go through a wall for him. He never let us down and we always knew he had confidence in us.

At the time, I don’t believe we fully realized how much the lessons we got from him would impact our lives. Now, looking back, it’s easy to see and to understand the enormous influence he has had, on my life, and I’m sure on all his players as well.

I treasure the experience of having played for Ned, and being his friend for over 50 years. His spirit lives within me, and always will. I really hope it’s something I’ve passed along to my kids.

As Dave Brunell said so well, “playing for Ned was a gift...and a metaphor for life.”  QED

John Magadini ’55
Mendham, N.J.

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Rensselaer (ISSN 0898-1442) is published in Spring, Summer, Fall, and Winter by the Office of Strategic Communications and External Relations, Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute, Troy, NY 12180-3590. Opinions expressed in these pages do not necessarily reflect the views of the editors or the policies of the Institute. ©2009 Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute.