We have sad news to report today on the death of Ron Erhardt, the Jets’ offensive coordinator in 1996 and their quarterbacks coach in Bill Parcells’ first year at the Green & White helm in 1997. Erhardt, 81, passed away this morning in Boca Raton, Fla.
His Jets stop was the final one in a strong career as an NFL assistant coach who had a knack for coaching in Super Bowls and an impressive nickname for his work with several offenses: Dr. O.
His first two championship games came as Parcells’ offensive coordinator for the Giants. Parcells, who had been Erhardt’s linebackers coach when Ron was the Patriots’ head coach for three seasons. Both Parcells and Erhardt were on Ray Perkins’ staff in ’82.
When Perkins departed for Alabama, Parcells became the Giants’ HC and Erhardt his OC. The two were on the staffs that guided the Giants to Super Bowl victories after the 1986 and ’90 seasons.
Erhardt left for Pittsburgh in ’92 and ran Bill Cowher’s offense for four seasons. The Steelers were a top-10 offense in three of those four years, led the NFL in rushing in 1994, and played in Super Bowl XXX.
In 1996 Rich Kotite brought Erhardt to the Jets and the offense was one of the few bright spots in the 1-15 season, tying for 12th in total yards and coming in 10th in passing yards despite having to transition at QB from an injured Neil O’Donnell to Frank Reich to Glenn Foley by season’s end.
Parcells returned to the metropolitan area to guide the Jets in ’97 and retained Erhardt for one more year. Then Ron left Bergen County for Florida, where he polished his golf game during the day before he and his wife, Anita, enjoyed the Boca night life and had the kids, sons Rob and Jim and daughters Jan and Jill, down as often as they could on the weekends.
In ’81, New England owner Billy Sullivan dismissed Erhardt two days after the Pats finished 2-14, reportedly saying, “Ron’s just too nice a guy.” I can attest to Ron’s niceness and decency and I also can say that he felt the Patriots gave him a short hook at the end of an injury-plagued season after his Pats went 19-13 in his first two seasons.
But Ron was a football lifer and he moved on to his next gig and the one after that. The former head coach at two North Dakota parochial high schools and North Dakota State never got another head-coaching nod, but he didn’t need one to leave a strong pro legacy.
At the risk of repeating myself from my profile on new Jets offensive line coach Dave DeGuglielmo from two weeks ago, he said he never met Erhardt but was benefitting from Dr. O’s work from many two decades before.
“People say this is Parcells’ system, but really, it’s Ron’s,” DeGuglielmo told me then. “Every offensive system has a way of calling things, identifying players and routes, things like that. This system has a very distinct way of calling plays and formations. It’s a traditional, professional, two-back, play-action type of offense, but it easily adapts to more open offenses. If you can use the term old-school, this system has old-school qualities with the flexibility to be new-school. The way we call it, you can go from traditional to spread out with ease.”
It would be a fitting tribute if the Jets of Rex Ryan, coordinator Tony Sparano and DeGuglielmo among others can take the system that Ron Erhardt helped shape and knock some aces into the cup in his honor this season.
Tags: Bill Cowher, Bill Parcells, New York Giants, offensive coordinator, PIttsburgh Steelers, Rich Kotite, Ron Erhardt, Super Bowl
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