Family, friends, co-workers, former Salida High School students and Salida Spartans shared memories of beloved former Salida High School football coach Joe Hergert upon learning of his death.
Hergert led the Salida Spartans to state AA football championships in 1971 and 1974. He died Saturday at age 79 in Daytona Beach, Fla.
Many remember him as much more than a coach. He was a teacher of life skills and had a profound effect on those he knew in his adopted city of Salida, where he lived for nearly three decades, arriving in 1969 to accept a position as a science teacher and coach.
Rich Young of Stotler & Young Certified Public Accountants said, “Joe became my coach back in the 1970s when we won the state championship. I’m a successful business person today because of him. He was an amazing man. He could discipline and yet he was like a dad. A lot of us thought of him as a mentor. “
Pete Guccione, owner of PG Painting, also credits his success to Hergert.
“I played for him for 3 years,” Guccione said. “I was a junior the last year I played for him. He was one of those people you don’t mind working hard for. He would drive you to be the best whether it was football or real life. That’s what he taught me. He was a big driving force when I was young. I respect a lot of people, but nobody drove me like he did.”
Larry Smith, president and CEO of High Country Bank, was another of Hergert’s Spartans.
“Joe led the Salida Spartans to the top of the Pikes Peak League in state playoffs,” Smith said. “Those were the state championship years, in ’71 and ’74. He was a great football coach, and he became a friend for life with all of us.
“He was a great character builder. He taught us how to win and taught us many life skills. Probably the most important besides winning was discipline and dedication. He introduced us to weight training and was probably one of the five most influential people in my life.
“He will be sadly missed by all of us ‘old-timers’ at Salida High School. We thought of him as the Vince Lombardi of Salida High School.”
Hergert actually did play for legendary Green Bay Packers coach Vince Lombardi in his early years as a professional football player prior to playing for the Buffalo Bills.
Tom Breunich was an SHS coach with Hergert and Jimmie Gentile. Originally Hergert was hired by Bill Andreas, superintendent of schools, to teach science and assist Breunich as basketball coach.
“I worked with Joe for roughly 6 or 7 years,” Breunich said. “He and I headed up the track team for the first 5 years. For us, track was the offseason training program. We spent a lot of time together. We spent more time together than we did with our families in those days, with meetings, practice, game plans and summer programs.
“Jimmie Gentile started the weightlifting program in a little room in Melien Hall, and Joe was very dedicated to football and to the kids. He had daily calls from kids during the summer months getting into the weight room and offseason workouts.
“He was a fun, enjoyable person. He also liked hunting, fishing and he was a strong family man. He was easy to joke with and have fun with, but he demanded excellence and he knew football inside and out. A couple of times he observed what another team was doing and made adjustments that produced scores when we needed them.”
To Laura (Hergert) Thomas and John Hergert, Joe was more than a coach. He was Dad.
“I’m saying goodbye to one of the great loves of my life,” Thomas said. “Heaven got one of the best. I love my dad. He was a Salida Spartan to the end and always said those were the best years of his life. He was a true father, a loving grandfather and a man who cherished every day.”
John Hergert said, “There was a lot more to Dad than sports. We enjoyed fly fishing, and we rushed home from school to fly fish on the Arkansas River behind our house. That was one of his passions. The last 15 to 20 years there were a lot of other aspects to his life besides sports.
“At the end, he didn’t watch a lot of football except for the Florida Gators, whom he played for. He was very crafty and always had a project going, and he definitely enjoyed his hobby of racing pigeons.”
Thomas shared some of the comments she received through social media, among them:
Richard “Dick” Leavitt: “He was one of the finest men I have ever known. We taught side by side for over 20 years, and I saw him touch the lives of many young people.”
Laura Siefker: “He meant a great deal to the small town of Salida. Joe was bigger than life.”
Jeff Cruzan: “I remember when my cousin John played on Joe’s state championship team. He was a legend already then.”
Larry Ausbun: “Coach was a great leader and influenced so many people I know. God bless Joe Hergert.”