Hertler Built Tradition at Hoover
Hertler Built Tradition at Hoover
Don Hertler Sr. is responsible for making North Canton Hoover and high school football synonymous?
However, coach Hertler will tell you he had a lot of help. Those who helped will point to Hertler, who established the tradition of strong football at North Canton that has continued more than 20 years after his retirement.
Don Hertler coached great teams, but also constructed the foundation of future success. That is why he has been elected to the Stark County High School Football Hall of Fame.
“That tradition was built over a period of years,” Hertler said. “We came out on top in some games we had no business winning, because of that tradition. Our players won because they believed they were supposed to win.”
North Canton won seven Federal League championships from 1960 to 1980 under Hertler (1968-72-73-75-76-79-80). Five of those seven titles were outright championships.
“His teams always seemed to have great players, but those players also had great coaching,” said Mark Lukens, a Vikings defensive star in 1972 who went on to play at Kent State. “He let (assistant) Roger Viscounte run the defense, and he ran the offense. Those guys, and the other coaches, had been together a long time, and they knew what they were doing. It was like a well-oiled machine. But, there was never a doubt as to who ran the show.”
“It takes great players, great assistant coaches and a great community to be successful,” Hertler said. “It doesn’t matter if you’re in North Canton, Massillon or Navarre. You need to be surrounded by people who care.”
There were three unbeaten campaigns along the way as Hertler’s teams compiled a 163-43-3 record and .788 winning percentage.
During his 21 years, Hertler’s teams never experienced a losing season. In fact, only three times did his team lose four games in a season (1962-77-78). There was a 21-game win streak spread over three years (1971-72-73) and a 20-game streak (1974-75-76). His final game as head coach was a 24-6 victory over Jackson to end the 1980 season and earn the Vikings a tie for the Federal League championship.
As a testament to the foundation he built, North Canton has qualified for the state playoffs 12 times since Hertler retired following the 1980 season. His son, Don Hertler Jr., now is the Vikings’ head coach. (Update: Retired in 2014)
The elder Hertler won, in some part, because he was willing to change along the way.
Hertler’s first few teams were comprised of a two tight end set, a tight wingback that went in motion and lots and lots of running. In 1965, North Canton switched to the pro set. Through the advent of the pro-style offense, a legacy of fine quarterbacks, running backs and wide receivers were established at North Canton and continue still today.
“We were the first in the area to run a pro-style offense,” Hertler said. “It would be five years before other teams started splitting receivers out. It worked for us because we didn’t have big personnel, but we always seemed to have good skill players.”
Former Perry coach, Tom Winkhart said of Hertler’s teams, “Preparing for Don’s teams was different than most of the teams you prepared for,” He went on to say, “He would run the pro set. He was really committed to it, which was unique at that time. He always had really fine athletes at the skill positions.”
Coach Winkhart added, “They also ran a 5-3 defense, and it would be the only time all year you would see that. He would stunt into a seven-diamond, a 6-2, a gap-8 they never played it straight. They never just stood still and played basic Oklahoma 5-2 like everyone else. It really took a lot of preparation.”
The approach to game preparation at North Canton was generally low-key. “We did very little hitting during the week, and our practices weren’t really that long,” said Lukens. “That approach was in keeping with Hertler’s low-key personality.”
“He wasn’t in my face,” said Bob Esmont, a running back on Hertler’s first two Hoover teams. “When I was a junior, I made some really big mistakes on the field. I mean, really big. And he just talked to me. He would yell only once in a while. And, when we won, he would be happy but not exuberant.”
Coach Hertler had a few quirks. Former players would tell of his fondness for finding four-leaf clovers in the grass.
“He was never real close to his players,” Lukens said, “but his players did look at him as a leader and, in some cases, a father figure. He was extremely well prepared, and the players always knew that and appreciated it.
“Of course we loved him. We were winning. That part of high school football never changes.”
That respect was mutual.
“I was fortunate to have a lot of great players not ability-wise, but exceptional people,” Hertler said. “We were seldom very big. Our success was based on players who were intelligent, quick and played hard.”
Two players Hertler credited with helping build that tradition of success was quarterback Dick Snyder and running back Jeff Logan. Both also are members of the second Stark County Hall of Fame class. Snyder starred for the Vikings during Hertler’s first two seasons at the helm, Logan in the early 1970s.
“Snyder was probably the best athlete I ever coached, and Logan was probably the best football player I ever coached,” Hertler said. “They were two players who gave our program jump-starts into entire eras.”
“I have nothing but admiration for him and good things to say about him,” Snyder said of Hertler. “He would chew guys out, but he was not somebody who would come up, smack your head and yank your face mask. Based on some of the coaches I had after him, I’d say coach Hertler was very rational.”
Hertler’s teams were known for their skill-position players. Hertler was known for his people skills.
“He treated us all pretty much the same way,” said Esmont, who went on to coach at Ontario High School near Mansfield. “He didn’t pal around with anybody. We always felt we could talk to him honestly, and he would deal with you fairly.”
“You try to treat every kid fairly,” Hertler said. “They can’t be treated all the same. You can’t give them all equal playing time. But you can be fair to them all.”
Andy Call, Canton Repository