Sep. 19, 2008
Legendary coach Ned Harkness dies at age 89
Nevin D. "Ned" Harkness, the first coach to win national championships in two different sports, died Sept. 19 at the age of 89. Harkness coached both ice hockey and lacrosse at Cornell, Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute (RPI) and Union College, as well as for the Detroit Red Wings of the National Hockey League during a storied career that saw him inducted into numerous Halls of Fame.
Harkness guided the 1970 Cornell hockey team to a perfect 29-0-0 record, the only unbeaten, untied national championship team in NCAA history. His teams won five Ivy League, four Eastern and two NCAA championships (1967, 1970), and he earned national Coach of the Year honors in 1968. He also coached lacrosse for the Big Red for three seasons, compiling a 35-1 overall record with two Ivy League titles (1966, 1968) and a runner-up finish (1967).
In 1963, after spending the previous 22 years at RPI, where he had begun his career in 1941 at the age of 22, he moved to Cornell, where he took over the men's hockey program. In his third season, he led the Big Red to a 22-5 record and its first-ever berth in the ECAC tournament. The following year, Cornell went 27-1-1 and claimed its first NCAA championship, defeating Boston University, 4-1, in Syracuse, N.Y.
Over the next three seasons, which would be Harkness' last with the Big Red, Cornell put together an 83-4 record. Big Red appeared in the NCAA tournament all three years, culminating with the 29-0-0 squad that captured the NCAA title in 1970 with a 6-4 victory over Clarkson at Lake Placid, N.Y.
In 1965, tragedy struck when two Big Red assistant lacrosse coaches were killed when their plane crashed on the way home from a recruiting trip. Harkness was called upon to assist head lacrosse coach Bob Cullen, and the next year, after Cullen stepped down, Harkness was made the new head coach of Big Red lacrosse at the request of his players. Over his three years leading the lacrosse team, he posted a 35-1 record and won a pair of Ivy League titles that were sandwiched around a runner-up finish.
After he won his second NCAA hockey title with the Big Red, Harkness resigned to become the head coach of the Detroit Red Wings of the National Hockey League, becoming the first coach to make the jump from collegiate to professional hockey. He coached the Red Wings for the first 38 games of the 1970-71 season before becoming the team's general manager, a post he held through the 1973-74 season.
"Cornell athletics lost a dear friend with the passing of Ned Harkness," said Andy Noel, the Meakem-Smith Director of Athletics and Physical Education. "Ned was a legendary coach and a great man, and he will be sorely missed by the entire Cornell community."
Mike Schafer, the Jay R. Bloom '77 Head Coach of Men's Hockey, called Harkness "a legend, not just at Cornell but in the hockey world." And Jeff Tambroni, the Richard M. Moran Head Coach of Men's Lacrosse, said, "He will always be remembered for his tremendous achievements as a coach and mentor, but I will remember him most for the compassion, patience and leadership he provided our current staff and team, long after he hung up his whistle."
Harkness was inducted into the Cornell Athletics Hall of Fame in 1981, the RPI Athletics Hall of Fame in 1982, the Lake Placid Hall of Fame in 1993, the U.S. Hockey Hall of Fame in 1994, the National Lacrosse Hall of Fame in 2001 and the Rensselaer Hockey Ring of Honor in 2007. In addition, the Ned Harkness Alumni Room at Cornell's Lynah Rink and RPI's Ned Harkness Field and Track have been named in his honor.
A memorial service is being planned for 11 a.m. on Oct. 11 at the First Presbyterian Church in Glens Falls, N.Y.