Retired NFL coach Erhardt's first head coach job came at NE St. Mary's
In 1957, Father Eugene LaMeres drove from New England to Williston in search of a do-it-all coach who could handle the football, wrestling and track and field programs at New England St. Mary's High School.
The man he found was Ron Erhardt.
Fifty-four years and two Super Bowl rings later, Erhardt still remembers telling LaMeres, "Let's give it a try," after the priest offered him a job at the catholic high school.
Erhardt spent three successful years at St. Mary's before moving on to Minot Ryan and then North Dakota State, where in 1966 he took over the football program and led the Bison to back-to-back national championships in 1968 and 1969.
Eventually, Erhardt went to the NFL and became head coach of the New England Patriots from 1978 to 1981.
"From New England to New England," Erhardt said with a hearty laugh during a phone interview from his house in Boca Raton, Fla.
Erhardt was in his 20s when he coached at St. Mary's from 1957 to 1959. His football teams went 25-3-1 and he was the first coach of the Saints' wrestling program that built into a state championship squad a decade after Erhardt left the school.
Now 80 years old, Erhardt's memory of his first head coaching gigs hasn't faded.
"We had some great teams there," Erhardt said. "There were some real nice excellent kids when we got there. We had farm boys who were tough and could run. We played a lot of games where we were completely in control by the half."
Erhardt credited Father LaMeres with the helping build the athletic success St. Mary's enjoyed through the 1960s, 70s and 80s.
"He did it all," Erhardt said. "I would have never gone down there had it not been for him."
Erhardt's influence on the football field in New England went further than he ever knew, too.
Mike Schatz, who coached New England teams to four 9-man football state championships, was a child when Erhardt was coaching at St. Mary's.
"I'd go up and watch them practice," Schatz said. "I lived in that brick house south of St. Mary's. They brought in the best coaches that they could find."
Erhardt's most successful years in the NFL came as an offensive coordinator.
He was with the New York Giants from 1982 to 1991 and the Pittsburgh Steelers from 1992 to 1996. He helped the Giants win Super Bowls XXI and XXV and helped the Steelers reach Super Bowl XXX.
Erhardt retired from coaching in 1998 after one final season as offensive coordinator of the New York Jets.
Though he has only been back to New England a few times since moving away from North Dakota, Erhardt said he wishes he could have attended this weekend's 125th anniversary celebration, even though he laughs and says he "probably wouldn't know anybody if I get back there."
Nonetheless, Erhardt said he still has fond memories of the town and school that gave him his start in the field of coaching.
"Those were good days," Erhardt said.