By Mickey Furfari
For The Register-Herald
The late Steve Harrick was the longest serving, most successful two-sport head coach in West Virginia University’s athletic history.
He was a 1924 graduate who played football and baseball, then returned to WVU in 1947 and spent 44 years as head baseball and wrestling mentor. Yet he also found time to serve as associate professor in the School of Physical Education.
Harrick was a high school classmate of the late Art Rooney Sr., founder and owner of the famed Pittsburgh Steelers, at Punxsutawney, Pa.
The gentlemen remained close friends for many, many years.
Before putting his two significant sports on the national map as Mountaineer coach, Harrick had served 14 years as head coach of all sports at West Virginia Tech in Montgomery.
Harrick also had played as a professional in regional football and baseball leagues in Wheeling, Fairmont and Steubenville, Ohio, all of which had teams. He also served briefly as an instructor and wrestling coach at WVU until 1932.
During his 29 years as wrestling coach, Harrick’s teams compiled a record of 155-99-4 (.603 winning percentage). His teams won seven Southern Conference championships and 42 of his matmen captured individual conference crowns. As impressive as were those numbers in wrestling, Harrick enjoyed even better numbers in his 20 years of coaching baseball.
His record on the diamond was 334-161-1 — a winning percentage of .678. Six clubs won Southern Conference titles and seven earned NCAA Tournament district playoffs berths.
Making his 44-year Mountaineer career even more awesome is the fact that Harrick had just two losing seasons. His 1963 baseball team was the first in school history to win as many as 30 games, finishing the year with a 30-3 record.
Eighteen of his players were selected by professional organizations to play baseball. One of those was Paul Popovich, an outstanding second and third baseman who went on to play 12 years in the Major Leagues with the Chicago Cubs, Los Angelas Dodgers and Pittsburgh Pirates.
Popovich, a Harrison County native who now lives in the Chicago area, played two years in Harrick’s baseball program and in 1960 had a .427 batting average. That school record held up for 30 or 40 years.
Here is what Popovich said of Harrick:
“I had a lot of respect for Steve Harrick both as a coach and a person. The thing I remember most about him is that he was a very serious, no-nonsense type of coach.
“I think he knew the game of baseball pretty well. He even taught a course in baseball at WVU.”
Harrick also coached Bill Marovic, WVU’s first All-America selection in baseball.
He was an outfielder who batted .404 in 1965.
Harrick was inducted into the charter class of the WVU Sports Hall of Fame in 1991. He’s also a member of the West Virginia Hall of Fame selected by sports writers.
But the most cherished of his numerous awards and honors probably was his induction into the Association of College Baseball Coaches Hall of Fame in 1975.
Two days after presenting his long-time friend for induction into that shrine of coaches, Rooney watched his Pittsburgh Steelers win the Super Bowl.
Steve and his deceased wife Della Harrick had two grown sons, Tom and Bob.