Honoring a PennWest Football Legend

CalU’s Salute to Hall of Fame Coach John Luckhardt


PennWest California

NFF Hall of Fame Coach John Luckhardt

Andrew White, Staff Writer

The Vulcans honored former head coach, John Luckhardt, who was recently inducted into the National Football Foundation Hall of Fame at the football game on Saturday, October 8, 2022.

Luckhardt was inducted for his coaching accomplishments for California University of Pennsylvania from 2002 to 2011, and Washington & Jefferson College from 1982 to 1998.

Luckhardt became the winningest head coach at both of these programs, and was a very well-known figure in the Western Pennsylvania scene for athletics.

Karen Hjerpe, PennWest’s California’s Athletic Director, said it’s a tremendous accomplishment.

“He was the ultimate leader in our university,” Hjerpe said. “He started to bring a different culture to our campus and our athletic department and it proved to be a reason for the success over the years. Players wanted to play for him.”

John started at W&J in 1982 when he became the head coach of a team that had posted a losing season in 14 of the last 17 seasons before him, until he quickly turned the program around.  John finished with an overall record of 137-37-2 in the 17 years he coached there. Under him, W&J also made 11 appearances in the NCAA Playoffs and won 13 PAC Championships.

John’s tenure with the Vulcans was just as dominant, having the best 10-year stint in school history, as he posted a record of 88-33 overall and led CalU to a NCAA Division II Semifinals in three straight seasons, from 2007 to 2009.  He also contributed to seven straight PSAC West titles, the most consecutive titles in PSAC West history.

During the ceremony, John Luckhardt returned to PennWest California to accept a Hall of Fame plaque that will stay on display at the institution permanently.

This upcoming Saturday was one of the biggest games of the season for the California Vulcans football team, as they took on the IUP Hawkeyes in the 97th annual “Coal Bowl.”

The events happened before the game, where Luckhardt was given the opportunity to cite some of the experiences throughout his career, giving him one more chance to take the field and be recognized in front of his home crowd.

“When you saw him here, you got an elevated-caliber player, and he got the best version of his players out there on the field every week.” Hjerpe said.

Luckhardt was the 227th coach ever inducted into the NFF Hall of Fame, according to the National Football Foundation, and the first person ever from California University of Pennsylvania.  He was known for his success on the field, but it was his efforts off the field that were just as significant in his legacy.

Gary Dunn, Head Coach for the Vulcans said Coach Luckhardt was very well respected.

“He’s always going to be the standard when talking about California football,” Dunn said. “It’s how he treated people and made connections with his players and coaching staff. There is not one alumni who knew Coach Luckhardt and didn’t have a nice thing to say about him.”

Dunn went on to say that Luckhardt “turned the program around” when he was hired and that the expectation had been raised ever since. The two coaches still speak occasionally, as Dunn still reaches out to Coach Luckhardt for advice and questions as they have formed a relationship over the years.

Dunn also mentioned that he takes pride in his athletes and the work they put in in the classroom as well, and that was something that Luckhardt always stressed to his players.

“We take pride in the men we help bring up through this program,” said Dunn. “These players work just as hard in the classroom as they do on the field.  We had the 3rd-highest GPA in the PSAC last year, and I take that just as seriously as anything else.”

Luckhardt will be remembered for his effectiveness on the football field as a coach, but he might be remembered even better for just being the person he was.

“He really cared about every single person on his team,” Hjerpe said. “I think a good quality of any coach is that they know every athlete, and he certainly did. He could walk in and tell you the background and the life and parents of every single one of his athletes, and even the coaching staff. You’ll never hear a bad word said about him.”

The “Coal Bowl” was held at the Vucan’s home field in California, PA, on October 8, 2022.