ADRIAN, Mich.--The Adrian College community, past and present, was saddened to learn about the loss of former Bulldogs coach and athletics administrator Tom Heckert, who passed away on Tuesday at the age of 78.
"Coach Heckert recruited me to Adrian College. He was a truly special coach and person. He was my inspiration to go into the field of coaching and athletic administration," said Adrian athletics director Mike Duffy ‘82, who announced the Tom Heckert 1980 Adrian Football Team Memorial Scholarship to honor his legacy and memory at the College.
“To honor the lifetime of accomplishments of an outstanding Bulldog legend like Coach Heckert, I think it's befitting of Adrian Athletics to set up a scholarship fund on his behalf to promote his contributions and service, as well as provide the opportunity for students to forge careers in coaching or athletic administration. He touched the lives of so many athletes,” Duffy said.
Donations for the scholarship fund may be sent to the Tom Heckert Scholarship, Adrian College, 110 South Madison St., Adrian, Michigan 49221.
Heckert served at the College from 1968 to 1982 as a coach of several sports and athletics administrator. He was the head coach for the Bulldogs football team for his last nine seasons at the school, producing a 43-36-2 overall record, including 29-6-1 (.819) over his last four seasons, and a 21-22-2 Michigan Intercollegiate Athletic Association mark. He also led the baseball, basketball, golf, swimming, tennis and track & field programs at various times during his tenure.
Heckert assured himself a prominent place in Adrian athletics history by guiding the Bulldogs to their first-ever, untied 9-0 football season in 1980. That same year, Adrian captured its first MIAA title outright and produced 11 all-conference performers.
Under Heckert, Adrian once held the nation's longest winning streak--a school-record 16 games that still stands today--of any college football team, following a 34-0 win over Albion College in October 1981.
But perhaps the most important aspect of Heckert's imprint on Adrian Athletics is the impact he had on helping others.
"Tom was outstanding for the athletics program and the College," said Henry Mensing, a former athletic director at AC. "Tom mentored me as a coach and administrator. He hired me as his linebackers coach, which began a 31-year career at the College. I learned from him how to work with people as his people skills were excellent and he was very detailed."
Adrian College 1981 Athletic Hall of Fame inductee Ron Labadie '71, who played for and coached with Heckert, added, "Tom was a good friend for a very long time and he will be missed by everyone. He was a good football coach and he was a large part of our successful turnaround as a conference football power.
"When I took over for him in 1982, the cupboard was full and we were able to continue to the success that he had established.
"Above his strengths as a solid coach and administrator, he was a better person--a quality that I'll always remember about him," Labadie said.
In 1975, Heckert was appointed acting director of athletics for men and earned the permanent position a year later and held that title until his resignation in 1982. Coach Heckert was inducted into the Adrian College Athletic Hall of Fame in 1992.
In April of that year, he left Adrian to become an area scout for the Cleveland Browns of the National Football League, with responsibilities focused on the Big Ten Conference and 10 Midwestern states. Heckert also served in the NFL as a personnel executive with the Miami Dolphins from 1989 until his retirement in 2007.
With the Browns, Heckert was reunited with former Adrian head football coach Bill Davis who was Cleveland's Director of Player Personnel.
A native from Youngstown, Ohio, Heckert originally came to Adrian as a football assistant coach and was the defensive coordinator for the three-time MIAA co-championship squads in 1970-71-72. He was elevated as the Bulldogs head coach in 1973.
“Tom Heckert was a great mentor for me as a student and young professional,” said David Knight ’81, Adrian’s sports information director from 1976-89. “We would meet every Sunday morning during the season to go over the statistics that were done by hand in that era. He made me feel like an integral member of the football program. Of course, his greatest strengths were recruiting outstanding student-athletes and building an experienced coaching staff.”
All told, Heckert was on Adrian football coaching staffs that molded 63 MIAA selections over his 13-year career at the College.
Heckert is survived by his wife, Rose, the couple's two children, Kim and Tom; and five grandchildren, Amelia, Noah, Griffin, Madison, Ashlyn.
(Editor's note: David Knight contributed to this news release.)
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