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The Hofstra Community Mourns the Passing of Joe Gardi
Hempstead, NY - The Hofstra University community mourns the passing of former Pride Football Coach Joe Gardi, who passed away Wednesday following a stroke suffered last week. He was 71 years old.
Gardi, who directed the Hofstra University football program from 1990 through the 2005 season, tallied a 119-62-2 record in his 16 seasons at Hofstra. Both his win total and .650 winning percentage rank second in Hofstra football coaching history. Under Gardi’s guidance, Hofstra made the jump from NCAA Division III in 1990 to I-AA in 1994. During that time, the Pride became a nationally recognized I-AA program and earned five NCAA I-AA championship bids in his last 10 seasons. During his tenure, more than 90 school records, seven ECAC marks, and four NCAA records were either topped or tied by the Pride. Gardi also recorded 10 winning seasons during his Pride tenure.
A native of Harrison, New Jersey, Gardi was a first-team all-state selection as an offensive guard at Harrison High School in 1955. He attended the University of Maryland from 1956 to 1960 and was the Terrapins’ co-captain and Unsung Hero Award winner as an offensive tackle and linebacker in 1959. At 20 years old, Gardi signed a contract with the Washington Redskins, playing in two preseason games in 1960 and also had a tryout with the Buffalo Bills in 1961.
In 1964 Gardi returned to football as head coach at The Oratory Prep in Summit, New Jersey. After a 0-9 season in his first year, he took that program, which had lost 37 consecutive games prior to his arrival, to records of 6-3 in 1965 and 5-4 in 1966. Gardi moved on to Roselle Park High School (New Jersey) to become Head Football Coach and teacher at a school that had not recorded a winning season in 10 years. After a 2-7 first season, Gardi led Roselle Park to a 6-3 mark in 1968 and a 9-0 slate and the state championship in 1969.
Gardi returned to the University of Maryland in 1970 as head freshman coach and recruiter. In his first season of recruiting the Long Island-Metropolitan area, Gardi signed five All-Long Island team players, including Bob Avellini from New Hyde Park, Joe Brancato and Frank Russell from Wantagh, and Jamie Franklin from Brentwood. The following season, he was named to coach the Terrapins’ varsity offensive line. In 1972 Maryland’s new coach, Jerry Claiborne, rehired Gardi to direct the receivers.
In 1974 Gardi left Maryland for a whirlwind tenure in the World Football League. He served as running backs and special teams coach for the Philadelphia Bell in 1974. Gardi was promoted to interim head coach for the 1975 season opener and led the Bell to a 31-30 victory over the Portland Thunder. Moving to the front office after that victory, Gardi was named head coach of the Thunder two months later and posted a 2-1 record in three games before the league folded.
From 1976 through 1984, Gardi served as an assistant coach with the Jets under three head coaches. He served as special teams/tight ends coach under Lou Holtz in 1976; special teams/linebackers coach from 1977 to 1980 and defensive coordinator in 1981 and 1982 under Walt Michaels; and assistant head coach/defensive coordinator under Joe Walton in 1983 and 1984. In 1981 the Jets formed the best defensive unit in the American Football Conference, allowing just 304 yards per game, while leading the NFL with 66 sacks. In the strike-shortened 1982 season, the Jets advanced to the AFC Championship game before dropping a 14-0 decision to Miami, despite holding the Dolphins to just 197 yards in the contest.
Gardi came to Hofstra after five years (1985-90) as assistant supervisor of officials for the National Football League. His duties in the League office included the evaluation, recruitment and training of college officials for positions in the professional ranks. Because of his knowledge and support of the officiating profession over the years, Gardi was named to the NCAA Rules Committee in 2003.
Gardi recorded the third undefeated regular season in school history in his first year at Hofstra in 1990. He also recorded the school’s first-ever NCAA playoff victories, an NCAA East Regional championship and a berth in the national semifinals in 1990. Under his guidance the team posted eight victories in 13 I-AA games in 1991 and 1992, as the Pride prepared for the move to I-AA. Hofstra recorded a 6-3-1 mark in 1993, and an 8-1-1 record and a 22nd-place national ranking in 1994, the Pride’s first official season as a I-AA member.
In 1995 Gardi directed the Dutchmen to a 10-1-0 regular season (losing only to I-AA national finalist Marshall, 30-28), as well as to the I-AA playoffs and Hofstra’s first-ever I-AA top 10 national ranking-finishing ninth at the end of the regular season. In the process, Hofstra ranked in the top 10 in the country in seven team statistical categories. For his efforts, Gardi received numerous postseason coaching honors, including the Scotty Whitelaw Award from the Metropolitan Football Writers Association as the ECAC I-AA Coach of the Year. Gardi also became the first recipient of the Vince Lombardi College Coach of the Year Award from the Lombardi Foundation. The National Football Foundation and College Hall of Fame named Gardi the Division I-AA Coach of the Year, and the National Football League Players Association selected him its I-AA College Coach of the Year. Gardi also received the Long Island Sports Commission’s Good Guy Award. A year later Hofstra was ranked in the top 10 in four team statistical categories, including rushing defense, total defense and scoring defense.
In 1997 Hofstra posted a 9-2 regular season record, was ranked 14th in the country, received its second I-AA playoff bid, and ranked second in passing offense, eighth in total offense and ninth in scoring offense. Individually, five Flying Dutchmen placed in the top 10 of four categories. In 1998 the Flying Dutchmen posted an 8-3 record, attained their then highest-ever I-AA ranking at fifth in the nation, and were ranked fifth in scoring offense, 10th in turnover margin, 11th in total offense and 12th in kickoff return average in I-AA.
Hofstra equaled its best I-AA regular season record with a 10-1 mark in 1999 and was ranked as high as fourth in the country. The Pride received their third NCAA I-AA Championship bid, advanced to the quarterfinals, finished the year with an 11-2 overall record and captured the Lambert Cup as the top I-AA program in the East. Hofstra was ranked seventh in scoring defense, 10th in turnover margin, 14th in pass efficiency defense, 24th in scoring offense and 31st in total offense. Gardi was also a finalist for the Eddie Robinson Award as I-AA Coach of the Year.
In 2000 Hofstra recorded an 8-3 regular season record and was ranked as high as fourth in the country in I-AA. The Pride received their fourth I-AA Playoff bid and defeated Furman on the road in the opening round before losing to eventual national champions Georgia Southern in the quarterfinals. Hofstra finished the year 9-4 and was ranked seventh in the final I-AA poll by The Sports Network. The Pride ranked 11th in scoring offense, 17th in passing offense, 18th in total offense and 21st in turnover margin in I-AA.
In 2001 Hofstra ended its I-AA independent status by joining the Atlantic 10 Football Conference. Gardi directed the Pride to a 9-2 regular season record including a 7-2 conference mark, the League’s co-championship, the A-10’s automatic bid to the NCAA I-AA Playoffs and a Top 10 final national ranking. As a team, Hofstra ranked in the top 10 in I-AA in total offense (2), punt returns (3), passing offense (4), scoring offense (5) and turnover margin (10). Possessing a desire to spend more time with his family, he retired following the Pride’s 7-4 2005 season.
A number of Gardi’s former players at Hofstra have gone on to play in the National Football League, Arena Football League and Canadian Football League including current NFL players Marques Colston with the New Orleans Saints, Willie Colon with the Pittsburgh Steelers and Stephen Bowen with the Dallas Cowboys. In addition, several of Gardi’s former assistant coaches are currently coaching in the NFL or CFL including: Raheem Morris, Head Coach of the Tampa Bay Buccaneers; Dan Quinn, Defensive Line Coach for the Seattle Seahawks; Joe Woods, Defensive Backs Coach for the Minnesota Vikings; Chip Garber, Defensive Coordinator for the Toronto Argonauts; Jaime Elizondo, Offensive Coordinator for the Toronto Argonauts; and many others in college football.
Gardi, who worked as an official’s observer following his retirement from Hofstra, served as a board member for the Vince Lombardi Memorial Golf Tournament for Cancer Research and was a member of The Dante Foundation, which provides critical support for Long Island students. Gardi served on the committee for the Christa House charity dinner to benefit a hospice for HIV patients and was a sponsor and supporter for St. Mary’s Hospital for Children, Good Samaritan Hospital, Long Island Jewish Hospital, the Cystic Fibrosis Foundation and the New York State Special Olympics.
Gardi is survived by his wife, Audrey, two grown children Joanne and David, daughter-in-law Michele, and four grandchildren. Funeral arrangements are pending.
Colonial Athletic Association