The Jets this year have lost another key contributor to their past. It has been reported that Joe Gardi died Wednesday at the age of 71.
Gardi, a Jets assistant coach from 1976-84, passed away due to complications from a stroke, his son, David, told Newsday.
Gardi had many connections to the Jets over the years. He joined the Green & White in 1976 as special teams coach, added the linebackers to his areas of responsibility in 1980, then became defensive coordinator in the New York Sack Exchange era in 1981 and added assistant head coach under Joe Walton to his résumé for 1983-84.
"Joe was a big part of our lives," Joe Klecko told newyorkjets.com this morning. "He had a vibrant attitude toward everything. He was liked by everybody. I don’t think he had an enemy on the team because of the way he handled things."
In particular, Klecko remembered the way Gardi handled his D-coordinator role helped the Sack Exchange achieve greatness, beginning with the franchise-record 66 sacks registered in ’81.
"He recognized what we had in our four-man front there," Klecko recalled. "A lot of coaches try to corral your enthusiasm, but he let us play and it showed."
"Joe’s the one who gave me the opportunity to play," Bruce Harper said this afternoon, reflecting back to his rookie season in 1977. "He came down to Kutztown and signed me, and he was really the one who gave me the fair shot. The only way I was going to make the team was through special teams and he was the special teams coach. I actually pulled a muscle the first week of training camp and he insisted that Walt Michaels keep me on instead of sending me home.
"Joe deserves a great tribute. He was really great to everybody."
Gardi became assistant supervisor of NFL officials from 1985-90 before returning to the coaching ranks as the head coach at Hofstra. He guided the then-Flying Dutchmen from Division III to Division I-AA and in the process coached legendary Jets wide receiver Wayne Chrebet through his senior year on the Long Island campus in 1994.
"Coach Gardi was all about giving people opportunities. He gave me an opportunity,” Chrebet told Newsday, echoing Harper’s memories from some 15 seasons earlier. "He believed in me and helped me to the career I ended up having."
Gardi retired from Hofstra after the 2005 season with a 119-62-2 record and six NCAA playoff appearances, five coming after the Pride made the move up to the Football Championship Subdivision. Gardi, who would occasionally come across Hempstead Turnpike from Hofstra’s football offices to check up on the Jets, also coached Saints WR Marques Colston and Raheem Morris, now in his second year as the Buccaneers’ head coach.
Gardi was a football man through and through who rose through the gridiron ranks. After playing his high school ball at Harrison, N.J., and his college ball at Maryland, he began his coaching career as a New Jersey high school coach at Oratory Prep in Summit, then moved to Roselle Park High.
He returned to Maryland as an assistant, then joined the staff of the Philadelphia Bell of the World Football League in 1975. He spent three games as the head coach of the Portland Thunder before the WFL folded in ’76, then came aboard the Jets.
As special teams coach he worked with Harper, one of the NFL’s top kickoff and punt returners in the late Seventies. And during his four seasons as coordinator, his defenses were an NFL top-10 unit (fifth in yards allowed and eight in points allowed in 1981, sixth in yardage and 10th in points in 1982) in the two playoff seasons during the Sack Exchange’s heyday.
The Jets and we at newyorkjets.com offer our condolences to the Gardi family.
Tags: Bruce Harper, Hofstra, Sack Exchange, Wayne Chrebet
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