The words from family and former players on the passing of Hofstra football coaching legend Joe Gardi were strong and emotion-filled.
For years Gardi roamed the sidelines at Shuart Stadium helping turn football players into solid citizens. Gardi died on Wednesday from complications of a stroke he suffered last week. He was 71.
Gardi compiled a 119-62-2 record in 16 seasons (1990-2005). He led the Pride to six NCAA playoff appearances, including five as a Division I-AA program.
More important than his numbers was the imprint he left on the football world.
"I am deeply saddened at the passing of coach Gardi, a man who was a father figure to me and the most influential person in my life," said Tampa Bay Buccaneers head coach Raheem Morris, who played and coached under Gardi in the 1990s. "Personally and professionally, I will forever be grateful for his presence in my life."
Other on-field success stories for Gardi include current pros Marques Colston of the New Orleans Saints, Pittsburgh Steelers offensive guard Willie Colon and Dallas Cowboys defensive end Stephen Bowen.
"I will forever be appreciative of him giving me the opportunity to play football at Hofstra," Colston said. "That opportunity he provided to me has played a significant role in my success in football."
Gardi's impact wasn't just felt by players who went on to NFL stardom.
"For me personally, I couldn't have had a better coach anywhere," said former Hofstra safety Brian Clark, who played in the early 1990s.
Former Pride wide receiver Kahmal Roy said Gardi was always up front about things and what he expected.
"He treated us all like men," said Roy. "And he expected manly things from us. And that's what made the program so strong."
Gardi's son, David, spoke fondly of his father.
"I had such a wonderful childhood, but he made me strong so I could handle situations like this," said David. "He always showed his soft side to the family, especially to his grandkids."
Gardi, who played football at the University of Maryland, was known in football circles before coming to Hofstra.
He was a Jets assistant coach from 1976 to 1984, serving in various capacities, including defensive coordinator. Before his hiring by Hofstra, Gardi served as an assistant supervisor for NFL officials for five years.
In addition to his son, David, Gardi is survived by his wife, Audrey, his daughter, Joanne, and four grandchildren.
Services for Gardi will be held at Raynor and D'Andrea Funeral Home in West Sayville. Visitation will be from 2 to 4:30 and 7 to 9:30 p.m. on Sunday and Monday. A religious service will be conducted on Tuesday at 11 a.m.
Gardi will be interred at Pinelawn Memorial Park.
The family asked that in lieu of flowers, mourners donate to the American Cancer Society.