HOUSTON — There is only one team that will bring a bigger smile to the faces of some of the Atlanta coaches this week than their current squad of Falcons.
Three key pieces of the Falcons’ coaching staff can trace their roots directly to the Long Island college, and more specifically the coach who inspired them all to get into and succeed in the business.
“We do talk about him a lot,” Falcons head coach Dan Quinn said of the late Joe Gardi, his mentor and longtime Hofstra head coach. “Then when we get a chance to get together with Dave Gardi [Joe’s son, the NFL’s senior vice president of football operations], we get a chance to share some of those stories again.”
Quinn was an assistant at Hofstra from 1996-2000, first as a defensive line coach and then as defensive coordinator for one season. Falcons assistant head coach/wide receivers coach Raheem Morris was a safety for Hofstra from 1994-97 and came back as a grad assistant and then defensive backs coach from 2000-01. Lance Schulters, a two-time All-American safety for Hofstra in 1996 and ’97 who went on to play in the NFL, is a special-teams intern with the Falcons.
“I don’t know if it’s the Hofstra Super Bowl,” Morris said, “but it’s certainly got our thumbprint all over it. It’s a lot of fun to have that.”
Morris grew emotional when asked about Gardi’s influence on him.
“Oh, man, you’re talking about my father,” he said. “You’re gonna make me cry right now. Joe Gardi was a big part of all our lives . . . I can’t say enough good things about him. He was a great man who we miss dearly.”
Gardi coached at Hofstra from 1990 to 2005. Before that, he was an assistant coach with the Jets for a decade. He died in 2010 but his legacy lives on through the coaches he groomed, who have had success throughout football.
Joe Woods, a defensive backs coach for the Super Bowl-winning Broncos last season, is now their defensive coordinator. He coached the defensive backs at Hofstra from 1998-2000. Others have found success at the college level since Hofstra eliminated its football program in 2009.
But here at Super Bowl LI, the Falcons are practically having a Hofstra reunion every day. And Gardi is on their minds.
“He was a significant factor for me,” Quinn said. “As a young coach, his experience, his defensive background, his ability to motivate guys, those are definitely lessons I learned from Coach back in the ’90s that still work today.”
Morris said of Gardi: “He is Hofstra. He was a father figure to us all. He was one of the guys that showed me the way.”
And still does.