I wish I’d posted this eight months ago, and that there was no reason to post this today, but I’m also glad I saved this interview before switching digital recorders and that I was able to retrieve it off an old computer.
This is a Q&A with Joe Gardi that I conducted at halftime of the Dutchmen’s upset win over James Madison last Oct. 3. The interview was conducted with the idea of writing a series of stories on the 1994 team, an idea that kind of withered on the vine through my own procrastination and some bad timing. I was supposed to speak to Carlos Garay and Wayne Chrebet the afternoon of Dec. 3, but, well, that got postponed and was never rescheduled.
This was fun, if a bit sad, to listen to and transcribe. Gardi was more relaxed than in his coaching days—he was munching on a hero as we spoke—but all it took was my opening question about the New Hampshire game for the familiar underdog defiance to resurface and for him to begin recounting some of the slights administered to his program both before and after that unforgettable 1994 season. Gardi also explains the twist of fate that allowed Carlos Garay to take over as starting quarterback while also delivering another zing at familiar foe Tubby Raymond that will make any DD-era football fan laugh.
I hope you enjoy this glimpse at the legendary Hofstra coach and I also invite any of Gardi’s ex-players and ex-assistants to send their memories of Gardi to me at firstname.lastname@example.org. I’ll post whatever I receive.
[A question about the New Hampshire game inspired Gardi to talk about a player who chose to go to UNH instead of Hofstra]
A quarterback from Garden City, I tried to recruit him. We only had one player from Garden City in all my 17 years—Billy Deakins, who was a great linebacker for me—but when [this recruit] said he wasn’t interested in Hofstra, I said ‘Be careful, because we may beat you, may have you down 20 points at halftime if you play against us.’ Sure enough, I ran after him at halftime and he ran away from me.
They changed him from quarterback, I think, to tight end. I can’t remember his name.
On the UNH game:
For years I’ve said that I thought that was probably one of the biggest games I ever coached here at Hofstra. Another one was when we beat Montana out there [in 2000] on a last-minute field goal and then they won the national championship. Yeah, that was as good a home win as we’ve had.
Yeah, we talked about New Hampshire before the game. I said to my team ‘How many of you were recruited by New Hampshire?’ No one raised their hand. ‘Anybody get a scholarship offer from New Hampshire?’ No one raised their hand. And I remember this: I said ‘What an opportunity it is now to lay leather on an opponent that had no interest in you.’ I said ‘This is what this game’s all about.’ And it must have been a great pregame speech, because they sure played like heck.
I think we had a great season. We beat New Hampshire, who won the old Yankee Conference, and they passed us up on the playoffs. We were disappointed, we felt after beating New Hampshire, who won the Yankee and went to the playoffs, [that] we didn’t have an opportunity. I remember it like it was yesterday.
We were fighting for our life that year, to try to be accepted by whatever playoff committees [existed].
On the loss to Towson State that ended the Dutchmen’s unbeaten season:
I was talking about it when I went to visit Raheem in Tampa Bay. We scored the winning touchdown. Wayne Chrebet got called for a holding—he reached out. I thought it was a lousy call by the official and I told him that. Years later I met him and I told him that might have gotten us into the playoffs.
More thoughts on the 1994 team:
Well, going back to the opening game, we started Carlos. And I was always kind of leaning towards Kharon [Brown]. I think Kharon got hurt in training camp because someone hit him as he threw the ball, which we told our kids ‘You never do that to a quarterback.’ It was a scrimmage. Consequently, Carlos won the job, and after the opening game [at Butler]—I believe it was [the site of a] famous scene in the basketball movie [Hoosiers] at their gym, we visited the gym over there—we were up 40-something in the second quarter and it was all over. It was the Carlos Garay-Wayne Chrebet show. I thought Kharon would be our starter, but Carlos Garay had a great senior year. Probably wasn’t recognized enough because he only started for one year. But what a combination he and Wayne were. Unbelievable.
’95, we went to the playoffs. I’ll never forget, a reporter said to me after the [Marshall] game—they killed us in the newspaper, they had a three-page spread ‘Who’s Hofstra?’—at the end of the game, the reporter from Marshall apologized and said ‘Oh my God,’ he said ‘Coach, you’ve got class, every time we beat Tubby Raymond at Delaware, Tubby always bitches about the officiating.’ I think they beat us on a last-minute touchdown. Kharon Brown ran a quarterback draw inside the five and it worked. It was an interesting game.
On the final minutes of the 41-41 tie with Delaware in the 1994 season finale:
They tried to block a punt with a defensive tackle and he roughed our kicker. After the game, they said ‘What did you think of that call?’ I said ‘I’ll be honest with you’—I was always too honest—‘I said to my son, who was on the sideline, ‘Who was the idiot who made that punt block call?’ not knowing it was Tubby. And he killed me in the newspapers after that game. [Raymond said] ‘Well, I never coached in the pros.’