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James Bernhardt, legendary football coach, remembered


James “Jimmy” Bernhardt passed away in peace on Friday, June 21, at the age of 63 surrounded by family and friends in Longwood, Fla.

He is survived by his loving wife, Catherine, and his three devoted sons, Jake, 29, Jesse, 28, and Jared, 21. Jimmy was predeceased by his infant daughter, Michaela Alexa Bernhardt. Jimmy has one sister, Lois.

Jimmy was a lifelong coach, mentor and teacher of young athletes. His career is filled with accomplishments on the lacrosse and football fields both as a player, mentor and coach.

Jimmy started his career as an outstanding student and star athlete at Long Beach High School and went on to finish his collegiate career playing football and lacrosse at Hofstra University. At an early age, Jimmy was guided into a career in coaching by three of his own coaches and mentors: Jim

Fiore, Tom Russo and Tony Piazza.

Fiore, Russo and Piazza shaped a path for Jimmy that led to his coaching career, a career that has positively impacted thousands of lives. Jimmy learned fundamental lessons from Fiore, Russo and Piazza that he carried with him throughout his life: Do things the right way and don’t take shortcuts. Jimmy’s three-word teaching mantra was “Pride, Poise, Commitment.”

Jimmy’s commitment to integrity throughout his life set him apart from many in his chosen professional field. He coached at the junior and high school levels in both New York state and Florida with star pupil Scottie Graham heading the list of numerous college scholarship recipients. Scottie went on to a professional football career and has noted that Jimmy was his “guiding light.”

Jimmy coached at Hofstra, Brown, Central Florida, and Penn State universities, where he taught and mentored the likes of Bill O’Brien and Kevin Smith. O’Brien went on to a stellar collegiate playing career and started his coaching career as a graduate assistant under the tutelage of Jimmy. O’Brien hired Jimmy at Penn State University and has credited Jimmy with being “instrumental in helping to resurrect the Penn State football program after a horrible scandal.” O’Brien went on to state that Jimmy was a “great teacher.” When O‘Brien became the head coach of the Houston Texans, he hired Jimmy as his “right-hand man” and director of football research to help guide and direct that NFL franchise. Two years after hiring Jimmy, the franchise became a playoff contender.

Jimmy’s legacy has been shaped through his unending commitment to ethical values in athletics and his devotion to detail oriented teaching. Jimmy’s dry sense of humor was one of his most endearing traits and his quips are often quoted by friends and family.

Jimmy was a coach’s coach. He was tough on his players and demanded excellence from each of them matching the player’s abilities. Jimmy made no excuses for his performance as an athlete and coach, and expected the same from those he coached and mentored. He is a member of a fraternity of coaches who have dedicated their lives to teaching young athletes strong values, focused discipline, and respect for the game they play. Jimmy’s work is imprinted on — and his presence will be fondly remembered by — friends, students, family and others throughout the country.

Jimmy’s passion was teaching and coaching, but his life was dedicated to his wife, Catherine, and their three boys — Jake, Jesse and Jared. Jimmy taught, fathered and raised his sons with a thundering velvet hand. Jake, Jesse and Jared were each scholarship lacrosse student-athletes at the University of Maryland. Under the watchful eyes and caring lessons of Jimmy, the three brothers have accomplished unprecedented athletic achievements.

As Jared continues his outstanding All-American lacrosse career at Maryland, Jake and Jesse — both members of the 2018 USA Gold Medal Lacrosse Team — continue to play at the professional level and have begun their own coaching careers at the University of Vermont and the University of Maryland, respectively. The three boys credit Jimmy with guiding and leading them to their full potential. The brothers are Jimmy’s living legacy.

Services will be held on Thursday, June 27, at the Baldwin Fairchild Funeral Home in Altamonte Springs, Fla., with visitation from 5 to 7 p.m., and speakers and tribute from 7 to 9 p.m. The second service will be held on Monday, July 1, at the Christopher T. Jordan Funeral Home, at 302 Long Beach Rd. in Island Park, N.Y., with visitation from 4 to 7 p.m., and speakers and tribute from 7 to 8 p.m.