FOOTBALL FEATURE FRIDAY: Joe Bernard Knows “D” — and “O”
ALBANY, N.Y. – Joe knows defense. That means he also knows the flip side of the coin -- offense. University at Albany assistant head coach Joe Bernard believes coaching for so long on the defensive side of the ball made it much easier to switch his focus as the Great Danes’ offensive coordinator and running backs coach.
“It gives you a good perspective being a defensive coordinator all of those years and dissecting the offense,” Bernard said. “Knowing what teams do defensively, and being on that side of the ball for so long, gives you a pretty good perspective on how to play against most defenses. I’ve used most of those defensive schemes myself over the years.”
Now in his fourth season as a member of the “Purple Family,” the Moravian College graduate sees his relatively new role as a simple one. “My job is to figure out the best way to get No. 24 (Elijah Ibitokun-Hanks) the ball. It’s not a very complicated game,” Bernard said, referring to the Great Danes’ outstanding tailback, who will begin his junior campaign next fall.
“We look at our personnel and try to fit our offense based on those personnel,” he said. “We like to run and do some play-action. That’s been our forte on offense. We need to run the ball to be successful. Obviously, if you have a great tailback like EB, it makes it much easier. Somebody asked me this year if I knew we handed the ball off to EB 16 times in a row. I told him it would have been 17 if he hadn’t scored on the 16th play. EB was tremendous for us last year, and it also helped that we had a veteran offensive line.”
This is the third time Bernard has hooked up with UAlbany head coach Greg Gattuso, but Bernard paid his dues along the way, establishing himself as a defensive guru.
After beginning his coaching career a Nazareth Area High School in Pennsylvania from 1985 through 1996, where he won four league championships and two district championships, Bernard served as the defensive coordinator and special team’s coordinator at Fairfield University. The Stags won the 1998 Metro Atlantic Athletic Conference championship, and he was elevated to head coach for the 2001 and 2002 seasons.
Bernard first teamed up with Gattuso in 2003 when he was named the defensive/special team’s coordinator at Duquesne. In seven seasons, the Dukes won the Mid-Major National Championship, owned the top-ranked defense in the FCS and won five straight MAAC titles.
Bernard then joined Gattuso once again as member of the University of Pittsburgh staff from 2009-11. Serving as a strength assistant, Bernard helped the Panthers post an 18-8 record with two bowl victories and the 2010 Big East title.
“The two things that stand out the most for me, and the things I’m most proud of in my career, are the fact that my teams had the No. 1 ranked defense in the FCS at two different schools,” Bernard pointed out. “At Fairfield, we started from scratch, and by the third year, we had the No. 1 defense in the nation. Then, while working with Coach Gattuso at Duquesne, we also had the No. 1 defense in the country, and those are things I’m extremely proud of.”
Bernard returned to the high school ranks after his tenure at Pitt. He led Stroudsburg High School to a pair of conference championships in 2011 and 2012 before becoming the offensive coordinator for Carolina Forest High School in Myrtle Beach, S.C.
Returning to the collegiate level to work with Gattuso at UAlbany four years ago, Bernard easily made the transition to offense, with a concentration on the running back position. He mentored Omar Osbourne, who earned second-team All-CAA honors and finished his career third on the UAlbany all-time rushing list with 3,229 yards.
Bernard expects certain fundamentals and physical traits from his running backs.
“When I evaluate the tailback position, I look for the type of vision he has and the explosiveness through the hole. I also wanted to know if the player has that second gear,” Bernard said. “You have to hold up in pass protection. A good example was Omar Osbourne. He was 6-foot-2 and 215 pounds. He was a big back, and he fit in well for us. EB is the same prototype. We can’t go after kids that aren’t going to hold up physically in the pass game, meaning that they must be able to block. When we first recruited EB, at times he didn’t look like he was that fast, but all he does is run away from people. I don’t necessarily need guys who are that tall, but we do need guys with a physical presence.”
Knowing so much about defenses, Bernard realizes that he must coordinate the offense with his own defense in mind.
“You must match what you do offensively with your defense,” Bernard said. “For example, you can’t be a high-tempo offense and not be a good defensive team. We know that if we can control the play and dictate the tempo, we can also help our defense. Ball security is also key a key component. We work on that non-stop. EB had 257 carries last year without a fumble. That’s simply amazing. But he had to work at it. As a freshman, he had a couple of fumbles, but none this past year.
“I think we’ve done a good job of getting the personnel we need here at UAlbany when we recruit,” Bernard said. “Recruiting is not an exact science, but the kids we have are playing well and getting better. At the end of the day, having talent is the difference maker. But it’s not just having talent. You need guys who are buying into the culture. We do have that here.”
Bernard said he is pretty much a football coach 24/7. “I just grind it out every day,” he said. “I love the game.”
But he does have one hobby. “I play golf on my time off, and that’s pretty much it,” he said. “I go with my family to the Carolinas when we get some time off. Otherwise, it’s all about football.”
“Joe’s done a great job,” Gattuso said. “When you realize how young we’ve been on offense the last year, and how well the offense performed, you can see how good a job he’s done. The reason he’s in that spot is because of my trust in him,” Gattuso said. “I’ve never been around someone who works as hard as he does.
“Last year, we were first or second in the CAA in rushing. I’m very pleased with Joe. I have a ton of confidence in him. I expect we’ll be even better offensively this upcoming season.”MEET KARL MOFOR, 2017 UAlbany NLI Signee
Karl Mofor is a 5-foot-9, 208-pound running back from Eleanor Roosevelt High School. He played varsity for the Raiders all four years and was team captain as a senior, when he ran for 1,991 yards and scored 21 touchdowns.
The two-time All-County selection and second-team All-Met was his team’s MVP as a senior. For his career, Mofor ran for 46 touchdowns, caught 10 TD receptions and rushed for 4,084 yards. He also ran track for two seasons.
“We recruited Carl since last spring,” Bernard said. “He came up and visited. When you watch Carl, he is very EBish. He’s built the same way. He’s 5-9 with the same speed. You don’t know how fast he is until he runs by some people.
“He comes from a great program in Eleanor Roosevelt, and he’s had success there in the past,” Bernard said. “He’s an excellent student. When you look at him, he has that great vision and that second gear we’ve been talking about. He’s more physical than you would think, and we feel that he has that special attitude. We feel he’s a really good get for us. It was between us and Buffalo, and we won out.”
UAlbany football season tickets are now on sale for the 2017 season. Price start as low as $75. For more information, visit ualbanysports.com/tickets or call the UAlbany ticket office directly at 518-442-DANE.