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Jack Hardin, Only Basketball Coach to Take Bulldogs to Final Four (Twice), Dies

| May 24, 2011

Final Four banners from Coach Hardin's winning seasons hand in the Flagler Palm Coast gymnasium. Inset, Hardin's portrait from a mid-1980s yearbook. He's holding a copy of US News & World Report. Click on the image for larger view. (© FlaglerLive)

Jack Hardin, who took Bunnell High School’s and Flagler Palm Coast High School’s boys’ basketball team to the state semi-finals in 1973 and 1981–the only local coach to do so–died Tuesday morning. He was 77.

Hardin had been living at his property on County Road 302 since the mid-1990s. He’d retired about a decade earlier. He was a social science teacher, and in 1973 was an assistant principal at Bunnell High School.

He had also been a Bunnell city commissioner, taking office in the late 1970s. He faced no opposition when he retained the seat in April 1982, though the job appeared to have bored him somewhat: he soon announced that he’d resign that November to run for the Flagler County School Board, against Herschel King. Hardin lost in the primary, failing to get into a run-off by just two votes: James Upson bested him. Upson went on to lose against King.

In 1973, Hardin led the Bunnell Bulldogs to the Class 1A semifinals, beating Orlando’s Lake Highland Prep in the regional semi-finals, 53-45 (in overtime), and crushing Clearwater Central Catholic, 79-53, before falling to Coral Gables’ Deerborne–which, like the Bunnell Bulldogs, no longer exists–, 73-60. Deerborne went on to lose to Tallahassee’s FAMU in the finals, 76-65, at the Jacksonville Coliseum, the first of three championships in four years for FAMU. Leroy Jenkins was among the team’s stars.

In 1981, playing in Class 2A, Flagler Palm Coast High School defeated Mount Dora, 58-41, in the regionals, beat Wymore, 67-71, in the sectionals, and lost to P.K. Younge, 37-35, in the semi-final. Port St. Joe won the championship that year, beating P.K. Younge 47-41.

Hardin’s philosophy was simple. In his words, “hard work, discipline and the fundamentals.”

Roger Vaccaro, now a professor of writing and American literature at St. Johns River State College in St. Augustine, was on the 1980 and 1981 teams as a shooting guard. He’d moved to Palm Coast from Washington, D.C., in 1980 and remember Hardin as an intimidating force. It was “actually pretty scary,” Vaccaro remembers, “he’d get so intense, and the longer I played with him the more I realized how much he cared.” When the team won, there wasn’t much surprise: It was expected to win.

Hardin was always prepared. He carried a brown briefcase with him and used it as his chalkboard to map out plays, even at games. And he chewed tobacco, carrying with him an empty tennis can to spit out the stuff. He was on the look-out for his players, too–perhaps more so for his Bunnell players than his Palm Coast players.

“He would put his whole team in his truck, and after practice every day he would drive them home,” said Steve DeAugustino, whose early coaching years coincided with Hardin’s late years, back when there weren’t that many sports. “It was football, basketball, baseball, wrestling, track. Pretty limited.” DeAugustino is the athletic director at FPC.

“He was a straight-shooter,” DeAugustino said. “He’d tell them exactly what they needed to do, he was clear on what he expected.”

Until recently, Hardin kept a blueberry patch near his property.

Tuesday afternoon, Gary McDaniel, the first-year coach of FPC’s boys basketball team, was monitoring a scrimmage in the school’s main gym, sitting beneath the two banners from Hardin’s best seasons. McDaniel had never known Hardin. But he wanted to contribute a few words. “On behalf of the Flagler Palm Coast basketball family, I want to extend our sincere condolences to Coach’s family and friends,” McDaniel said. “Anyone who spends time, gives of themselves, and pours into the lives of young people deserves a tremendous reward.”

[Note: your stories and memories about Coach Hardin are welcome. Please add them in the comments.]

Memorabilia: Coach Jack Hardion and his 1986 team, from a yearbook page. Click on the image for larger view.

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8 Responses for “Jack Hardin, Only Basketball Coach to Take Bulldogs to Final Four (Twice), Dies”

  1. Haw Creek Girl says:

    That picture is the bombdiggity! Love it! Those were the days! RIP, Coach and thanks for the memories! Gotta shout out to the BIG PM, aka Parnell McCall (a former UCF walk on football player) and Dan Logan who traded the court for the aisles of the largest of all of the entire Publix chain! And last but not least, Coach, we will forever love your plaid jacket ;D

  2. palmcoaster says:

    A Flagler County outstanding community leader takes his place forever imprinted in its history. God bless Mr. Hardin, at His side.

  3. One of thr greatest to ever coach the game, Thanks for the memories, Rest on Coach.

  4. donnie riddle says:

    I was lucky enough to have coach for many classes during my years at the old Bunnell High school. He was really a class act. He will really be missed by many. Rest in peace coach………

  5. Mary Watson says:

    What great old memories, I clearly remember going to our basketball games and supporting our team and seeing how hard Coach Hardin worked with the kids and cared about them. He left such a positive impact on those boys life, to work hard and good things will come ! He will be missed dearly ~ Rest in Peace.

  6. LEILA OPEL says:

    RIP JACK!!! i only had the privlage to meet Mr. Hardion about a year ago, my husband however grew up with his son. Jack would let us being our kids over to pick blueberries and on occasion i would cook him dinners. we miss you jack!!

  7. Don says:

    Old School Bunnell

  8. Parnell McCall says:

    Sometimes we think people will last forever here on earth.Coach Hardin was one such person. He was as much as Bunnell to me, as the City Hall or Carver Gym. I have already told stories about a tobacco chewing coach who called me “Big’em” and ‘Made’ me play basketball when I was thinking bout wrestling again. Much Love and Respect Coach. You will last forever in my memories and in the many lives you touched and hopefully we will meet again when its all said and done. Thanks Coach.

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