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A Community Mourns // 2 beloved teachers remembered // THERE TO HELP

Players, students and teachers all told the same story about Mike Imhoff.

The former Hernando High School football coach worked diligently to help young people, they said. He wanted to keep his football players out of trouble, to help them stay in school and go on to college.

Imhoff was known to put himself on the line to help a person in need, they agreed.

That trait may well have gotten him killed.

Sheriff's officials on Friday had not determined a motive in the killings of Imhoff and fellow Hernando High teacher Mike Bristol on Thursday evening.

But those who knew Imhoff said they were certain he was trying to assist the teenager who deputies say shot him in the head while he stood with his hands raised.

"I know Mike's intentions were to stop and give that kid a hand," said Crystal River football coach Earl Bramlett, a close friend of Imhoff.

Whether or not Imhoff knew the teenager, Bramlett said, "it doesn't make any difference. If he saw a kid on the side of the road who needed help, Mike would stop."

Reggie Fagin, a sophomore who played the past season for Imhoff, agreed. Fagin spoke to his football teammates in an afternoon meeting.

"How many of you would stop for somebody waving a gun?" Fagin asked. "I wouldn't. I don't know anybody who would. I think that says everything about him. If he couldn't help you out, he'd find someone who could."

Imhoff, 40, coached the Hernando football and weightlifting teams for eight seasons until November, when he and Hernando High principal Elaine Sullivan agreed he would leave the program. He remained a physical education teacher at Hernando at the time of his death.

Deputies have named Jimmy Dale Smith, 19, of Brooksville in the killings. It is not known whether either man knew Smith, who had dropped out of Parrott Middle School in eighth grade. Imhoff was driving the pickup truck that deputies say Smith commandeered after the shootings.

"He probably knew the kid and was trying to do something to help him," said former Central High School football coach Barry Gardner, who knew Imhoff well. "Mike was that way. Very definitely, it was him stopping to help. He was always concerned about his kids and . . . he did an awful lot for an awful lot of kids."

Numerous people said the presence of Imhoff, who was white, was felt greatly in Brooksville's black community.

"He was the one," said senior running back Eric Riggins, who is black. "He was the one who tried to help. He was always trying to help somebody. He got me going to (colleges), helped me make decisions.

"I talked to him (Thursday) about a college, and he was there for me. He said if that was the one, he'd call (other colleges) and tell them to stop bothering me."

George Rush is the football coach at San Francisco Community College, where Imhoff sent several Hernando High players to play junior college football. Two of them, Tony Roberts and Robert Harris, went on to play Division I football. Rush knew Imhoff for more than 15 years.

"He took such a personal interest in the guys who played for him," Rush said. "He had such a sense of community and direction. Some of these guys came from impoverished backgrounds. Mike wanted to give them the opportunity to do bigger and better things beyond athletics, and football would be the vehicle. He got them out.

"He was such a positive influence for young African-American men in that town. It's not like you're in the middle of Tampa, Fla. But he always had direction. Everything he did in terms of those students was to help them. Society is better, everybody is better for what he did."

Imhoff sometimes wielded a heavy hand when he helped, Rush said: "Whenever we were having problems with one of his kids, we'd call and he'd say, "Put them on the phone.' And he didn't mince words. His kids had a tremendous amount of respect and admiration for him. We need more Mikes, not less."

"He kicked my butt all the time," said J. J. Shannon, a Hernando senior who played quarterback during the 1995 season. "But he was like a father to me. He was like a second dad."

Riggins cried during Thursday's team meeting, during which he said that Imhoff "kicked me off the team a thousand times, and he put me back on a thousand times."

Imhoff had been married for about two months to the former Karen Janice Culligan, who is pregnant, according to Imhoff's colleagues.

Born in Pontiac, Mich., Imhoff was a four-year letterman at Michigan State University from 1974-77. He captained the Spartans' football team during his senior season, made the school's dean's list of academic athletes and received his bachelor's degree in physical education.

As a high school football player, Imhoff was an all-state and all-America selection at Walled Lake (Mich.) Central High and lettered for three years in basketball and baseball.

He graduated from Michigan State in 1977 and was an assistant football coach at Lakeland High in Milford, Mich., head weightlifting coach and assistant football coach at Walled Lake Central, an assistant football coach at Michigan State, a recruiting coordinator and assistant football coach at Michigan Tech and Montana State, and an assistant at Tulane. Imhoff also worked with the Detroit Lions of the NFL for about a month.

South Sumter High School football coach Inman Sherman was a close friend.

"The thing that always impressed me about Mike was not only that he was a great person, great coach and great teacher, but how personable he was with his players," Sherman said. "This must be devastating to them. And that speaks volumes about what kind of person Mike was.

"I think back to those kids that he was so close to and how they're feeling today, and it's a tragedy."