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Hernando coach "would help anybody' // "A HORRIFIC LOSS'

Published Jul. 6, 2006

Just last Saturday, Earl Bramlett joked with his friend Mike Imhoff while they played in a golf tournament. The event was designed to raise money for a local high school team, but these close friends never needed an excuse to share laughs.

Now, what Bramlett needs is a way to make sense of his friend's death.

Imhoff, a former Hernando High football coach, was shot and killed Thursday in a roadside incident that law enforcement officers and a grieving high school community still are trying to understand.

Bramlett doubts he will ever make sense of such tragedy.

"I saw him last Saturday at a golf tournament and we shot the bull for a while. We would always have something to have a few laughs about," said Bramlett, Crystal River High School's football coach for 11 years. "It's hard to believe this week he's gone; this Saturday, he's not with us anymore."

News of Imhoff's death _ which had spread through the local coaching fraternity well before accounts were delivered in Thursday evening newscasts or Friday morning newspapers _ sent shock waves into Citrus County, where Imhoff was a respected colleague and beloved friend.

Citrus County schools, bound by conference and district affiliations, regularly play against Hernando High teams. But where many coaches found rivals, Imhoff forged friendships.

"For seven or eight years I was against him on the other side of the field," said Ron Cline, former head football coach at Citrus and Lecanto high schools who served as an assistant to Imhoff last fall at Hernando. "Then I had the joy and pleasure of working with him on the same sideline.

"I found out he was a very funny person and really did care about his kids. He would go an extra mile or extra phone call or extra talk. Mike, in his reign and tenure as coach, went above what I think other people do."

Above all, Imhoff did not run away from kids who needed help. He ran to them. His peers were not surprised to learn that he probably stopped to help the person who killed him.

"Knowing Mike, if someone was there and needed a hand, he would stop," said Bramlett, whose eight-year working relationship with Imhoff grew to become a close friendship. "Some people say they thought he might have known the kid; some people say he didn't. It doesn't make any difference. If he saw a kid on the side of the road who needed help, Mike would stop."

His altruistic nature makes his death even harder to accept.

"It's truly sad," Citrus High football coach Ken Berry said. "You stop to help somebody and you end up being killed for it. I know he would try and bend over backwards to help his kids when he could."

Imhoff's relationship with his football players went beyond the standard, according to Inman Sherman, football coach at South Sumter High in Sumter County. Veteran coaches at their schools, Imhoff, Bramlett and Sherman formed a close-knit trio.

"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," said Sherman, a close friend of Imhoff's. "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.

"The shame of it is he was a tremendous person and coach and we can't afford to be losing people like this in our profession. He'd be the first person to stop and help someone. As outgoing and personable as he was, he would help anybody he could."

Cline added: "He had a unique gift to be able to communicate with kids and people. It's just a horrific loss and I wish we could make it all go away, but it's not going to happen."