Jeff Bernardi named fifth St. Joseph boys basketball coach

Photo of Joe Morelli

Jeff Bernardi had told his boys basketball players at East Lyme that the only way he was leaving was for “one of those high-profile jobs” across the CIAC boys basketball landscape.

One of those opportunities became available in late March. Less than two months later, Bernardi had landed a high-profile head coaching position: at St. Joseph.

The 37-year-old Bernardi was officially named the Cadets’ fifth head coach on Wednesday afternoon. He replaces Kevin Wielk, who resigned in March after four seasons.

Bernardi found out about the appointment on Monday morning.

“I was a little overwhelmed to be honest because I know the opportunity this program represents and I know I really wanted to coach at one of the really high-profile programs. To be named the next St. Joseph coach meant a whole lot to me.”

Bernardi, a Guilford native and Clinton resident, coached at East Lyme for eight seasons, leading the team to the ECC tournament championship this past March, defeating Norwich Free Academy, New London and Waterford en route to the title. The Vikings also advanced to the Division I tournament final in 2018 and 2021.

Bernardi also won a pair of ECC Division I championships at East Lyme in consecutive seasons (2018 and 2019).

Asked what he thought the difference was in him landing the job, Bernardi said, “I think my ability to turn a program around. My first year at East Lyme, we were 1-19. A couple years later, we were competing for an ECC championship. It was a relatively quick turnaround. I think also my organization skills, ability to communicate, foster really strong relationships with players and my attention to detail when it comes to preparation and team execution.”

Bernardi will meet the Cadets on Thursday morning according to a release on the school website.

“It was made very clear during the interview process Coach Bernardi’s attention to detail in coaching, his preparedness on and off the court and his ability for building a positive championship culture within his programs,” St. Joseph athletic director Kevin Butler said in the release.

Bernardi, an AP U.S. History teacher at Valley Regional High in Deep River, will be the first coach at St. Joseph with no previous ties to the program. Vito Montelli started the program, coached for 50 seasons and has a CIAC record 878 victories. He retired after the 2011-12 season.

“What Coach Montelli did in 50 years, it is one of the strongest programs in Connecticut basketball history,” Bernardi said. “I look forward to meeting with Coach Montelli. There is so much I can learn from him, I will benefit greatly from that relationship.”

Bernardi said telling his East Lyme players was “very bittersweet.” He is quite proud of all the relationships he has built in his eight seasons with the Vikings’ program.

“Leaving was very hard for me. I’ve been struggling with it the last two days,” Bernardi said. “The players were very receptive. They understood the opportunity coaching at St. Joes provides. They were very congratulatory, which meant a great deal to me.”

joseph.morelli@hearstmediact.com; @nhrJoeMorelli