get it home page promo

Winningest college football coach, Carroll program savior Gagliardi retires

2012-11-20T00:15:00Z Winningest college football coach, Carroll program savior Gagliardi retiresThe Associated Press The Associated Press
November 20, 2012 12:15 am  • 

MINNEAPOLIS — John Gagliardi put sleepy little Collegeville, Minn., on the national college football map with a style all his own.

After 60 years at Division III St. John’s, four national titles and more victories than any coach in NCAA history, Gagliardi is calling it a career at the tender age of 86.

“It’s unbelievable that I could make a living with a career in a game that is so popular and is such a huge business,” Gagliardi said Monday after announcing his retirement. “To be a small part of that has just been wonderful.”

He played a much larger role than he lets on, shirking the conventions of the stereotypical overbearing college coach. More teddy bear than Bear Bryant, Gagliardi banned whistles, tackling and, essentially, bad weather during practice.

If the notoriously thick swarms of Minnesota mosquitos were out for blood, the coach who only responded to “John” simply called it a day.

“It was working,” Gagliardi said. “So I figured I’ll keep doing it.”

Gagliardi started coaching college players at Carroll College in 1949 and spent the past six decades at the private school in central Minnesota. He retires with a record of 489-138-11 and surpassed Eddie Robinson for the career coaching victories record in 2003.

To think of St. John’s without Gagliardi in these parts is like trying to think of Duke without Coach K, the Rolling Stones without Mick Jagger, peanut butter without jelly.

“I can’t imagine St. John’s football without John Gagliardi on the sideline,” said Tom Linneman, a Johnnies quarterback from 1996-2000. “I don’t know what that looks like. And there are very few people alive that do know what it looks like.”

The seemingly carefree approach in a sport that seems to demand so much more certainly didn’t hold the Johnnies back once the games started. He won national titles in 1963, 1965, 1976 and 2003 and had managed to maintain the high expectations late into his tenure.

The Johnnies lost three games or fewer 13 straight seasons, from 1998-2010, and went undefeated in the MIAC five times in that span. But they stumbled the last two years, going 11-9 and getting dominated by rival St. Thomas both years.

“Nobody ever said that getting older was easy,” Gagliardi said. “I just can’t do the job at the level I used to anymore.”

Gagliardi’s coaching career began in 1943 when he was just 16. His high school coach at Trinidad Catholic in Colorado was drafted for World War II and Gagliardi, a team captain, took over and wound up coaching there and at St. Mary’s High School in Colorado Springs for six years.

In 1949, he got his first college gig at Carroll College, leading the team to three conference titles in four seasons.

Carroll’s football program was on the verge of being dropped when 23-year-old arrived in the Capital City. The school was so short of funds it couldn’t even afford matching uniforms. The rookie coach dug into his own pockets so that his football squad would look like a team. 

Expecting to go nowhere fast, Carroll upset Rocky Mountain College to the surprise of many in Gagliardi’s first game at the helm. After finishing the season 3-1, it was decided that football would remain a sport at the school for good.

The Saints were a powerhouse during Gagliardi’s years. In the late 40s-early 50s, they went five years without losing to a Montana Collegiate Conference opponent, winning 24 straight conference games and a handful of MCC championships. Gagliardi — who also coached the men’s basketball team — mentored at least 22 athletes who would one day find themselves in the Saints Hall of Fame. The man who was unique in his approach to the game — he didn’t believe in recruiting and didn’t see the significance of lifting weights — took a job at Saint John’s after four years at Carroll and has been there since. 

He took the reins at St. John’s in 1953, and piled up 27 conference titles, often upsetting his competition with a penchant for running up the score on overmatched opponents. He was inducted into the College Football Hall of Fame in 2006; since 1993, the outstanding Division III player of the year has taken home the Gagliardi Trophy.

“Arguably, John Gagliardi has impacted the lives of as many young men as any individual in the history of Saint John’s University,” school President Michael Hemesath said. “His legacy of educating young men at Saint John’s is one that any coach or professor would envy.”

His retirement even drew praise from the White House with press secretary Jay Carney lauding Gagliardi’s career and unique approach to the job.

“Even as his time on the gridiron comes to a close, Gagliardi’s genuine concern for players as scholar athletes and human beings will ensure that his influence will be felt for years to come,” the statement read.

“Maybe I ought to change my vote,” Gagliardi quipped.

Gagliardi’s 64 years were the most in college football coaching history, surpassing the record of 57 years held by former University of Chicago and University of the Pacific coach Amos Alonzo Stagg.

Linneman said Gagliardi’s trust in his players — he lets his quarterback call his own plays — is what endeared the coach to his pupils more than the easy-going nature in practice or resistance to calisthenics.

“I can talk to a guy who graduated in 1953 and we can have a mutually agreeable conversation because we have the same stories,” Linneman said. “That’s amazing. You have 60 years of football players tied together by playing for the same coach. There’s not a fraternity like Johnnies football.”

On the quiet campus 80 miles northwest of Minneapolis, the bookstore sells T-shirts with pictures of Gagliardi throughout his coaching career and the word “Legend.” There is no statue of Gagliardi on St. John’s campus, which is nestled amid prairies, lakes and forest and encloses an abbey. Yet.

Gagliardi will remain on the staff until his contract expires June 30, 2013. The search process for his replacement begins immediately.

And Gagliardi has a search of his own to begin. He said he doesn’t know what he’s going to do without the job that has in many ways defined him for three quarters of his life.

“It’s unchartered territory for me,” Gagliardi said. “Who knows what I’m going to face?”

He is looking forward to getting up in the stands at Clemens Stadium to see the view he’s been missing all these years.

“I’ll get up there and know everything,” he deadpanned, “just like the fans always seem to do.”

Copyright 2015 The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.

(1) Comments

  1. Curmudgeon
    Report Abuse
    Curmudgeon - November 20, 2012 9:51 am
    I well remember Coach "Gags"" from when I was a Carroll freshman. He was the 2nd most popular faculty man on campus, next to "Father Dutch" (Hunthausen).

    Here's wishing "Gags" a happy retirement.

Civil Dialogue

We provide this community forum for readers to exchange ideas and opinions on the news of the day. Passionate views, pointed criticism and critical thinking are welcome. Name-calling, crude language and personal abuse are not welcome. Moderators will monitor comments with an eye toward maintaining a high level of civility in this forum. Our comment policy explains the rules of the road for registered commenters. If you receive an error after submitting a comment, please contact us.

If your comment was not approved, perhaps:

    1. You called someone an idiot, a racist, a dope, a moron, etc. Please, no name-calling or profanity (or veiled profanity -- #$%^&*).

    2. You rambled, failed to stay on topic or exhibited troll-like behavior intended to hijack the discussion at hand.

    3. YOU SHOUTED YOUR COMMENT IN ALL CAPS. This is hard to read and annoys readers.

    4. You have issues with a business. Have a bad meal? Feel you were overcharged at the store? New car is a lemon? Contact the business directly with your customer service concerns.

    5. You believe the newspaper's coverage is unfair. It would be better to write the editor at editor@helenair.com. This is a forum for community discussion, not for media criticism. We'd rather address your concerns directly.

    6. You included an e-mail address or phone number, pretended to be someone you aren't or offered a comment that makes no sense.

    7. You accused someone of a crime or assigned guilt or punishment to someone suspected of a crime.

    8. Your comment is in really poor taste.

    9. Don't write a novel. If your comment is longer than the article you're commenting on, you might want to cut it down a bit. Lengthy comments will likely be removed.
Add Comment
You must Login to comment.

Click here to get an account it's free and quick

Follow the Independent Record

Great Helena Businesses

Clipped From The Newspaper