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3 The Man, the Coach 8 By the Decade 24 Reflections 34 A Career in Numbers 36 Coaching Moments 44 Thanks for the Memories

SAINT JOHN’S MAGAZINE is the magazine of Saint John’s University. It is published in the fall and winter and the CSB/ SJU Magazine is published with the College of Saint Benedict in the spring. This special edition is issued in honor of John Gagliardi.

EDITOR Jean Scoon

RESEARCH AND COPYWRITING Margaret Wethington Arnold


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Michael Hemmesch ’96 Ryan Klinkner ’04 Frank Rajkowski, Gagliardi: Road to the Record






ADDRESS CHANGES Ruth Athmann Saint John’s University P.O. Box 7222 Collegeville, MN 56321



Myron Hall Photo Collection, courtesy of the Stearns History Museum and Research Center, St. Cloud, Minn. Sacramento Bee Saint John’s University Archives Saint John’s University Athletics Saint John’s Abbey Archives Sports Illustrated: John Chiasson/Gamma-Liason St. Cloud Times Kimm Anderson John Biasi Thomas Brossart ’13 Brace Hemmelgarn ’12 Paul Middlestaedt Roger Rich/University of St. Thomas Steve Woit

© 2013 Saint John’s University

What can you say about a legend… For 60 years, John Gagliardi has been coaching Saint John’s students both on and off the field. He is well known for telling his players, “We are ordinary people, doing ordinary things, in an extraordinary way.” There is little John Gagliardi has done in his coaching career that seems ordinary. He has set records, won championships and earned titles. He has been inducted into the College Football Hall of Fame, received countless honors and has a national award named after him. It has become impossible to refer to him without including the words best, first, longest or winningest. And he deserves every bit of glory and praise for his success on the gridiron. Perhaps even more important than John’s accomplishments on the field at Saint John’s are his accomplishments off the field. He coached thousands of Johnnies,

Joe Mucha ’66 Chair, Board of Trustees


and many former players credit him with providing a model of leadership that shaped their lives. He’s famous for asking players to “just call me John,” and for not yelling or using a whistle. He didn’t have a mission statement, instead saying “just do it.” John prepared for hours for each game and gave his players the tools and the confidence to do their best, and to win. In the pages that follow, you will have the opportunity to learn more about an ordinary man who has done extraordinary things. What do you say to a legend? Thank you. Thanks for your contributions to the game of football. Thanks for your dedication to Johnnie athletics. And thanks for all you’ve done to educate and mentor young men for more than 60 years. Our alumni are your living legacy. You have been a gift and a blessing to the entire Saint John’s community.

Michael Hemesath ’81 President, Saint John’s University

He made men out of all of us. Not only was he a great coach who taught us how to play great football, but he also taught us how to be great people. —Craig Muyres ’64







Nov. 1, 1926 John Peter Gagliardi is born in Trinidad, Colo. He is the fifth of nine children born to Ventura and Antoinetta Gagliardi, who were originally from Calabria, Italy.

The Pilot, Dec. 9, 2012

Late 1930s Working for his father at G&A Body Shop, John also pursues his love of athletics and excels in football and basketball.

1947 On enrolling in Colorado College, John takes over as head football coach at St. Mary’s High School. He coaches the Pirates to one conference championship and one second-place finish in the two years he is there.


1949 John graduates from Colorado College.


1943 At 16, just before his senior year of high school, John takes over coaching duties at Trinidad’s Holy Trinity Catholic High School after the Tigers’ football coach, Dutch Clark, is called to military service, and Fr. Frank Sebastiani, principal, decides to cancel the season. 1944 John graduates from Holy Trinity Catholic High School, enrolls at Trinidad Junior College and coaches the Tigers to a conference title. Two more titles follow in 1945 and 1946.


“Frankly, I didn’t know if I knew what I was doing. I was trying to do what I thought was right.”

Fall 1949 Hired to coach football and other sports as well as serve as athletic director, John reports to Carroll College in Helena, Mont. The college’s struggling football program is on the verge of being dropped when the 23-year-old arrives in Montana’s capital city. The rookie coach digs into his own pockets to keep his football squad looking like a team. 1949-1952 During the four seasons he serves as head football coach, John has a record of 24-6-1. He leads the team to three conference titles. As basketball coach, his team claims two conference titles.


1953 Carroll upsets national power Gonzaga University on the hardwood, 68-66. February 1953 After Carroll’s basketball season is over, John travels to Collegeville, Minn., to meet with the football coach selection committee at Saint John’s University.

“I remember they asked me if I needed scholarships, and I said we were winning without them at Carroll (College). Boy, did their eyes light up when they heard that. It was a bunch of monks sitting at a table and

I’d see them looking at each other as I spoke.” St. Cloud Times, Oct. 7, 2003

May 13, 1953 A farewell banquet, hosted by the Carroll Monogram Club, is held for Carroll College’s departing coach. August 1953 At 26, John travels east on the Soo Line Railroad to Collegeville to begin his job as the head football coach at Saint John’s—nearly doubling his $2,400 salary to $4,400 annually. John is an immediate hit with his players, who weren’t much younger than he. When he first came on campus, people thought he was the new science teacher. With his glasses, he did not look like your typical football coach, especially compared to someone like McNally (Johnny ‘Blood’ McNally). John looked like more of the professor type. Jim Lehman ’56

November 1953 Having earned players’ respect in the preseason and season practices, John finishes an impressive first season coaching the Johnnies to 6-2 overall, 5-1 in the MIAC and ties for the MIAC title. Guard Chuck Froehle named John’s first All-American. Dear John: Just a friendly suggestion—you’re cute, Gag, but we think you’d be a heck of a lot cuter if you’d get new collegiatelooking frames for your glasses. Note from friends, March 1955

1954 Early on, John becomes friends with several of the monks, especially Fr. Adelard Thuente. After a MIAC championship season, and with permission of the monks, who were at first reluctant, John buys and brings the first television to campus.

On Saturday nights, his dorm room in Saint Mary Hall is often crowded with monks watching the Jackie Gleason Show. To satisfy the monks’ voracious appetite for news on the team, Gagliardi begins to hold special game-film screenings for the monks on Tuesday evenings, the day after the Monday film sessions he held for the team. The special screenings continue into the 1980s. Spring 1954 John serves as head track and field coach (until 1966). 1954 The Johnnies finish 6-2, 4-2 MIAC. The St. Cloud Jaycees award John the “Crying Towel,” an award the group gave to whichever local coach bemoaned his team’s prospects the most. The award sticks in the minds of reporters as they follow John over the decades.


Winter 1954 John serves as head hockey coach for five seasons, with a record of 42-25-1. (He still holds the best career-winning percentage of any hockey coach in school history.) He also serves as assistant basketball coach (until 1964).

“We’ve got some boys here at Saint John’s College who like to play rock ’em-sock ’em football and if some of our sophomores and freshmen develop we may get a little tough.” Fargo Forum, Sept. 7, 1955

Coach John Gagliardi, the weeping young maestro of Saint John’s football team, is off on another binge of melancholy that would arouse the envy of Shakespeare’s Hamlet. Only Gagliardi plays his lines with just enough comedy to avoid being absurd. He mourned the same way in 1953 when he tied for the MIAC championship and last year when he finished third. Minneapolis Tribune, Sept. 7, 1955

May 17, 1955 John takes Peg Dougherty, a nursing student from the College of Saint Benedict, on first official date to a spring formal. “The nuns were all crazy about him,” Peg recalled. “One time I kept him waiting about 10 minutes, and they were very upset with me.” (Rajkowski, Road to the Record) 1955 The Johnnies finish 7-2, 4-2 MIAC. John becomes a media favorite in his new environment,


often labeled “selfdeprecating” (Minneapolis Tribune), fearful of each opponent, no matter how poor the team may have been. Feb. 14, 1956 John Gagliardi and Peggy Dougherty, a native of Wahpeton, North Dakota, are married in St. Cloud at St. Paul’s Church on Valentine’s Day. “His ‘friends’ displayed school loyalty to the very last when they gave John Gagliardi, Johnny coach, his postwedding sendoff … They painted his car in the school colors, Cardinal and Blue.” (St. Cloud Daily Times, Feb. 15, 1956)

“The only good news I’ve had lately is that Concordia’s Porkonnen is a senior. I thought he was a junior.” The St. Cloud Daily Times, Nov. 6, 1956

Dec. 26, 1956 John and Peg’s first child, Nancy, is born. 1957 The Johnnies finish 5-3, 4-3 MIAC. June 6, 1958 John and Peg welcome son John. 1958 The Johnnies finish 6-2, 5-2 MIAC. Running back Duane Deutz named All-American. Summer 1959 The Gagliardi family moves from St. Cloud to Flynntown, where John’s players become part of an extended family.

1959 The Johnnies finish 5-3, 4-3 MIAC. Guard Felix Mannella named All-American.


Summer 1960 A group of freshmen—Craig Muyres, Ken Roering, Bernie Beckman, Bob Spinner and John McDowell— arrive in Collegeville and make a big impression during preseason workouts.

“We started out kind of shaky, and we decided to go with some of the freshmen. We were building, so some of those guys got some playing time and they took advantage of it.” Mankato Free Press, Oct. 30, 1963

1961 The Johnnies finish 6-2, 5-2 MIAC.

Dec. 5, 1961 John and Peg’s third child, Gina, is born. Fall 1962 The Johnnies begin the longest winning streak in SJU history, ending two years later with 20 straight games won. Nov. 1962 The Johnnies record their first undefeated regular season (9-0) of more than two games since 1944, and their first undefeated and untied season since 1906, but SJU is not invited to the playoffs. “Undefeated, unrivaled and uninvited” became the team’s rallying cry. 1963 Thirty-one of the 50 players on the Saint John’s roster either hailed from the Johnnies’ own backdoor or from high schools within the strong Central Catholic Conference (CCC). Sept. 25, 1963 An article in the Duluth News Tribune reads: “Yes, Mr. President! Grid Tension’s Great.” The article, in the form of a letter to President Kennedy, who is visiting Duluth, says it is a big week for UMD. “First, it was your appearance Tuesday night. Come Saturday, there’s another big event … This is the week that the proud UMD football team plays defending MIAC conference champion Saint John’s … UMD people have a burning desire to win Saturday’s football game, Mr. President.” Oct. 30, 1963 Three days before the final regular-season game at the College of St. Thomas, a reserve offensive lineman, Matthew Christensen, is killed in a bicycle

accident near campus. Rich Froehle and Matt’s brother, Nick, also a member of the football team, were pallbearers and arrived 10 minutes before the 2 p.m. kickoff in St. Paul. Dedicating the game to Matt, the Johnnies defeat the Tommies 32-6, winning the MIAC championship. ( (The Minneapolis Tribune, Nov. 2, 1963) Nov. 1, 1963 The Johnnies finish the regular season 10-0 and win the MIAC title, outscoring the opposition 298-45. Nov. 30, 1963 Eight days after President John F. Kennedy’s assassination, the Johnnies defeat Emporia State of Kansas 54-0 in front of a crowd of 12,438 at the Metropolitan Stadium in Bloomington.

front of a crowd of 12,220, including Minnesota Governor Karl Rolvaag. Defensive back/halfback Bernie Beckman, defensive tackle John McDowell and end Ken Roering named All-Americans. In a Christmas letter to family and friends days after winning the 1963 national championship, Peg writes: “ … We owe so much to the finest young men imaginable—our football players. … Nancy, Johnny and now Gina end each day praying ‘Please help Daddy win the game and thank You for letting Daddy win the last one.’ We have not lost since they have started this and life in a football family has been so much nicer in every way. We are humbly grateful.” Spring 1964 The Sagatagan Saint John’s Sagatagan, yearbook, captures the year’s championship win: “Well, this was it. Sacramento. The Championship. Gag was worried. As usual. But this time it was different. We all wondered how it would be. We meant to do our best.”


Dec. 14, 1963 Traveling to Sacramento, Calif., Saint John’s defeats Prairie View A&M, Texas, 33-27 to win the NAIA National Championship— John’s first—in the Camellia Bowl in

Also from the 1964 Sagatagan: “John Gagliardi—as a coach, and as a man—a winner.” 1964 With many players having graduated in the spring, the Johnnies finish 4-3, 4-3 MIAC. Rich Froehle named All-American.

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Oct. 9, 1965 John reaches a career milestone—his 100th win with a 34-6 victory over Hamline.


Nov. 6, 1965 The Johnnies have another undefeated season with an 11-0, 7-0 MIAC record. Tackle Fred Cremer and defensive back Pat Whalen named All-Americans. John and his team experience a season with the fewest points allowed: 27.


Nov. 27, 1965 Playing in 15-degree temperatures, the Johnnies take on Fairmont State of West Virginia at Metropolitan Stadium, winning 28-7. Dec. 11, 1965 In Augusta, Georgia, the Johnnies take on the Wildcats of Oregon’s Linfield College, winning 33-0 for John’s second national championship.


Spring 1966 After winning two national championships and the 1965 NAIA Coach of the Year, John and Peg are flown to Miami for consideration for the head coaching position for the AFL’s expansion team, the Miami Dolphins. Other collegiate job positions explored include assistant coach for the University of Notre Dame under Ara Parseghian, the United States Military Academy at West Point and South Dakota State University.


May 17, 1966 John and Peg welcome youngest member of the family, Jim.


… the Gagliardi’s roots have grown deep in Collegeville and while the football players come and go, the coach finds ever mounting peace and pleasure amidst the trees, lakes and trophies on the Collegeville campus.


The Catholic Bulletin, September 1966

“I kind of know where I stand in my family. Jim and I were having breakfast the other day. Jim says to me, ‘Dad, do you know what all great football coaches eat for breakfast?’ I said, ‘No, I don’t,’ and he said, ‘I didn’t think you did.’” St. Cloud Daily Times, Apr. 26, 1983

John Gagliardi may be the country’s seventh winningest coach in football but one department where he ranks near the bottom is that of optimism— Gagliardi is probably the world’s No. 1 pessimist. St. Cloud Daily Times, Sept. 22, 1966

Nov. 1, 1969 An 8-1-1, 5-1-1 MIAC season ends for the Johnnies with a 31-27 win over Hamline. How popular is Saint John’s John Gagliardi? He had 125 gridirons out for practice and not enough uniforms! St. Paul Pioneer Press, Sept. 3, 1969

1966 The Johnnies season ends with a record of 4-3-1, 3-3-1 MIAC. Fred Cremer is named All-American for the second time.

“I’m not ruthless enough to cut anybody.” The Salt Lake Tribune, Oct. 20, 1970

Nov. 29, 1969 The Johnnies are invited to play in the Mineral Water Bowl in Excelsior Springs, Missouri, where they defeat Iowa’s Simpson College 21-0.


1970 John Gagliardi’s new decade begins and his 17th season ends with a 6-3, 5-2 MIAC record.

“ … we have so many premeds and prelaws around here we don’t think of them as anything special. … We ask the boys whether they want to go to college to learn to become a football coach or to get themselves a Ph.D. We tell them to have some integrity, not just to auction themselves off to the highest bidder.” The Salt Lake Tribune, Oct. 20, 1970

Bud Grant was anything but the ‘old stoneface’ Monday night. With the rest of the huge crowd, he was constantly broken up by comedian John Gagliardi, football coach at Saint John’s University. And especially witty when he took the floor. Asked about the rumors Saint John’s didn’t give any financial aid to its football players, Gagliardi stepped to the microphone, ‘Did you hear about the …’ He never did answer the question but the audience loved him. Sun Suburban Newspaper, Apr. 1, 1971

1971 The Johnnies improve to an 8-1, 6-1 MIAC record. John Gagliardi is perhaps one of the funniest fellows I have ever heard at the podium … or in a living room. He could steal an audience from Sammy Davis Jr. with his dialect jokes. Patrick Reusse, St. Paul Pioneer Press, Sept. 19, 1971

Sept. 22, 1973 After a 28-14 win over Concordia-Moorhead, John checks himself into the St. Cloud Hospital with an abdominal ailment.

“Dear Team: That was a great performance Saturday. Sorry I couldn’t be there to congratulate you when we viewed the films. Don’t

think I’ll be here much longer. I do know that NOTHING, absolutely nothing, can stop us.” From his hospital bed on hospital stationery

Sept. 24, 1973 A letter from University of Minnesota Athletic Director Paul Giel recognizing John’s accomplishments: “I, too, have been a great admirer of John Gagliardi. He is a man’s man in every respect and undoubtedly one of the finest coaches in the country.” Fall 1973 Warner Palaestra, primary headquarters for Johnnie athletics, opens its doors. Nov. 5, 1973 John receives a telegram that reads: “I have been instructed to inform you that you have been nominated and elected to the Carroll College Football Hall of Fame. Your induction will be on


Sunday, November 16, at 7 p.m., Carroll Commons. It is hoped you will honor us with your presence.” “John is an unusual man who, in his warm-hearted way, can win anyone,” said Fr. Michael Blecker, president of Saint John’s University. “I found him most personable and enjoyable yet beneath that calm and considerate manner, I realized that there is a kind of personal strength and a steel-like quality which would make him a considerable opponent to face.”

competitor who brought out the best in me.” Duluth News Tribune, May 26, 1994

The Minneapolis Tribune, Nov. 4, 1973

1974 The Johnnies finish the season with a 7-2, 5-2 MIAC record and tie for the MIAC title. Summer 1975 John brainstorms a new offensive scheme—the quadruple option— and tries it out at home with his children. After his offense masters the play, Saint John’s wins seven straight games and seals the conference title. Oct. 11, 1975 The Johnnies play the University of Minnesota-Duluth for the last time when UMD moves to the Northern Intercollegiate Conference. At a banquet honoring UMD Head Coach Jim Malosky (who died in 2011), John said: “Jim is a fierce


October 1975 John and the rest of the athletic administration make a landmark decision for the university to withdraw Saint John’s athletics from the NCAA due to the association’s surprising rule change to reduce all home rosters. Fr. Michael Blecker, president of Saint John’s, writes: “The NCAA rule reducing home team rosters is contrary to our philosophy of maximum student participation at home games and thus prompts our withdrawal.” Later, the NCAA concedes its rule and allows unlimited roster size. The Johnnies go 8-1-1, 6-0-1 MIAC and win the conference title. Aug. 9, 1976 John is named Saint John’s new athletic director.

1976 The Johnnies have a perfect season with a 10-0-1, 7-0 MIAC record. The only tie is at the season opener against Minnesota-Morris 15-15. Nov. 20, 1976 The Johnnies accept an NCAA III bid and defeat Augustana College in Rock Island, Ill. A week later the team defeats Buena Vista of Iowa 61-0 in belowzero temperatures in Collegeville.


Dec. 4, 1976 The Johnnies defeat Maryland’s Towson State 31-28 in the nationally televised Amos Alonzo Stagg Bowl at the Phenix Municipal Stadium in Phenix City, Ala., in front of 7,214 fans. The victory gave John his third national championship and first title as a member of NCAA Division III. John travels to Washington D.C. to be honored at the Washington D.C. Touchdown Club. Others honored include Jack Kemp, John Madden, Tony Dorsett, Ken Stabler and Roger Staubach. From a Dec. 7, 1976, letter from Senator Hubert Humphrey: “So Saint John’s won the NCAA

Division III National Championship last week at the Alonzo Stagg Bowl. That’s wonderful. My hearty congratulations! I know much planning and practicing and hard work goes into a winning effort and I want you, your staff and all the team members to know how proud of you we are and how pleased we are to have you represent Minnesota.” From a Dec. 13, 1976, letter from then and now current U.S. Congressman Rick Nolan ’66: “I would like to congratulate you and your football team for their tremendous victory in becoming the NCAA Division III champions. … As a former Johnnie I am especially proud to join your many friends in wishing you, personally, many more winning years as a coach.”

Coach John Gagliardi Sr. and quarterback John Gagliardi Jr. parlayed senior’s knowledge and junior’s execution into Saint John’s 21-9 victory over St. Olaf Saturday. John Sr. said: “It’s hard coaching your son.” John Jr. said: “It’s easy playing for my dad; he’s the greatest coach in the world.” The Minneapolis Tribune, Oct. 21, 1979

1977 The Johnnies season ends with a 7-2, 7-0 MIAC record, capturing the MIAC title. The team loses 20-9 in the first round of the NCAA Division III playoffs against Wabash, Ind., on a frozen field in Collegeville. Aug. 20, 1979 The Football Writers Association of America notifies John that he is receiving one of its Coaching Citations “for long and meritorious service.” 1979 In an unusual fourway tie, Saint John’s joins Concordia, St. Thomas and St. Olaf in capturing the MIAC. This is Saint John’s 10th MIAC title.

August 1977 John Gagliardi, Jr., begins his first season playing for the Johnnies. (Pictured above with his sisters, Nancy and Gina.)


1980s The annual Kick-off Luncheon begins with a few of John’s close friends, including St. Cloud attorney John Quinlivan.

Attendance at the popular event eventually grows to more than 200.

Oct. 3, 1980 John’s father, Ventura A. Gagliardi, passes away.



Oct. 11, 1980 John reaches his 200th career collegiate victory with a 45-10 win against Bethel in Collegeville.



1980 The season ends with a 5-3, 5-3 MIAC record. Hope it isn’t true that coaching genius John Gagliardi’s not hungry any more up at Saint John’s since he hit the 200win mark. Not having the Jays (Johnnies) at the top of the college league is like watching Dean Martin without a red nose. St. Paul Pioneer Press, Oct. 28, 1980

1981 The Johnnies season ends with a 7-2, 6-2 MIAC record. Joe Kiley named All-American. John: A nice article on a great coach and man. I have yet to meet an alumnus who wasn’t proud to have at Saint John’s as part of his life experience. You have contributed much to that legacy. Letter from Bill Sexton ’55


“Look at those big, thick walls on the old monastery. That building was built solid —on fundamentals. We try to do the same thing with our football. I’m no Knute Rockne. We don’t cater to superstars. But we get nice intelligent young men and they seem to like the way things are run.” St. Paul Pioneer Press, Oct. 26, 1981

1982 The Johnnies capture the MIAC championship with a season record of 9-1, 8-0 record. Rick Bell is named All-American. Peg Gagliardi joins the SJU athletic staff. “Go see Peg. She would know,” is commonly heard in the Palaestra corridors for the next 20 some years. Oct. 7, 1982 Minneapolis Star Tribune sports columnist and WCCO Radio “Sports Hero” host Sid Hartman writes to John: “John: Enclosed is a copy of the sports hero that was aired on WCCO radio. I can’t believe there is a coach any place in the country who does a better job than you do. You win year after year. And not under the best circumstances.” Nov. 20, 1982 Traveling to Northwestern of Iowa, the Johnnies lose 33-28 in the first round of the NAIA playoffs against Northwestern College in Orange City, Iowa. The defeat stunned the Johnnies and was the first fall for Saint John’s on soil outside of Minnesota in twelve opportunities (11-1).


“They needed a fancy name for the new gymnasium. So, now we get letters addressed to ‘Warner Palaestra.’ People think he’s another Italian who works here. Weightlifting … they can take it or leave it as far as I’m concerned but we had to put in a new room just in self-defense. Did you ever see the weight room at St. Thomas? We had to have one to show the recruits.” The St. Paul Dispatch, Sept. 23, 1982

Early 1983 John is offered the head coaching position at the University of San Diego. University officials fly John and Peg to California and give them a tour of the picturesque campus, which overlooks the Pacific Ocean. John turns down the offer.

“I got back (from San Diego) and I was so confused. I still hadn’t made a decision. So I said, ‘Lord, you have to help me make a decision.’ I pulled out a coin, and said, ‘heads, San Diego, tails, I’d stay.’ I flipped the coin, and it came up heads. I said, ‘Let’s make that two out of three.’ I knew this was where I should be … Anyways, I knew that Minnesota

will never fall into Lake Superior.” St. Cloud Times, Apr. 23, 1983

Sept. 10, 1983 With a final series record of 37-17-1 dating back to Oct. 26, 1901, the Johnnies play St. Cloud State for the last time with a 41-21 loss at Selke Field. St. Cloud State moves up to Division II by joining the North Central Conference. Nov. 20, 1983 After a seven-game winning streak, the season ends with a 7-4, 7-2 MIAC record in a 30-7 loss to Minnesota-Duluth at the newly built Metrodome in Minneapolis. 1984 Gagliardi of St. John’s John’s, by St. Paul Pioneer Press columnist Don Riley and John Gagliardi, is published. The Johnnies season ends with a 6-3, 6-3 MIAC record. January 1985 John is offered an assistant-coach position by Bud Grant and the Minnesota Vikings. He declines the offer, stating that Saint John’s is where he wants to be.

“Maybe 10 years ago I might have snapped it up. But I’ve been here so long this is probably where I belong. I don’t know whether I’ve molded this job or it has molded me.” John Gagliardi in Ryan Klinkner ’04, M.A. thesis

1985 John’s son Jim begins playing for the Johnnies as a wide receiver. Saint John’s wins the MIAC title with a record of 8-2, 8-1 record. Nov. 23, 1985 The Johnnies travel to Los Angeles to play Occidental College in the first round of the NCAA Division III Playoffs. The team loses 28-10. Nov. 1, 1986 With nearly 245 career wins, John turns 60 with a 21-21 tie game against Macalester. 1987 The Johnnies complete the season with a 8-3, 7-2 MIAC record against the backdrop of the Minnesota Twins winning the World Series against the St. Louis Cardinals. 1988 The Johnnies finish the season with a 7-2, 7-2 MIAC record. Tight end Dan Grant, son of former Minnesota Vikings Coach Bud Grant, is named All-American. 1989 In one of the school’s best seasons since 1976, the Johnnies capture the MIAC and finish 10-

1-1, 8-0-1, going on to beat Simpson 42-35 and Central of Iowa 27-24 in the first two rounds of the NCAA Division III playoffs. Dec. 2, 1989 The Johnnies fall to University of Dayton at Dayton, Ohio, 28-0 in the national championship semifinals. At 63, John closes almost four decades coaching the Johnnies.


Oct. 27, 1991 Retiring St. Olaf head football coach Tom Porter and John play each other for the last time after having competed every year for 32 years. 1991 With a season finish of 11-1, 8-0 MIAC, Saint John’s captures the MIAC title. Saint John’s then crushes Coe College of Iowa 75-2 (the Johnnies biggest margin of victory) in the first round of the NCAA playoffs and follows the performance with a 29-10 win against WisconsinLa Crosse at the Metrodome. But Saint John’s loses for the second consecutive opportunity in the semifinals to the University of Dayton 19-7. Intended SJU tennis player-turned-quarterback Pat Mayew named All-American. August 1992 Sports Illustrated “College Football Preview” features a story about John. The three-page article by Austin Murphy investigates the winning tradition in Collegeville and John’s unorthodox coaching style.

1992 Jim Gagliardi ’88 begins his first season as his father’s assistant coach. The Johnnies finish the season 8-1-1, 7-1-1 MIAC. Offensive lineman Burt Chamberlin and defensive back Greg Thoma named All-Americans. April 1993 Josten’s and the SJU J-Club unveil the new Gagliardi Trophy. The award, Division III’s version of the Heisman Trophy, is awarded to the nation’s outstanding Division III player.


“I thought you had to have the decency to be dead before you receive something like that.” St. Cloud Times, June 2, 1993

June 2, 1993 The St. Cloud Times reports on John’s friendship with actor Ed O’Neill, a former Youngstown State football player who played Al Bundy in the television show Married … With Children. O’Neill read an article about John and his low-key manner in the Wall Street Journal and gave him a call. “ … I would have killed to play for a man like John. I would admire John even if he wasn’t successful.” (Today, Ed O’Neill plays Jay Pritchett in ABC’s Emmy award-winning sitcom Modern Family.) August 1993 John breaks his leg when Greg Orth, a 290-pound lineman, goes flying into him at practice. The injury requires surgery. Trying to keep his routine, he uses crutches, a wheelchair and golf cart at practices. On John’s pain tolerance, from his defensive coordinator, Jerry Haugen: “A deer fly bit John on the hand at practice one night.


He complained about it for three days.” Star Tribune, August 1993

Sept. 1993 John steps down as SJU’s athletic director, saying in a St. Cloud Times interview that he is not tired of football, “but I’m tired of a lot of other things. It’s time. It’s time to let go of a few things, and I’d rather let this go rather than football.” Oct. 16, 1993 John reaches his 300th career collegiate victory with a win against Bethel 77-12. He’s now in the running for the record for the coach with the most wins in college football history.





1993 For the 15th time, John captures the MIAC championship with a 12-1, 9-0 MIAC season record and wins in the first two rounds of the NCAA Division III against Coe of Iowa 32-14 and Wisconsin-La Crosse 47-25. The Johnnies lose to Mount Union 56-8

in the NCAA national semifinals. Burt Chamberlin, Willie Seiler, Jim Wagner, Matt Malmberg and Tony Lesch named All-Americans.The team scores the most points in a season: 702. Sports Illustrated names Willie Seiler its 1993 Division III Player of the Year after he shatters the NCAA all-divisions record for passing efficiency with a rating of 224.6 in ten games. 1994 The Johnnies finish 11-2, 8-1 MIAC and capture the MIAC championship title. Winning both playoff games against La Verne, Calif., 51-12, and Wartburg, Iowa, 42-14, the Johnnies lose in the national semifinals to Albion, Mich., 19-16. Jim Wagner, Chris Palmer, Brian Kohorst and Jeremy Loretz named All-Americans. Loretz also receives the MIAC Most Valuable Player award. May 3, 1995 Elementary school student Cami Kost, daughter of 1976 championship starter Tom Kost ’78, writes to John telling

him she selected him as a famous person to write about for an English assignment. Cami told him she picked him “… because I thought your life story was cool … I had a lot of information about you because my dad collects it.” Cami went on to graduate from CSB in 2004. 1995 John moves into second place on the all-time victory list, passing Paul “Bear” Bryant. His team captures the MIAC championship with an 8-1-1, 9-0 MIAC season. One of John’s own players, Chris Palmer, becomes the first Johnnie to win the Gagliardi Trophy. Sept. 20, 1996 Wall Street Journal “On Sports” columnist Frederick C. Klein features John in an article titled “Winning Coach Says Football Should Be Fun.” Klein says: “I interviewed Mr. Gagliardi for this column in 1992, but this is a man worth revisiting. Anyone who succeeds unconventionally fills that bill, but I think this is especially noteworthy in football, a game that’s typically pursued with all the joy that prison chain gangs apply to their labors.”

“It’s not that I dislike officials. In fact, I always look for Christmas cards for them, but I can’t find them in braille.” Saint John’s Magazine, Autumn 2003

November 1996 A few weeks after John turns 70, his team goes on to

the NCAA Division III playoffs and defeats Simpson, Iowa, 21-18 but loses to Wisconsin-La Crosse 37-30. Jesse Redepenning and defensive back Brett Mushatt named All-Americans. 1997 The Johnnies finish the season 6-4, 6-3 MIAC. Defensive lineman Matt Griffith is named All-American. 1998 The Johnnies finish 11-1, 9-0 MIAC and capture the MIAC championship. The Johnnies return to the NCAA Division III playoffs and win the first round 33-20 against Pacific Lutheran, Wash., but lose to Wisconsin-Eau Claire. Linebacker Brandon Novak named All-American. November 1998 John is featured by NFL Films, NFL Films Presents: Men of Minnesota. August 1999 At the beginning of the practice season, Austin Murphy of Sports Illustrated returns to Collegeville to spend the entire season documenting John and the Johnnies for his book The Sweet Season. November 1999 For the 20th time, John’s team captures the MIAC championship with a record of 11-2, 8-1 MIAC and goes on to the NCAA Division III playoffs. The Johnnies defeat WisconsinStevens Point 23-10 in round one and Central, Iowa, 10-9 but lose to Pacific Lutheran, Wash., 19-9. Novak is named All-American and is joined this time by punter Phil Barry. Novak is also named the MIAC Most Valuable Player.

Dec. 5, 1999 John’s mother, Antoinetta M. Gagliardi, passes away. Dec. 27, 1999 On the eve of a new century, Sports Illustrated ranks John #19 in the “50 Greatest Sports Figures from Minnesota, 1900-2000.”


2000 For the 15th time in his career, John’s team makes it to post-season play, winning the MIAC title, 8-2, but falling to Mount Union 10-7 on a last second field goal in the NCAA Division III title game at the Amos Alonzo Stagg Bowl. Offensive lineman Chris Salvato, tight end Nate Kirschner, linebacker Beau LaBore, defensive lineman Alex Wesley, running back Chris Moore and quarterback Tom Linnemann named All-Americans. On the monks at Saint John’s:

“They gave me vows—until defeat do us part!” “I have a lifetime contract at Saint John’s, but the monks can declare me legally dead at any time.” “I was coaching here when General Custer came through on his way to Montana for his last stand.”


Aug. 20, 2001 The Sweet Season, by Sports Illustrated writer Austin Murphy, is released. October 2001 No-How Coaching, by Jim Collison, is released. 2001 The Johnnies’ 11-3, 8-1 MIAC season captures the MIAC title. Winning three games in the NCAA Division III playoffs, the team makes it to the semifinals but is defeated by Mount Union 3514 for the second year in a row. August 2002 As John begins his 50th season with Saint John’s, his team moves to practicing and playing on new artificial turf in SJU’s Clemens Stadium. Sept. 21, 2002 John is featured on NBC’s Today with Katie Couric and Matt Lauer on his 50 years of coaching and successful program. November 2002 The Johnnies capture the MIAC title with a season record of 12-2, 8-0 MIAC and win three games in the NCAA Division III playoffs, falling to Trinity of Texas 41-34 in the national semifinals. Widereceiver Blake Elliott, defensive end Jeremy Hood, linebacker Cam McCambridge and defensive back Ryan Danielson are named AllAmericans.



Dec. 7, 2002 John earns his 400th career collegiate victory in a playoff




game against Linfield with a score of 21-14. Summer and Fall 2003 Anticipation of a “perfect season” is high throughout Collegeville and grows regionally and nationally as John approaches the season just eight wins away from tying the NCAA record of 408 held by the late Eddie Robinson. Eighteen sons of his former players are on the 2003 roster. Nov. 1, 2003 On his 77th birthday, John ties the record for winningest coach with a 15-12 win over St. Thomas in front of 7,300 fans. Nov. 8, 2003 Known as the “409 Game,” John breaks the all-time collegiate football victory record with a 29-26 win against Bethel in front of 13,107 fans. Nov. 17, 2003 John, Peg, Jim and others representing Saint John’s attend a White House ceremony presided over by President George W. Bush. President Bush says: “Not only is he a good coach, he’s first and foremost a very decent person. We honor his values.” John, Peg and Jim are granted a private meeting with the president, where he said to the three: “I kind of like a guy who takes after his father.”


Dec. 20, 2003 After a perfect season with a record of 14-0, 8-0 MIAC, John’s team wins the NCAA Division III National Championship in a 24-6 win against Mount Union at Salem Stadium. With this national championship, John’s record stands at 414-11411. Offensive lineman Justin Cass, wide receiver Blake Elliott, defensive end Jeremy Hood, linebacker Cam McCambridge and defensive linebacker Ryan Weinandt are named All-Americans. Elliott receives the 2003 Gagliardi Trophy. January 2004 Already a Notable Alumnus and recognized on the college’s Wall of Distinction, John ’49 is inducted into the Colorado College Athletic Hall of Fame.

Gagliardi: Road to the Record, by St. Cloud Times sportswriter Frank Rajkowski, is released. 2005 The Johnnies finish the season with a 11-1, 8-0 MIAC record, capture the MIAC title and return to the NCAA Division III playoffs with a win against Monmouth, Ill., 62-3 and a 34-7 loss to Wisconsin-Whitewater. June 2006 John is inducted into the National Association of Collegiate Directors of Athletics (NACDA) Hall of Fame. Aug. 12, 2006 John becomes the first active coach inducted into the College Football Hall of Fame at the 2006 Enshrinement Festival

Ronnie Mallett (E, Central Arkansas, 1978-81), Jerry Rice (WR, Mississippi Valley State, 198184), Dick Farley (Head coach, Williams, 1983-2003) and Vernon “Skip” McCain (Head coach, Maryland-Eastern Shore, 1948-63). Sept. 4, 2006 NBC’s Today features John, freshman defensive back Bobby Klint ’10 and Klint’s grandfather, All-American Felix Mannella ’60. 2006 The Johnnies finish the season with an 11-2, 7-1 MIAC record, tying for the MIAC title—John’s 25th—and winning the first two rounds of the NCAA Division III playoffs. The team loses 17-14 to Wisconsin-Whitewater in the third round.

against Redlands, Calif., and losing 37-7 to Central of Iowa. John is named the 2007 Liberty Mutual Division III Coach of the Year. 2008 The Johnnies finish the season 8-3, 6-3 MIAC, capture the MIAC title and move on to the national playoffs, losing in the first round to Wisconsin-Whitewater 37-7. Jan. 13, 2009 John is presented with the 2009 Amos Alonzo Stagg Award by the American Football Coaches’ Association (AFCA). The award honors those “whose services have been outstanding in the advancement of the best interests of football.” Fall 2009 Joey Benson ’13, John’s grandson, begins at SJU and plays for the Johnnies. Joey will be joined by his brother Johnny Benson ’15 in the 2011 season and Billy Gagliardi ’16 in the 2012 season. Sept. 19, 2009 SJU defeats ConcordiaMoorhead 31-19 in John’s 600th game.

in South Bend, Ind., presented by the National Football Foundation and the College Football Hall of Fame. Other members of the 2006 Divisional Class include Kevin Dent (DB, Jackson State, 1985-88), John Friesz (QB, Idaho, 1986-89),

Nov. 1, 2006 John celebrates his 80th birthday. 2007 John completes his 55th season at Saint John’s. The Johnnies finish the season with a 10-2, 7-1 MIAC record and earn a spot in the national playoffs, winning 41-13

2009 The Johnnies finish the season with a near perfect record of 10-1, 8-0 MIAC and capture the MIAC title but lose 27-34 to Coe, Iowa, in the first round of the NCAA Division III national playoffs. This is John’s 27th and last MIAC championship title and his last visit to the national playoffs. Oct. 2, 2010 Saint John’s and St. Thomas play in front of a record


NCAA Division III crowd of 16,421 in Collegeville. The Tommies escape with a 27-26 win in overtime.


2010 The Johnnies complete the 2010 season 7-3, 6-2 MIAC. The three losses were decided by a total of seven points. Spring 2011 John and Peg Gagliardi move from Flynntown to a home on Watab Lake, just a few miles from SJU. Nov. 1, 2012 John turns 86. Nov. 10, 2012 The Johnnies complete the season 5-5, 3-5 MIAC, falling to Bethel 27-22. Nov. 19, 2012 John announces his retirement as Saint John’s University’s head football coach. “Today is another milestone for the greatest head coach in the history of college football. I witnessed him spending his days passionately doing what he loved, coaching college football and mentoring young men. And, because it was such a passion for him, no one has ever done or will ever do it better.” Tom Stock, SJU athletic director, Nov. 19, 2012

“On behalf of the President, I want to congratulate John Gagliardi on his retirement as the winningest coach in college football history. Over the course of 64 seasons—60 of them at his beloved Saint John’s—Gagliardi’s 486 wins put him among the greatest to ever coach the game. With a career that began as a 16-year-old after his high school coach was called to serve in World War II, Gagliardi was never the most conventional figure. He instructed his players to call him ‘John’ instead of ‘Coach,’ and in turn, called each of his more than 100 players by their first names. His refusal to allow tackling in practice and his insistence that players make class before practice also became the stuff of legend. But the unusual methods worked—earning St. John’s four national championships. And 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 White House, Office of the Press Secretary, Nov. 19, 2012

John reacts to congratulations from the White House:

“I can’t believe that. I didn’t vote for him. ... Maybe I better change my vote.”


Nearly 800 media outlets—television, radio, newspapers, magazines and blogs—covered John’s retirement from coaching after 64 years. They described his career highlights, commented on his philosophy and winning ways and honored the legend. In addition to the New York Times, the Los Angeles Times, The Huffington Post, ESPN, Sports Illustrated and FOX News, John’s story was also covered in places like Trinidad, Colo.; Helena, Mont.; Memphis, Tenn.; and Vermont.

his retirement this week after 60 seasons in the hut-hut haven he created at Collegeville: Gagliardi won an alldivisions record 489 games with a ‘no rules’ philosophy that challenged the ‘Junction Boys’ construct that football players had to be treated like boot-camp soldiers.” Los Angeles Times, Nov. 22, 2012

From the Associated Press “To think of Saint 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.”

From President Michael Hemesath, Saint John’s University “… the beauty of John Gagliardi over the past 60 years is that he’s shown it’s absolutely possible to live out those values (Catholic and Benedictine) and win games at the same time … John, through his success, has raised the profile and that’s brought more benefits than we ever had the right to expect from our football program.”

Nov. 19, 2012

St. Cloud Times, Dec. 16, 2012

From “The Ed Show” “Saint John’s has produced the best coach ever, and he has the numbers to prove it. MSNBC, Nov. 21, 2012

From columnist Chris Dufresne “… an ode to 86-year-old John Gagliardi, the legendary Division III Saint John’s (Minn.) coach who announced

“Seventy years (60 at SJU) is a long time to be doing the same job. Luckily, I’ve always been blessed with great players, friends, family and support to make it this far.”



What John Taught Me, or Brains over Brawn Bob Gavin ’62 A blocker could easily move a much larger Football was important. “After Saint John’s, what do you opponent out of the way by using leverage think your son will pursue? Medical But it was never more and the correct angle to apply the block. school or graduate school?” As my important than studying The first step you took and the angle parents and I started our visit to Saint were key to properly carrying out your John’s in the late fall of 1957, John hard and being a assignment. Gagliardi posed those questions to my good person. John used films of the games to mother. That was my first impression reinforce the lessons that he taught in the of John. Clearly, he was different from step-by-step drills. He could spot what allowed each play to the football coaches I had met on other campus visits. John be successful or to fail. We dreaded the film sessions on the mentioned academics first. The other coaches opened with Monday following a game. Every single mistake would be how well football players were housed or fed or how great pointed out by John, repeating the mistake over and over their facilities were. John’s message was that SJU would on the screen to make his point. He also noted when you provide an excellent education and prepare you for life. John and Saint John’s delivered on the implied promise. made the correct move but, to the best of my recollection, he would only show that one time. For example, among the 11 starting players in my senior To this day, when my SJU roommate, close friend and year, three went on to receive M.D.’s, three Ph.D.’s and two fellow guard/linebacker Bob Praus and I watch games on master’s degrees. The other three starters graduated with solid academic majors—admirable statistics for any football any level, from high school to professional, we still point out to each other the mistakes that made a play succeed team and a tribute to John’s values and leadership. or fail. In the late 1950s and early 1960s, student grade point I spent 40 years in education and never encountered averages were published in the student newspaper. In those another educator who had a more lasting impact on years, John made it a practice to compute the GPA for the learning than John Gagliardi. team members and compare that to the averages for other If a coach wants his players to graduate and go on organizations on campus. He would proudly point out that in their chosen careers, he must allow them freedom to the football team consistently had the highest GPA of any choose courses they need, even if the time conflicts with student organization. the practice schedule. My junior year I wanted to take both From the very first practice, it was obvious that John physical chemistry and analytical chemistry in the same was an educator who taught his players how to perform term, which would place me in laboratories four afternoons on the football field at the highest level. He taught us how a week and possibly make me late for practice by 15 to 30 to play intelligently and not just rely on brawn; leverage, minutes on many days. I was on the starting 11 that season, pursuit angles and first steps were emphasized. In those yet never once did John suggest that I cut out of a lab to be days, a player played both ways, offense and defense. at the full practice. Sadly, very few college coaches have the John would show you how to execute both offensive and same attitude. defensive plays step by step. The direction of your first step The one thing everyone knows about John is that he in a pursuit would determine whether the runner would get hates to lose. Nothing is harder on him than losing a game. around you or if you were in position to make a tackle.


He is in pain for days. Many coaches with this strong desire to win and abhorrence of losing adopt a win-at-any-cost philosophy. Not John. This was brought home to me my senior year. Our team was off to a fast start, winning our first five games by wide margins, when we were upset by Macalester, 15 to 14. The next game was against St. Thomas, and we would end the season with UMD, the perennial power. On Thursday morning before the St. Thomas game, my fiancée’s father died and was to be buried on Saturday morning. I immediately went to John to tell him that I needed to go to Minneapolis to be with my “girlfriend” for the wake and funeral. John asked, “Is this a serious girlfriend or just someone you are dating?” I apologized for saying “girlfriend” and told him she was my fiancée, and we had

our wedding set for next June. John then said, “Please give my sympathy to her and arrange for a teammate to get your equipment to the game at St. Thomas. See you there.” John’s team had been upset the previous Saturday, we faced archrival St. Thomas on the approaching Saturday, a showdown for the conference championship after that, and his starting guard and linebacker was putting a family matter ahead of getting ready for the game. I cannot imagine any other coach saying what he did. For John, there were matters more important than practicing for a football game. Being with those you love at their time of need was one. By the way, we beat St. Thomas, 38-15, but lost a close one at UMD. My “girlfriend” and I celebrated our fiftieth wedding anniversary this past June. John’s record of 489 wins is truly remarkable and makes him the winningest football coach in history. The most important thing to note is that his philosophy is as unique as his success with winning. Academics first, teach fundamentals, drilling proper execution and, above all else, be a good person. Being coached by John is an education about how to play the game of football and how to live an honorable life. Thank you, John, for 60 wonderful years! Robert Gavin, Ph.D., served as president of Macalester College from 1984-1996. He held faculty and administrative positions at Haverford College for more than two decades prior to assuming Macalester’s presidency. He was an All American lineman for the Johnnies.



“… and the Monks Provide the Prayers” Fr. Wilfred Theisen ’52, OSB For several decades, John has been The monks of Saint John’s among the best running backs he had referred to in the media as a “legendary” ever seen. But when the father insisted were John’s avid fans and coach. Now that he has retired, the that his son would enroll at Saint John’s legend will grow, as former players and closest friends from the only if John promised to start him as friends recall his remarkable career at a freshman, John refused, saying, “I very beginning. Saint John’s. There is already a legendary can’t do that. I have upperclassmen quality to the 1953 recruiting interview that I have to play.” The list of players between John and four monks, Fathers Conrad Diekmann, who rewarded that loyalty and trust with outstanding Jeremy Murphy, Adelard Thuente and Martin Schirber. performances in their senior year includes many of his First they asked John if he could win without scholarships, greatest players. As an additional reward for staying with and he responded that he won championships at Carroll the team, John allowed all the seniors on the team to College without them. Then he was asked if he could beat consider themselves captains, knowing that this honor Gustavus, and he said, “Sure.” Later on he admitted that he would be impressive on their resumes after graduation. had never heard of Gustavus. Alumni of the 1950s and earlier will remember that If John had been asked, “Will you promote Benedictine Saint John’s had a tradition of freshmen initiation. Most of values in your coaching?,” he would have assured the the practices were of the silly sort like wearing little green committee they need have no worry along that line. Only beanies and doing errands for senior players. Sometimes, later would he have asked one of his monk friends: “What however, the upperclassmen used large wooden paddles to are Benedictine values?” But whether he called it one or humiliate freshmen. On one occasion, a few upperclassmen not, the chief Benedictine value, respect for the individual, got overenthusiastic and actually injured one of John’s was a guiding principle for John throughout his career. The players. Before long, John was able to convince the Rule of Benedict expresses the principle this way, “When administration to ban this tradition as being degrading, calling the community to counsel, all should be called, as humiliating and potentially harmful. the Spirit often reveals what is better to the younger.” All losses were painful for John, especially those to John’s faithfulness to this value is the reason that nearly all St. Thomas, but John was not reluctant to recognize great of his players will tell you that John not only taught them playing by opponents when he saw it. In the 1990s, St. a lot about football, he taught them about life. There are Thomas had the best running back in Division III football, many specific examples of how he applied this value in his Gary Trettel. After a loss to the Tommies because of Trettel’s career. Here are a few. outstanding performance, John made a point of going to John would have liked to play all of his 180 players their locker room after the game to congratulate him. at once, but rules made this impossible. However, As an Italian (most Italians being Catholic), John could players who stayed with the team for their freshmen and not help but treasure his relationship with the monks. At sophomore years but saw little playing time were given the beginning of his career, his room in Mary Hall became every opportunity to play as upperclassmen. One year the a lounge for monks, since he had the only television set father of an outstanding high school running back showed on campus. For years, he showed Saturday game films on John films of his son. John admitted that the boy was the following Tuesday to an audience of more than 40


Some of Fr. Wilfred’s favorite “Gagliardi-isms”

“It takes talent, luck and prayers to win, and the monks provide the prayers.” “The monks take the vow of poverty, but I have to keep it.” “When I see the blue smoke coming up from monks’ cigars above the field, I know we’re in trouble.” “Br. Dietrich might know the way to heaven and hell, but he doesn’t know the way to Interlachen Golf Course.” “I was hoping to get a Lexus when I broke the record, but the monks don’t know what a Lexus is.” (L to R) Fr. Wilfred Theisen, Gary Marlow ’72, John and Dave Arnold ’73 monks. Whether he thought the monks would ever use the knowledge or not, John often analyzed the plays for them. A few monks stand out as close friends with John. Among the prefects in Saint Mary Hall when it was John’s residence was Fr. Adelard Thuente, known both for his expertise in biology and his creative teaching. He threw away his notes every year, which was one reason he kept his students engaged in his lectures. Until his untimely death at 49 in 1962, Fr. Adelard was both friend and mentor to John. His “no-notes” teaching might have inspired some of John’s “100 Nos.” On one occasion, John tried to recruit Fr. Paul Marx as an assistant coach, but Fr. Paul told him, “John, when I was coaching in high school I was making up plays while I was saying Mass. I don’t want to get back to that.” Until artificial turf was introduced in 2000, Br. Mark Kelly was responsible for keeping the playing field in shape.

John knew this was a relationship that had to be cultivated, and Br. Mark was frequently rewarded for his diligence with dinner at the Gagliardi home. Evidence of John’s curious and open mind is seen on occasions when he meets with experts in various fields. Over the years, I invited John to have lunch with nuclear physicists, medieval historians, theologians, scripture scholars and biologists. The last topic John wanted to talk about was football; he peppered the experts with questions about their achievements, eager to take advantage of them to learn something new. I am one of the thousands who consider themselves blessed because our lives coincided with his. Fr. Wilfred Theisen, CSB/SJU physics professor emeritus, has missed only two home football games since 1945.



A National Treasure Austin Murphy John Gagliardi is as gracious as he is Perspective, humility and football journey, on a high school field shrewd and generous and smart, which in Trinidad, Colo., he discovered a excellent listening skills is why he never told me he wasn’t crazy different path. You could win games about the book I wrote based on my without degrading players. You could aren’t attributes sports season with the Johnnies. It contained, win championships without many of the columnists expect to find in among myriad other flaws, too many silly trappings of the sport—calisthenics football coaches until they and whistles and coaching towers and accounts of players slaking their postgame thirst at the LaPlayette. Had he all the other items on Gagliardi’s blessed meet John Gagliardi shared his misgivings, I would have list of No’s. By stripping the game to of Saint John’s. apologized, and instructed him to take its essence, by emphasizing preparation a number. and execution, by taking common-sense The Sweet Season had problems big (ungainly twosteps to protect the health of his players, he reminded me of track narrative) and small (no one bothered to tell me John another wise, white-haired visionary: Bill Walsh. disliked the nickname “Gags,” which appears in the text John may have had the itch to test himself in the roughly 100 times). Yet it’s the best of the six books I’ve NFL—he had opportunities—but didn’t scratch it. He written. With this cast of characters, a dramatis personae to realized that he was on to something good, conducting his die for, I was going to have to work to screw it up. own grand experiment under the Swayed Pines. I’d met the main character in 1992, when I spent a Shadowing him all those autumns ago, I got to know couple days following John around for an SI feature. He John well, but not intimately. During the season, he’s filled my notebook with gems (Lombardi double-teamed preoccupied. (Duh.) Still, there were wonderful grace Otis Taylor, and we’re out there covering him with Bernie notes, such as a car ride with him, during which he played Beckman!), and I wrote a fun story for SI. There was his a cassette of himself singing “A Mighty Fortress Is Our picture on the cover of the magazine the following August, God.” One afternoon we walked through the cemetery a big grin on his face. overlooking Lake Sag, John reminiscing briefly about the The coach whose office I haunted for five months nearby deceased. This guy, Ignatius, was the procurator. during the ’99 season was less of a comedian. He was more Tight as hell, but a great guy . complex, more layered, more interesting—and a tad more Even if I never quite solved the riddle of John, I profane, although that was hardly a problem. The university was around long enough to pick up on what made him had one Saint John; it didn’t need another. successful, and it was a lot more than his famous list. Gagliardi wasn’t a saint so much as he was a national Prowling around the offices, in search of conversation and treasure. I was drawn to him because I’d played football for company more than book fodder, truth be told, I would benighted coaches who conflated the game with war, who drop anchor in Jimmy’s office, or go bug Jerry Haugen or screamed and punished and completely missed the point. Gary Fasching. John’s door was usually open—but just a Back in the days of Woody and Bear and Bo, that’s how crack. Come in, it said, but please have a good reason. they rolled. Invariably, when I intruded, he would be peering into It wasn’t how John rolled. Early in his remarkable a video monitor, watching the same play eight, 10 times


in a row: backward, forward, ad nauseam, looking for holes in, say, the Auggies’ front seven. He would jot his findings on index cards (“recipe cards” as Tom Linnemann, who quarterbacked the Johnnies to the 2000 Stagg Bowl, dubbed them), which he would carry around all week. During games, and at halftime, you’d see him sifting through the cards looking for just the right one. More often than not, he found it. Coaches his age were supposed to be CEOs, caretakers —they were supposed to delegate this stuff. John relished it; the weekly mental duels sustained him. When you love your work as John did, for as long as he did, you’ve won. “You’d stick your head in his office,” recalls Linnemann, “and he’d say, ‘Hey, come look at this.’ Here was a guy in his 70s, poring over film. The thing with John was, he applied every second of every day to the goal of being better.” Perhaps not every second. He took football very seriously. But, more so than most coaches I’ve worked with, John had a sense of perspective. He had an ego, of course. We all do. But there was self-deprecation, an endearing insecurity, a true humility. He’s an excellent listener, a rarity in his line of work. Trust me.

Before writing this essay, I reached out to my old friend, Beau LaBore, a terrific linebacker who appears as one of the main characters in The Sweet Season. These days, he’s the head coach at Stillwater High, where he also teaches social studies. If I spent time around the Ponies program, I asked him, would I feel Gagliardi’s influence, pick up on a Johnnie vibe? “You’d recognize a one-liner or two,” he allows. “And a handful of plays.” More than anything, it’s their philosophies that overlap. Beau isn’t coaching football so much as he’s coaching kids, he told me. “To use an adage: ‘They don’t care how much you know until they know how much you care.’ You’re showing an interest in their well being. What matters most is how you treat people, and that’s straight from John.” Multiply that by all the young men he’s coached, and you have a legacy as grand, if not grander, than the number 489. Austin Murphy is a senior writer at Sports Illustrated and an author. His book The Sweet Season chronicled the 1999 football season at Saint John’s.



Brotherly Battles Mark Dienhart It was a reoccurring complaint I punch. It could be a real stunner to SJU and UST were heard in film sessions for more than 15 lose a recruit to Saint John’s who’d archrivals, but it was an years as a football player, assistant coach already been told by John several times and head coach at the University of St. and who believed that John was really honor to coach against Thomas while preparing for important not recruiting him! Some grudging John Gagliardi, whether games against our perennial rival. And it admiration naturally follows a recruiting you won or lost. wasn’t even directed at John Gagliardi. method like that. “It seems like this guy has been at I nearly attended Saint John’s. I Saint John’s forever” was the complaint, and it was always had many friends who did, and I could never bring myself directed at some unusually effective player whom we all to fully endorse the blood feud that was supposed to be wished and sincerely believed had graduated but reappeared part of the relationship between our two fine Catholic on current-year game films and was found to still be on the institutions. There were too many good people and good SJU roster. John was different. He was a fixture. He was a friends on the other side of the fence and ball. Games given. He WAS Saint John’s. reminded me of brotherly battles where, in the end, the two So, I guess it’s understandable that when I read of would ultimately find themselves appreciating their many John Gagliardi’s retirement, I was, frankly, stunned. I really similarities and, likely, a lasting bond of friendship despite couldn’t have believed John might just coach forever. But that very real, baked-in rivalry. it surely felt that way, and I did harbor thoughts that his So, on the occasion of John’s retirement announcement, tenure would last long enough so, like some of his former I decided I needed to send John a note. For years, we’d players, I might have grandchildren NOT recruited to exchanged enjoyable phone calls intermittently when play for John and Saint John’s in the same way I was not I was at the University of Minnesota and later after I recruited to play for his team when he visited Minneapolis’ returned to St. Thomas, but a phone call just didn’t seem De La Salle High School my senior year. It would have been formal enough. For a second, I wondered if he used and an honor. read email, which, of course, was falling into the wellJohn was in his forties when we first met, and his easy orchestrated “underestimating trap” John effectively set manner made it seem that I really wasn’t being recruited for all of his coaching adversaries those many years. (He at all, as of course, he would always contend. It was only probably was an early adopter—tweeted, blogged and later that I learned that John actually began coaching downloaded more game film to analyze than anyone else in at Saint John’s the same year I was born and had some the MIAC could ever have imagined!) considerable expertise at this essential coaching prerequisite In the email I sent, I admitted to John that while of assembling talent and then not spoiling it, but bringing I’d always known I’d be proud of participating in some out the very best in it. victories against Saint John’s, only at that moment I found him intriguing and very likable, like so many had I realized that I’m also proud to have participated others did—then, later and now. And, when calling in the games that resulted in losses just because of his on recruits as St. Thomas’s head football coach, it was involvement. I told him that he’d made the entire MIAC remarkable how often John had already beaten me to the better by setting the bar as high as he and Saint John’s did,


and that all of us, including coaches like UST’s Glenn Caruso, owed him a tremendous debt of gratitude. I later found out that Glenn felt exactly the same way. I have no doubt Gary Fasching will do an excellent job succeeding John and will provide me and other St. Thomas alums with our share of heartburn in years ahead. There will, however, never be another John Gagliardi. It’s just that way with legends. And from the outside looking in, it’s beyond imagination how his longevity, his success and his impact on the institution he served could ever be matched. When St. Thomas went to the Stagg Bowl this December, I spoke with one of our alumni who was flying to the game in Salem, Va., from his home in California. He

and I were hopeful John would accept a ride to the game on our alum’s plane, and I was hopeful St. Thomas could serve as John’s host at the championship. John declined for a reason I should have guessed and entirely respect. If he was going to go to the game, he wanted it to be as a coach on his own Saint John’s sideline. Farewell, John. And, of course, I hope you and Peggy remain well and that I’ll see more of you in the years ahead. But I’ll be glad St. Thomas will not have to compete against you. For some years now, I’ve found myself in this odd circumstance of certainly wanting to see St. Thomas win those games against Saint John’s but really not wanting to see you lose. Mark Dienhart, Ph.D., is the executive vice president and chief operating officer for the University of St. Thomas. A former football player and assistant coach, he served as head coach from 1981 to 1986. Dienhart also served as an athletic administrator and director of men’s athletics at the University of Minnesota from 1989 to 2000 before returning to St. Thomas in 2002.



John the “Person” Steve Slaggie ’61 When I arrived at Saint John’s in effort to make me something I wasn’t Steve Slaggie didn’t l957, John was in his formative years in track caused me to get confused play football, but he establishing a solid football team. In my about these two gifts, expressing regret sophomore year, being somewhat of a that I put the two checks in the wrong treasures a relationship speedster, I went out for track, which envelopes, and the abbey got John’s with John Gagliardi John also coached. I wanted to run the check, and John got the abbey’s, and he formed more recently. l00-yard dash and the 220, but because was shorted! of a wealth of talent there, John tried to I only know the “football” John make me a distance runner. Big mistake. I failed miserably. through osmosis and reading the papers and SJU articles. I In later years, when I established a relationship with him, have gotten to know the “person” John in just the past few I gently reminded him of trying to make me something years, and so appreciate who he is, and how he was able to I wasn’t. influence so many people in so many positive ways through Two seismic events happened in November 2003. the years. The “football” John is in the record books; the John won his 409th “person” John is football game, and warmly in my heart, the construction and will always be of the Saint John’s in my memory. Abbey Guesthouse I treasure our was under way. I relationship. was a donor to the guesthouse and also Steve Slaggie is gave John a modest retired corporate amount of my secretary and company’s common shareholder relations stock. Later on, officer for Fastenal John would often Company. remark to me that he was certain his


The First and the Finish Max Forster ’13 From the time I was old enough to They are bookends on a wouldn’t know who he was! I told him hold a football, I remember my grandpa my name and my grandpa’s name, legend: Bob Forster ’54 telling story after story of his years at and he immediately responded, “Bob Saint John’s University as a football Forster? Oh, I remember Bob. He was a and Max Forster ’13. player. He often mentioned the coach, great player. Played offensive lineman for barely older than his players, who led the team during me that first year. Great guy. That was a long time ago!” my grandpa’s senior year. It was John Gagliardi, and my I was blown away. “The Legend” remembered my grandpa always said that he knew this man “was something grandpa! And now I was going to play for him. The same special” even that first year. man who coached my grandpa 56 years before me. Years passed, and I developed a passion for football, My time with Coach Gagliardi was filled with too. Sadly, my grandpa passed away when I was fairly memorable experiences. He always had an encouraging young, so I never shared a Saint John’s game-day experience word for me, and I appreciated the time he would take to with him. But I did become a Johnnie, and I signed up for talk with me about my grandpa, too. I will remember how, the football team. I couldn’t wait to get my uniform and each time I stepped onto the field, I thought of my grandpa step foot on that football field as an official member of the and was reminded of his love of football, his passion for Saint John’s squad. Saint John’s and his respect for a coach who truly deserves I’ll never forget that day in August 2009 when my to be called a legend. family and I arrived to check in for training camp. Almost My grandpa played the first year of Coach Gagliardi’s the first person we saw was John Gagliardi. There he was, reign, and I played his last. Wow. That’s pretty cool. two feet from us, and all I could think was, “What do I say to a legend?” I hesitated to introduce myself. I wondered if Max Forster ’13 is a management major and played he would remember my grandpa. Before I had the chance defensive back/wide receiver for the Johnnies. to make the first move, he introduced himself, as if we





Games Coached



National Semifinal Appearances

Seasons at SJU

30 27

Conference Titles

Years Coaching

Seasons Coaching Football




MIAC Titles

National Playoff Appearances

4 100+

National Championships # of “Winning with No’s”

10 12 .780



First-Team Academic All-Americans

Second-Team Academic All-Americans Conference Winning Percentage



Undefeated Seasons

Overall Winning Percentage


Assistant Coaches

.672 3,000+ 16,421

Postseason Winning Percentage Players Coached

Division III Record-Breaking Audience




During his 60 years at Saint John’s, John Gagliardi coached thousands of young men. In this collection of quotes, players express their appreciation for him and the life lessons he taught them.

I think all of the guys who played for John loved him to the man. He helped us realize we could be more than we were. —Ken Roering ’64 Saint John’s and John Gagliardi have played an extremely important part in my life. … My four years at Saint John’s not only prepared me for this success, but also helped me along the way. Every job I got was a direct result of being a Saint John’s graduate, and/or having played football for John Gagliardi. … I was fortunate to play football for John and then coach with him as he led Saint John’s to their first national championship in 1963. He taught me so much. Thanks John. You will always be my friend. —Rich Chalmers ’63 If you screwed up on the practice field, John could pick you apart pretty good, but it never felt negative. He was always teaching. Once a player graduates from here, he has to go out and get a job and perform that job. I don’t know if football teaches them anything relevant to that except maybe to

keep trying. He would pull us into a huddle before a big game and all of a sudden he would be talking about getting a job or having a family. The world according to John. —Chris Parrington ’89 I knew that John was a big legend, and when we met he was honest with me about the program. He was absolutely instrumental in getting me to Saint John’s. —Brett Mushatt ’98 If football is like life, then coaches teach more than Xs and Os. Therein lies the greatness of John. My blocking assignments have dimmed with age but not life’s lessons learned from ‘Gag.’ His win-loss record proves his coaching genius. But his positive impact on young men is his real contribution. Thanks will never be enough for all the lessons learned. —Felix Mannella ’60 John was the most influential person in my life during my college years. He instilled in me the ability to believe in myself. I entered Saint John’s a boy in a man’s body and left four years later a quietly confident young man that knew I could accomplish anything I wanted. John is responsible for that self-confidence. —Fred Cremer ’67

During the four years I played for Saint John’s, I was always impressed by John’s commitment to his players receiving a ‘Christian education.’ His priorities were: 1) Develop a strong faith. 2) Obtain a good education. 3 ) Play football. He always kept to these and that has impressed me over the years. —Stan Suchta ’66 I cannot count the number of times I have used John’s philosophies in my coaching, as well as everyday living. I can remember the time John called me to congratulate me on winning a state championship. When I told him I used some of his philosophies and advice in preparing our team, he asked me to remind him of what it was he said. He thought maybe he would use his own advice if he could remember it. —Mike Carr ’77 John taught us that you need not be the strongest, the fastest or the smartest to be a success. If you attack each task in your life with a fundamental soundness, you will succeed. —Eric Aurelius ’89 John has had a tremendous impact on my life and my career. … I don’t think there is a football

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No Headphones Bill Laliberte ’70

There were no headphones used when I played. The assistant coaches were former players. John “enabled” us to make decisions on the field based on what the defense presented us. We studied film to understand the other team’s tendencies, but John taught us to think on the run. He taught us to be smarter than the competition. My philosophy to my business personnel is identical—be smarter than the competition. There is no room for ignorance or mistakes. John played the folks who were smarter, and they made him a genius. All of his players thrived both on and off the field because he enabled them to be decision makers.


coach alive who hasn’t tried to emulate John in the way that he coaches. —Gary Fasching ’81 John Gagliardi emphasized, in my life, that importance of striving for perfection. After being around John for four years, it sinks in. Why would somebody ever consider second best? That is what a winner is all about. —Joe Henry ’89 I want to thank John Gagliardi for the best four years of my life. When I came to Saint John’s, I knew the football program would always be successful and I wanted to be a part of that. What I didn’t realize was how much of an influence John would have on the many aspects of my life. I often come into stressful situations. I look back and think of how and what John would do. … John prepares you to be a winner on the football field and how to be a successful person once your playing days are over. —Mike Magnuson ’90 John is a special link for my father and me. My dad (Rich ’63) played on John’s first undefeated team at Saint John’s, and 25 years later I was able to experience ‘all those stories’ about Johnnie football firsthand. In a world of constant change, John has kept his pace and style throughout—my dad and I were fortunate to experience John. —Chris Chalmers ’88 John showed us that we do not have to be steroid-filled, fire-breathing maniacs to play the game. Football is more than that. It is a mental game,

and John always made sure we were prepared for any situation on and off the field. The persistence I gained while playing for John has been instrumental in helping me overcome day-to-day challenges since graduation. I am deeply honored and happy I had a chance to live my childhood dream of playing football for Saint John’s University and John Gagliardi. —Steve Varley ’90 Not only is John an excellent coach, he is a person of high integrity who brings out the best in his players. I’m happy and proud to call John my friend. —Jim Sexton ’55 Playing football for Gagliardi at Saint John’s is one of the things I look back on with pride. … At the time St. Thomas was not a power in the conference, and we were highly favored to beat them when we played them near the end of the year. The talk went something like this: ‘You players may be taking this game against St. Thomas too lightly. You are favored to win but I am afraid that you haven’t thought of the consequences if you lose. If you should lose this game, some day you will meet up a with a Tommie, and I assure you that you will regret the fact that you didn’t take this game more seriously.’ —John Giesen ’60 John Gagliardi has probably had more of an impact on my life than anyone other than my parents. He

simply taught me to stay young forever, like himself. But more importantly, he instilled in me and all of us that we could be as good as we wanted to be. We could block bigger people, tackle bigger people and run faster and farther than we dreamed we could. —Dave Arnold ’73

get kicked out. I still recall and use the lessons John taught while I was at Saint John’s. A few of them have to do with football. Over time and with a more mature mind, I consider being a member of his football team a great honor and one of the highlights of my life. —Ed Poniewaz ’76

John impacted me more than any other person I can think of other than my parents and my God. What he did for me has carried me throughout my entire business life and private life. He taught me how to survive—that when things get tough you keep on going. He taught me how to be a winner—that you do not accept losing. He taught me to expect to win. He taught me not to settle for less than perfection in myself. I owe John a lot. —Jim Lehman ’56

John taught me the value of working hard, getting good grades, etc., all while having a good laugh at life. Of course, once the game started, look out for flying grass! I value my time at Saint John’s and football with Gag, who was a significant part of that experience. —Bob Christensen ’62

John prepared me for life by teaching me teamwork and discipline. He taught me that success comes from doing the little things well. —Mark Mooney ’88 John always said, ‘You don’t have to be a superman. We just want ordinary guys doing an extraordinary job.’ I try to remember this in my life, just do the best job I possibly can and good things will happen. —John Kessier ’79 The summation of life’s experiences can be found in these three rules: Don’t get chopped, don’t get hooked, don’t

John’s philosophy is: 1. Do what’s right. 2. Do your best; try to improve. 3. Treat others as you would like to be treated. —Dean Hall ’57 John really brought fun into football. He always said that we have to ‘do the ordinary things extraordinarily well.’ He taught me that football is more a mental game than a physical one. —Mike Morrey ’90 It was not until after graduation that I realized John was coaching me on the finer points of life, not football. He was far more interested in producing a gentleman and a scholar, rather than a football player who was only concerned with winning games.

He Shaped Us Jeff Korsmo ’80

John’s greatest accomplishment is his profound impact on generations of students and their families. He shaped us—those who played for him and our fellow Johnnies and Bennies, who were touched by his work making us into better people. Because of John, our children know from our words and actions that one doesn’t have to follow the same paths as others to be successful. He taught us that breaking complex problems into simple components and doing them will result in success. John is the most transformational person in the modern history of Saint John’s. A remarkable man and a special university—a story for the ages. Please know and feel the depth of our gratitude.

… 39

High Expectations Mark Flynn ‘78

The game of football is a metaphor for life. John leads with great wit and wisdom, humility and humor. He taught us to be confident and never cocky. Expect great things to happen. John set high expectations for us: as a teammate, son, brother, spouse and father. Play to play great because losing is unbearable. Several decades later, John’s door is always open. There’s a twinkle in his eye and a warm smile. He is abundantly generous with his time. His advice to my daughter: “Never let the facts get in the way of a good story.” John made me proud to be a Johnnie!


I believe his dedication to his players as individuals is his greatest contribution to Saint John’s as well as his profession. —Tom Wicka ’90 As a young man, I learned about life and winning football from a coaching legend, John Gagliardi. —Lyle Mathiasen ’73 John’s creativity and unconventional way of coaching football is exemplified in his ability to recognize: scrimmaging hurts your own teammates, special teams are as important to the success of the team as is offense and defense, just because you win the toss you don’t have to receive, and the team best educated in the fundamentals usually wins. —Charles Seabright ’60 The qualities that most impressed me about John were his indomitable spirit, his refusal to give up and his will to win. The reason Saint John’s has won so many close games was because John taught his players to believe in their ability to succeed. This quality of quiet self-confidence is a hallmark of John’s and the hundreds of young men who have had the good fortune of playing for him. —John Agee ’70 John’s love for his work and how he related it to the players made the game fun. John put extra emphasis on sportsmanship, a Christian attitude, going to Mass and communion before a game. He was more than a coach, he

was an inspiration to me and, I am sure, to everyone that has played under Gag. —Bob Sexton ’66 I remember John’s rule to us: be a topnotch person all the time. This took care of training rules and combined the Christian context. John focused on each opponent and taught me the value of preparation and execution. He wanted players who wanted to be there. He gave you his effort, if you gave yours. I was undersized for John’s system but an option offense allowed me to be more of a contributing element on the team. John’s strength at the time was on the defensive side of the ball. But for ME he made a significant offensive adjustment that made me flourish and thrive. Effort is rewarded. —Mike Halloran ’70 Whenever I visit fellow football players, Gag’s philosophy is the topic of many long discussions. “Winning with No’s” still remains a mystery. John said we don’t need to be superstars to win. We win when ordinary people do ordinary things extraordinarily well. John’s what Fr. Ted Hesburgh was to Notre Dame. —Pat Sauer ’86 I played on John’s first Saint John’s football team. John’s positive approach and his enthusiasm made a difference and I am sure this man has made a significant positive impact on the lives of hundreds of young men during his coaching career. —Don Stepniak ’56

John taught me to be well prepared. He never left anything to chance. I learned to master something every day and constantly set higher goals for myself. The bottom line is that the spirit of John Gagliardi is part of my life, and I benefited tremendously from our association. —John Trakselis ’67 The teaching atmosphere that permeated the football program both on the field and off taught us that we were a part of something unique and important. The teaching came from not just the coach but from the seniors as well. The unique and important aspect of football at Saint John’s was the humane, intelligent and thorough preparation for each game with the nopad approach to practice, the repetition of running and passing plays and the excellent scouting. There were few surprises on game day. Through John I learned: to work within and trust a team of individuals, to discover my strengths and use them, that praise is a far better motivator than fear, that luck is a part of every success and that confidence and success come from preparation. From John Gagliardi I learned what it takes to be a winner and that it is the same thing that we need to be a winner in life. —Mike Collins ’66 Essentially 100 percent of the young men who participated in his program left it physically whole, not impaired for life because of injuries, and knowing

what it means to be a winner, mentally prepared for life. — J.W Reiter ’57

Life Lessons Rick Bell ’83

John left a lasting imprint upon me by … the enjoyment he derives from his work; the dedication and intensity he devotes to his efforts; his proximity to confront adversity; draw lessons from it but never be consumed by it; John’s clear recognition of each individual’s effort; his warm and gentle humor; and his unwillingness ever to hurt anyone. —Tom Roth ’63 My years of playing football for John were not so much a football experience but an experience on life. He was without doubt a very important part of my Saint John’s experience and those memories I will always remember fondly. —Jim Spaniol ’75 1953—Gag’s first year—what an impression on a group of senior athletes and how he incorporated a bunch of freshmen and underclassmen into his first MIAC championship was remarkable. He was more than a coach to me and to athletes and students. He always responded to a congratulatory letter or a question. Most memorable, however, was Gag’s reaction to our youngest son Billy’s illness and death to cancer. In his remission stage, Bill met Gags and firsthand became aware of why I respected him so well. Bill died before he could meet John again, but John sent his condolences and even a letter of

On a Saturday morning 34 years ago, Coach Gagliardi made a visit to my home in Cold Spring, Minn., with a loaf of Johnnie Bread that changed my life. Not only did I get a first-class education at SJU, I had the great opportunity to play for a coach who knew how to win but who also taught me and thousands of others important life lessons. It has been an honor to have attended Saint John’s University and to have played for John. I am thankful that he didn’t overlook someone like me from nearby Rocori High School. Thanks, John, for taking that short drive one Saturday morning. Best wishes in your retirement, and thank you again for 60 extraordinary years.

… 41

The Essentials Ryan Keating ’03

John changed the rules when it came to creating a successful football program. For many football coaches, practice consists of numerous drills that don’t necessarily help win games. As a player, John was never fond of these. Early in his career he decided he would not incorporate them into his practices. Instead, he would focus solely on game planning for his next opponent. By simply focusing directly on what was needed to win the next game, John’s teams have consistently been more prepared than their opponents. This has helped create one of the most winning football programs of all time, while at the same time developing the most unique program in the country. This is just one of many things that highlight John’s genius as a coach.


support on the anniversary date of Bill’s death. Quite a man, John Gagliardi. —Bill Braun ’54

us believed him then. I suspect most of us believe him now. —Robert Reese ’81

… It was John’s insistence on details that have stayed with me. As I have found in business, success is the culmination of many details coming together. I do not think there are too many programs today that a player can leave and call his coach a good friend. —Marty Cella ’75

John’s greatest contribution to Saint John’s has been his example in life. John and Peggy’s family have always been more important to them than all the athletic success that Saint John’s has achieved under John’s guidance. —Bill Johnson ’70

I played for John his first year and his first championship at Saint John’s. Since then John has rewritten the history book in football. I admire him as a coach but respect him as a person who has his priorities in place—close loving family, solid faith, loyalty, sense of humor, intelligence and countless friends. Thanks for all the pleasant memories. —LeRoy Lilly ’55 John Gagliardi was much more than a football coach to me and others. He was someone to confide in for some solid advice about various goals in life or someone to have a fun, laugh-filled conversation with. —Mike Nentl ’81 John always told us that the most important part of football at Saint John’s, the part that we would remember, was not how many games we started or points we scored, but simply the fact that we played for Saint John’s. None of

We both came to Saint John’s in 1953, he as a coach and I as a freshman. I knew at the end of our first practice that I had the privilege of playing for a very unique individual. —Wayne Hergott ’57 Because of John’s coaching ability, all of us who played for him are able to feel pride in having been a part of a nationally recognized football program. What I appreciated most about John is that he did not forget about me once my playing days were over. I have always felt that he genuinely cared about me as an individual. That is a nice feeling to have about anyone, let alone your former football coach. I made several lifelong friendships at SJU, and I am happy to say John is among the best of those. I congratulate John on a truly remarkable career. I am proud to have played for a legend but more importantly I am happy to have him for a friend. —Tom Schutta ’70

On the occasion of his retirement, former and current players were quoted in many media outlets. John was tremendously successful. But what wasn’t written about is how many lives he touched. Think about what not cutting guys means: 60 years with 190 guys on every team. That’s thousands of people that have had a positive impact by being around John. —Blake Elliott ’03 The Pilot, Dec. 9, 2012

I love John. He’s family to me. He’s made a huge impression on my life. His brilliance is that he’s made an impression on thousands of guys who are now doctors and lawyers and businessmen. That’s his legacy. The wins are fantastic, but what he’s contributed to the fabric of guys and what they’ve gone on to do after university was truly remarkable. —Tom Linnemann ’00 “Fox Sports North,” Dec. 4, 2012

First and foremost, he made football fun. Playing football for John at Saint John’s helped make me a better person. —Beau LaBore ’01 He made men out of all of us. Not only was he a great coach who taught us how to play great football, but he also taught us how to be great people. —Craig Muyres ’64 What I’ll always remember about him is his personality and his humor. He was so different than the style of most other football coaches. In some ways, it was like being in a time warp. I’d tell people that you have to meet him to truly understand how

different and unique he is. He is just an amazing guy. —Cam McCambridge ’03

So Much More Willie Seiler ’93

St. Cloud Times, Nov. 11, 2012

One, John is one of the smartest people I‘ve ever met. Intellectually he’s really, really smart. So if he had been a doctor or a lawyer or a scientist or whatever, he would have been one of the best in that. He’s really, really smart. Second, he’s a great psychologist. He’s very similar to my dad (former Vikings coach Bud Grant) that way. He didn’t major in psychology, but they were great psychologists of how to motivate people. The other thing is that because he’s so smart, he was always innovative. He always was ahead of the curve. So if there was the wishbone offense, John would take it to the next level. He was always ahead of that and had a different or better option. When the passing game started to come around in the ’80s and the spread [offense], John was at the front of that. —Mike Grant ’79 Minneapolis Star Tribune, Nov. 21, 2012

… having the chance to play for the winningest coach in college football history is an experience I’ll be able to carry with me the rest of my life. —Josh Bungum ’16 St. Cloud Times, Nov. 20, 2012

He’s such a legendary man, and he’s meant so much to so many people. It’s hard to believe that he won’t be coaching here forever. —Bobby Fischer ’13

When I think of John, so many things come to mind: coach, mentor, leader, teacher, friend. I am so fortunate to have a great relationship to this day with John. There is so much more to him than being Coach John Gagliardi. Yes, he is the greatest football coach of all time. But the life lessons he has taught me off the field are priceless. I will cherish the afternoons spent in his office, especially when my kids were with me. Whether it is my kids, 200 football players or an auditorium full of people listening to him speak, John’s humor, humility, integrity and confidence have us all wanting more.

St. Cloud Times, Nov. 20, 2012



Thanks for all the obvious stuff: 4 national championships, 27 MIAC titles, 489 collegiate coaching wins. Those victories ultimately enabled Gagliardi to coach until age 86, and consequently made a lot of these other things possible.

Thanks for some of the not-soobvious stuff: treating everyone with dignity and respect, not like another piece of meat on the football team. Universally, Gagliardi’s thousands of ex-players will say the same thing, whether they were stars or the last guy on the bench.

Thanks for putting Central Minnesota on the college football map. Sports Illustrated and all sorts of other major media outlets fell in love with Collegeville and the program and the head coach, to an extent far beyond any other NCAA Division III football program.

Thanks for packing the stands at Clemens Stadium, a.k.a. the Natural Bowl, one of the most gorgeous places imaginable to watch a college football game on a spectacular autumn afternoon.

Thanks for 409: St. John’s 29, Bethel 26 on Nov. 8, 2003, one of the most riveting football games anyone could ask for at any level of competition.

Thanks for the frumpy maroon winter coat Gagliardi wore at that game, even though it looked like something you’d get at a homeless


shelter and his wife Peggy hated it. “She bought me a different coat,” Gagliardi said, “because she was embarrassed by that other coat.”

Thanks for the Perfect Season, and for the 2003 Stagg Bowl—St. John’s 24, Mount Union 6. When you look back over the history of David vs. Goliath matchups, David hasn’t won very often. But he did on that day.

the field, but they can all say they played football at St. John’s for the winningest coach of all time—and they can say it with pride. “They used to say, ‘They’ve got too many guys— you’ll never play,’ or ‘You‘ll get lost up there,’” Gagliardi said, citing the recruiting pitches of opposing teams. “They’ve used all kinds of things. But we got our share, no matter what.”

Thanks for non-contact practices.

Thanks for treating those players

With all of those players, it would have been easy to let them beat the hell out of each other. But Gagliardi was always opposed to the concept: Why grind up your players in practice? It’s easy enough to get hurt in games.

Thanks for retiring with dignity,

Thanks for coaching from the press box on hot days. It isn’t easy for somebody of any age to stand out in the sun for three hours, much less an 80-something, and retreating to the box on occasion might have added a few years to Gagliardi’s career. “The hot days bothered me,” he said, “even when I was younger.”

Thanks for getting mentioned in elite company. Bear Bryant. Eddie Robinson. Joe Paterno. Bobby Bowden. Amos Alonzo Stagg. John Gagliardi. All those names have been used in the same sentence.

Thanks for not cutting players from the team, even when it meant there were 200 or so of them and that several guys wound up with the same number. A lot of them rarely got on

like adults, not underlings. Everybody called him John—not coach, or sir. Just John. even though most people don’t wait until they’re 86 to do it. “A lot of people have retired,” Gagliardi said. “Every year, a lot of good people out here (at St. John’s) retire.”

Thanks for having a sense of humor, and for being completely different. You’d be amazed at how many college football head coaches don’t, and aren’t.

Thanks for keeping football in some semblance of perspective. That doesn’t mean Gagliardi didn’t take losses hard—he took them very hard—but overall, he kept sight of the big picture. “That’s how I survived,” he said, “by not dwelling on things.” Most of all, Thanks for the memories, all 60 years of them. It’s been quite a trip. Excerpted from a Nov. 22, 2012 column by sports columnist Dave DeLand, St. Cloud Times. For the full article, go to

Saint John's Magazine Special Edition 2013  

Saint John's Magazine is published in the fall and winter for alumni, parents, friends and the Saint John's University campus community.

Saint John's Magazine Special Edition 2013  

Saint John's Magazine is published in the fall and winter for alumni, parents, friends and the Saint John's University campus community.