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Saint John’s bids farewell to Gagliardi while celebrating his lasting legacy By Dave DeLand They stood silently in two long red lines that cascaded down the steps of the Saint John’s Abbey and University Church and along the driveway where the casket was being loaded into a hearse. For the members of the Saint John’s University football team, it constituted a final salute to coaching legend John Gagliardi – a man who meant so much to so many in the Saint John’s community for so long. For others in the funeral crowd and in generations yet to come, Gagliardi’s impact has only just begun. “What John coached began on the field, but that experience turned out to be the shortest engagement of all,” said Fr. Tim Backous ’76, ’84 SOT, OSB, who conducted the Oct. 16 funeral. “What was really happening on those sidelines and in that locker room was just a beginning.” “There’s not a person in here who would say that what he’s done since (playing football at SJU) would have been possible without John,” said Denis McDonough ’92, who after playing for Gagliardi went on to become White House chief of staff. “That’s what he did – he got ordinary kids to do extraordinary stuff. That’s a life lesson that you take with you.” “Ultimately, the impact that he’s had is really special at Saint John’s,” added former SJU quarterback Tom Linnemann ’00, choking back tears. “It lasted so long, and he basically tied generations of Johnnies together.” Gagliardi – who won a record 489 games during a 64-year college football coaching career that included six decades and four national championships at Saint John’s – died Oct. 7, 25 days before his 92nd birthday. The crowd that filled the Abbey Church included family and friends, hundreds of former players and former coaching colleagues and opponents. They all came to say goodbye to the father, spouse, coach, mentor and friend who meant so much to them, and to share memories of the elements that made Gagliardi special – including stories and words from the man himself that punctuated the otherwise somber tone. “With all this amazing outpouring and all the great stories, a

guy should have the decency to be dead. That was one of my dad’s favorite lines,” said son Jim Gagliardi ’89, who elicited the same roar of laughter his dad got while using that joke at countless speaking engagements. “As I prepared for this day,” Fr. Tim said, “I kept hearing John’s voice mumbling in my ear – ‘That’s enough about me.’ ” The crowd disagreed, largely because of the impact Gagliardi made on their lives. “John was an amazing teacher,” McDonough said. “He didn’t say a lot to teach, but he did a lot to teach and he showed a lot to teach. That’s the blessing of having had the chance to play for him.” “There are painters, and then there’s Michelangelo,” Fr. Tim said. “There are musicians, and then there’s Mozart. There are writers, and then there’s William Shakespeare. “And of course there are coaches, and then there’s John Gagliardi.” Also in attendance were Peggy Gagliardi, who was married to John for 62 years … their children Nancy Little, Gina Continued on page 4

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Saint John's Magazine Winter/Spring 2019  

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 Winter/Spring 2019  

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

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