Legendary St. John's coach John Gagliardi retires

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John Gagliardi became a head coach when his high school's coach was drafted into World War II in 1943. He played at Colorado College and coached at Carroll (Mont.) after graduation. His first season at St. John's was 1953.
d3photography.com file photo by Tim Ward

After 64 years as a head coach and at 86 years of age, St. John's legendary football coach John Gagliardi has announced his retirement.

Gagliardi, who has been at St. John's since 1953, goes out as the winningest coach in college football history. He finishes with a 489-138-11 record overall, a .775 winning percentage, and four national titles, two of them in Division III.

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

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

St. John's finished this season 5-5, 3-5 in the MIAC, after ending its 2012 season with a 27-22 loss Nov. 10 at Bethel.

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

"Arguably, John Gagliardi has impacted the lives of as many young men as any individual in the history of Saint John's University,” SJU president Michael Hemesath said.

John Gagliardi and the Johnnies celebrate the 1976 Division III football national championship.

“His legacy of educating young men at Saint John's is one that any coach or professor would envy.

"The kind of loyalty and commitment John showed to Saint John's and his student-athletes is rare and exemplary. It is an example of how John modeled good character and ethical behavior for his student-athletes and the community for 60 years."

The first active head coach to be inducted into the College Football Hall of Fame (Class of 2006) and the 2009 American Football Coaches' Association Amos Alonzo Stagg Award recipient, Gagliardi (Guh-lahr-dee) ended his record 64th season as a collegiate head football coach and 60th season as head coach of the Johnnies this fall. Gagliardi ends his storied career with a 489-138-11 (.775) collegiate record and a 465-132-10 (.774) record at SJU, including a 362-99-9 (.780) record in Minnesota Intercollegiate Athletic Conference games.

Gagliardi's 64 years of collegiate coaching is the most in college football history, surpassing the old record of 57 years held by former University of Chicago and University of the Pacific coach Amos Alonzo Stagg (1890-1946).

“Today is another milestone for the greatest head coach in the history of college football,” SJU athletic director Tom Stock said. “We are so very happy and proud of John, and those of us who have been associated with him are so fortunate that he chose to spend his life and career at Saint John's, building a model NCAA Division III football program.

The scene from John Gagliardi's last game, as he shakes hands with opposing players for the final time as a head coach.

“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.”

The 2007 Liberty Mutual Division III Coach of the Year, Gagliardi tied the all-time collegiate win record, held by former Grambling State head coach Eddie Robinson, on Nov. 1, 2003, and broke the all-time record on Nov. 8, 2003, en route to a perfect 14-0 season and an NCAA Division III championship, one of four national titles he won at SJU. Gagliardi also broke Robinson's record for the most games coached in college football history (588) in 2008 and coached his 600th game in 2009.

"I have had the utmost respect for what (Gagliardi) has been able to do at SJU," said Concordia-Moorhead coach Terry Horan. "I have always enjoyed competing against his teams as a player and coach, not only because of the high level of football being played, but more important the type of young men that were representing SJU were second to none. This is a direct reflection of the man in charge."

Gagliardi coached four national championship teams (1963, 1965, 1976 and 2003), and made the 2000 national title game. His teams reached the national semifinals six other times (1989, 1991, 1993, 1994, 2001 and 2002). As a collegiate coach, Gagliardi's teams won 30 conference titles (including three at Carroll, Mont.) and appeared in 58 postseason games. In the past 44 years, SJU was nationally ranked 43 times and owned a 39-19 postseason record. In 1993, SJU averaged 61.5 points per game, setting an all-divisions record that may never be broken.

Gagliardi's coaching career began when his high school coach at Trinidad (Colo.) Catholic was drafted into World War II. As the team's captain, Gagliardi took over the reins at the age of 16 in 1943. His teams won four conference titles in six years of coaching high school at Trinidad Catholic and later, at St. Mary's in Colorado Springs.

John Gagliardi did not name a successor. Jimmy Gagliardi, right, is one of several former SJU players who might be candidates for the job, which will draw a lot of interest.
d3photography.com file photo by Tim Ward

After graduation from Colorado College in 1949, Gagliardi began his first college coaching position at Carroll College in Helena, Mont. The college explored the possibility of dropping football because of losing seasons and lack of interest.

Gagliardi led Carroll to three conference titles in his first four seasons and won conference championships as head coach of the basketball and baseball programs.

His success caught the attention of Saint John's, which needed a coach to succeed the legendary Johnny "Blood" McNally, a charter member of the National Football League Hall of Fame. Compared to Carroll, the SJU football program was healthy before Gagliardi's arrival, but not exactly thriving. SJU had not won a conference title in 15 years. Gagliardi took over the program in 1953. Meanwhile, Blood offered this gloomy prediction: "Nobody could ever win at Saint John's." Gagliardi proved McNally wrong by winning the MIAC title that fall.

Aside from the football field, Gagliardi also won two conference championships with SJU's track team and coached the SJU hockey team for five seasons from 1954-59, compiling a 42-25-1 record. The .625 winning percentage is still the best of any hockey coach in school history. In addition to his various head coaching duties, Gagliardi has also been athletic director at both Carroll (1949-53) and Saint John's (1976-94). In June 2006, Gagliardi was inducted into the National Association of Collegiate Directors of Athletics (NACDA) Hall of Fame.

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