COLLEGEVILLE - St. John’s University football coach John Gagliardi is preparing to start his sixth decade at the helm of the Johnnie football program.  That’s right, the Gagliardi era at Collegeville began 60 years ago, in the fall of 1953.  I recently had the opportunity to sit down with coach Gagliardi and visit with him about his early coaching years, and have him look ahead to his future.

Including his previous coaching stint at Carroll College in Helena, Montana, Gagliardi has compiled a record of 484 wins, 133 losses, and 11 ties.  His record at St. John’s is 460 wins, 127 losses, and 10 ties.  He’s the winningest coach all-time in college football history.

Gagliardi talks about the early years when he first arrived on campus at St. John’s University:

Gagliardi led Carroll College to three conference titles in four years, before landing the St. John’s job.  He’s led St. John’s to four national championships, in 1963, 1965, 1976, and 2003.  They also made the national title game in 2000.

Gagliardi says the championships are a highlight for him.

Over the years, much as been made about Gagliardi’s unique coaching style and the way he conducts his practices.  He uses no blocking sleds or dummies, there’s no compulsory weightlifting program, no whistles, players don’t call him “coach”, there’s no tackling, and practice is only an hour-and-a-half long.

So where does this coaching style come from?  Gagliardi says it goes back to his days as a player/coach:

The fact that Gagliardi has stayed at St. John’s for 60 years is very special.  It’s something that’s never been done before.

He says there have been a few close calls, one came from Bud Grant and the Minnesota Vikings, another game from a school out in San Diego:

Besides being his 60th season as the head coach at St. John’s, this is also a special season because Gagliardi will be coaching three of his own grandkids:  Joey Benson is a senior outside linebacker from Becker, Johnny Benson is a sophomore quarterback from Becker, and Billy Gagliardi is a freshman wide receiver from St. Cloud Tech.  Gagliardi has also been coaching long enough to coach grandsons of players he’s had in the past.  Currently on the team is Max Forster, a senior defensive back from Minnetonka, who’s grandfather was on the 1953 team.

Gagliardi says coaching his own grandchildren is something he never thought much about:

Gagliardi is 85 years old, he’ll turn 86 on November 1st.  He seems to have nothing left to prove in the sport.  The only other coach to reach the 400 victory mark is Grambling’s Eddie Robinson who won 408 games in 55 seasons.  It’s safe to say Gagliardi’s record victory mark will never be broken, so what’s left for him.

Gagliardi says he has a goal of making it to 500 wins:

For the record, St. John’s did have a down year in 2011 by Johnnie standards, they finished with a record of 6-4.

The St. John’s University football team will kick-off this season on Saturday, September 1st at home against Northwestern College.

Books about John Gagliardi
“Just Call Me John” by David J Weers