After 489 Wins, Coach Chooses Retirement


(New York Times) John Gagliardi, who won more games (489) and coached more seasons (64) than anyone in the history of college football, announced his retirement Monday, nine days after wrapping up his 60th season at Division III St. John’s University in Collegeville, Minn.

The only active coach to be inducted into the College Football Hall of Fame, the 86-year-old Gagliardi chose to retire after the Johnnies finished their first nonwinning season since 1986 at 5-5, and their first losing season in Minnesota Intercollegiate Athletic Conference play (3-5) since 1973.

“I’ve been thinking about it all through my 80s, so six or seven years now,” Gagliardi said Monday in a telephone interview. “I don’t know. I just decided that enough is enough.”

Gagliardi insisted that the decision was his alone and that the university did not force him out. St. John’s has not won an M.I.A.C. title or been to the N.C.A.A. playoffs since a 10-1 season in 2009, while going 7-3, 6-4 and 5-5 the last three years. This season the Johnnies endured their first four-game losing streak since 1930, and their first 0-4 start in M.I.A.C. play since 1929. Gagliardi’s career ended with a 27-22 loss to Bethel on Nov. 10.

“My closing could have been better,” Gagliardi said. “But it could have been a heck of a lot worse.”

Gagliardi came to St. John’s, a liberal arts school founded by Benedictine monks about 80 miles northwest of Minneapolis, in 1953, after four seasons at Carroll College in Helena, Mont. He succeeded Johnny (Blood) McNally, a former Green Bay Packer and part of the Pro Football Hall of Fame’s inaugural induction class in 1963.

McNally, who played at St. John’s before quitting to play in the N.F.L., reportedly told Gagliardi that no coach could win at the school. In Gagliardi’s first season, he directed the Johnnies to the first of his 27 M.I.A.C. titles.

St. John’s won N.A.I.A. national championships in 1963 and ’65 under Gagliardi, and N.C.A.A. Division III titles in 1976 and 2003. Also in 2003, when St. John’s finished 14-0, Gagliardi won his 409th game to break former Grambling coach Eddie Robinson’s record for career victories.

He lasted seven seasons longer than the former record-holder Amos Alonzo Stagg of the University of Chicago and the University of the Pacific. Since 1993, the award for Division III’s best player has been named for Gagliardi.

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

Gagliardi was known for unconventional coaching methods that were often called “Winning With Nos” — no tackling in practice, no hitting blocking sleds, no mandatory weight training and no practices longer than 90 minutes. Gagliardi and his assistants never wore whistles, either. He often carried more than 100 players on his roster — this year’s team had 185 — and players could arrive late for practice without penalty if coming from class.

No calling Gagliardi “Coach,” either. He insisted everyone call him John.

Gagliardi, who received recognition from President Obama on Monday, has been around so long that he coached three of his grandsons, most recently Billy Gagliardi, a freshman wide receiver. John Gagliardi has long wished for his son Jim, Billy’s father and the Johnnies longtime offensive coordinator, to succeed him.

“I hope he gets a shot at the job,” Gagliardi said. “If we had had a better season, or were coming off a national championship or were 15-0, he might have a better shot. But who knows what will happen?”

Other candidates include Mike Grant, the son of the former Minnesota Vikings coach Bud Grant and a former St. John’s tight end who seeks his eighth state title at Eden Prairie High School in Minnesota this week. Bud Grant once offered Gagliardi an assistant’s job with the Vikings.

Gagliardi said the search committee would not seek his input, which frustrates him.

“I don’t have any say,” Gagliardi said. “That’s the ridiculous part.”

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After 489 Wins, Coach Chooses Retirement
November 19, 2012
Pat Borzi
New York Times

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Topics: Bud Grant, Jim Gagliardi, John Gagliardi, Michael Hemesath, Mike Grant

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