ST. JOSEPH — Even as he gets set to start his 60th season as the head football coach at St. John’s, John Gagliardi is still setting goals for himself.
At least that’s what the winningest coach in college football history told the assembled crowd at the annual St. John’s Kickoff Luncheon held Thursday afternoon at the Gorecki Dining and Conference Center at the College of St. Benedict.
“I’m shooting for 500 wins and I need 16 more to get there,” said a smiling Gagliardi at the start of his remarks which — as always — were packed full of his trademark humorous anecdotes and one-liners.
“I figure if I can win two a year, I’ll get there in eight years. If I only get one a year, I’ll get there in 16. And if we don’t win a single game over the next 25 years or so, at least I’ll still have a winning record when I retire at the age of 112.”
Gagliardi was joking, of course. But the head coach’s iconic status is a big part of why Thursday’s event drew a large crowd estimated at around 175 people — many of them former players from throughout the 85-year-old Gagliardi’s first 59 seasons in Collegeville.
“It means a lot to be able to have an event like this,” said current St. John’s director of alumni relations Adam Herbst, himself a former standout wide receiver for the Johnnies.
“There are so many guys here who have played for John over the decades and this is a way for them to gather together. It really is a tradition unrivaled. For me, it’s just so great to meet guys who were part of the program in the 1950s and ’60s. Those guys helped build the legacy we have today.”
The luncheon started informally, just a few close friends of Gagliardi who gathered over coffee to hear a briefing from the head coach on the upcoming season. But over the years, it’s grown into a much more organized event.
Longtime Gagliardi friend John Quinlivan got the event started and has played a big role in planning and organizing it each year. Though this year, the school’s alumni office took over some of those duties because Quinlivan was recovering from bypass surgery.
Yet he was still in attendance Thursday.
“The school did a great job helping out,” Quinlivan said. “(Gagliardi) was very concerned about having it this year because of last year’s (6-4) record.
“But I told him he won four in a row to end the season and people love this team. They were still going to want to come out.”
The assembled crowd heard not just from Gagliardi, but from offensive coordinator Jim Gagliardi, defensive coordinator Jerry Haugen and assistant coach Gary Fasching, the program’s recruiting coordinator.
St. Benedict president MaryAnn Baenninger opened the event and introduced new St. John’s president Michael Hemesath, who graduated from St. John’s in 1981 and was a member of the faculty at MIAC rival Carleton from 1989 until being named to his new post earlier this year.
He said one of the perks of his new job will be his seat in the President’s Box at Johnnies football games.
“I’d always try to come back for a game or two each year (when he was at Carleton) and I’d sit in the end zone,” Hemesath said. “Then one year, a former classmate of mine who went to more games than I did bought season tickets. So I was finally able to sit in a seat with a back rest.
“The nice thing about my new position is the chance to one-up that classmate. Now I can offer him a seat not just with a back rest, but with a roof, climate-controlled comfort and even some food as well.”
But it was Gagliardi who was Thursday’s star attraction. He recounted a story he said goes a long way toward revealing the secret of his success at St. John’s over the past six decades.
It had to do with Todd Watson, an All-MIAC wide receiver in the mid-1970s whom the Johnnies recruited out of conference rival Concordia’s backyard in Moorhead.
At one year-end meeting of the conference coaches, then-Cobbers coach Jim Christopherson came over to congratulate Gagliardi on his coaching brilliance for transforming Watson, a high school quarterback, into a standout wide receiver.
“I didn’t say anything, I just accepted the praise,” Gagliardi said with a smile. “But when I got back to campus, I told Tom, ‘I didn’t know you used to be a quarterback.’ He said ‘Yeah’ and I asked him why he didn’t try to play quarterback here. He said the other guys we had were just too big and strong.
“It just goes to show, when you have smart kids, you don’t have to do much coaching. And that’s the way it’s always been here.”
• Jim Gagliardi unveiled the team’s new game jerseys and pants, manufactured by Adidas. The biggest change will be the fact the game pants will no longer have a stripe down the sides.
• The coaching staff will switch things up a bit this season. Brandon Novak, who had been coaching the linebackers, will move over to the offensive side of the ball and coach the running backs. Fasching, who had been in charge of the defensive line, will take Novak’s place coaching the linebackers. And Damien Dumonceaux, who had been helping out with the defensive line, will take over for Fasching overseeing that position group.
• Fasching said the coaching staff expects about 197 players to report for the start of practice. That group includes 71 newcomers — 65 freshmen and five transfers. The Johnnies report to check out equipment on Aug. 11 and the first practice is scheduled for the afternoon of Aug. 12. The team opens the season when it plays host to Northwestern (Minn.) at 1 p.m. on Sept. 1 at Clemens Stadium.
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College football: SJU’s Gagliardi sets goals
Saint Cloud Times
August 3, 2012