Best coach no one’s heard of

By Observer editorial November 23, 2012 12:38 pm

Age is just a number. John Gagliardi proved that over and over again. The winningest coach in college football history announced his retirement Monday from Division III St. John’s University in Minnesota. He is 86.

Why retire when you enjoy your work? Gagliardi enjoyed bringing his contrarian style of coaching the past six decades to a private school in central Minnesota. Despite having finished this season 5-5, one of his worst seasons in a career that spanned 63 years, his career record is 489-138-11 (77.5 winning percentage). That’s more wins even than the legendary Eddie Robinson. What’s more, Gagliardi’s teams won four national titles at St. John’s despite not tackling each other in practice (fewer injuries in a season that might span 15 games if you want to win a national title).

Unlike Division 1, Division III has a playoff system that determines a true national champion.

What does it take to be successful? Gagliardi attributed his success to great players, friends and family. Gagliardi also had some of the shortest practices in football. But they were efficient. His teams did no lengthy calisthenics. He didn’t want the best pushup or situp team but the team that was best at running plays. He used no whistles, and the team did no wind sprints. 

Every senior was a team captain so they could put it on their resume when they went to look for a job. And no one was cut from the team. Sometimes he dressed 150 players for home games. He insisted that his players just call him John, not coach, and the school did not offer scholarships.

Congratulations, John, on taking a contrarian’s path and making it a job well done.