It’s not often that we look outside the FBS level, but John Gagliardi is the exception to a whole hell of a lot of rules.
The 86-year-old Gagliardi has spent the past six decades as the head coach at Div. III St. John’s (Minn.) University. Including the four years he’d spent previously at Carroll (Mont.) College, Gagliardi has won an NCAA all-divisions record 489 games.
On Monday, the legendary coach announced he is stepping down as head coach, his 60th year at the school and 64th coaching at the collegiate level. Counting a six-year high school career that began when he was just 16, Gagliardi has spent exactly seven decades on the sidelines.
“Seventy years is a long time to be doing the same job,” Gagliardi said in a statement. “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.”
In addition to the collegiate record for wins, Gagliardi’s teams also won two NAIA national championships, two Div. III national championships and 30 conference championships, with 27 of them coming at St. John’s.
The resume’ is so impressive, in fact, that the most powerful man in the free world took the time to acknowledge what Gagliardi’s meant to the sport and his players past and present.
“Over the course of 64 seasons – 60 of them at his beloved Saint John’s – Gagliardi’s 486 wins put him among the greatest to ever coach the game,” read the statement released through the White House by President Barack Obama. “With a career that began as a 16-year-old after his high school coach was called to serve in World War II, Gagliardi was never the most conventional figure. He instructed his players to call him “John” instead of “Coach,” and in turn, called each of his more than 100 players by their first names. His refusal to allow tackling in practice and his insistence that players make class before practice also became the stuff of legend.
“But the unusual methods worked – earning St. John’s four national championships. And even as his time on the gridiron comes to a close, Gagliardi’s genuine concern for players as scholar athletes and human beings will ensure that his influence will be felt for years to come.”