Retirement rumors again swirling, Gagliardi faces first losing season since '67

  • Article by: MIKE KASZUBA , Star Tribune
  • Updated: October 12, 2012 - 6:37 AM

As John Gagliardi faces the possibility of his first losing season in 45 years, rumors of retirement begin to swirl.

hide

John Gagliardi, 85, is in his 63rd year as the Johnnies head coach.

Photo: Marlin Levison, Star Tribune

CameraStar Tribune photo galleries

Cameraview larger

COLLEGEVILLE, MINN. - The winningest coach in college football history, looking every bit his 85 years, sagged in his office chair and talked of his health, his fading prospects of reaching 500 career victories and the physical toll taken as St. John's University stares at its first losing season since 1967.

The downturn of what had been a perennial NCAA Division III national powerhouse has led to the inevitable questions of whether John Gagliardi might soon end his legendary career at St. John's. The coach was alternately feisty and reflective Wednesday as he talked of a season gone awry and a future that looks increasingly uncertain.

 "I don't know how much I've slipped -- obviously, who hasn't slipped?" said Gagliardi, who will be 86 in three weeks. "I'm not exactly as young as I used to be."

Gagliardi's team this year has been dogged by key injuries and after a 2-0 start has dropped four consecutive games to conference opponents, losing by 31 points last Saturday to Augsburg. The Johnnies will have to win three of their remaining four games to avoid their first losing season since Lyndon Johnson was president.

"We've never had one of these years," the coach said before bundling up in a hooded parka to slowly make his way out to a practice on a gray, chilly October afternoon. Gagliardi rides a golf cart the short distance to St. John's idyllic football field, and a school spokesman confirmed that the coach has spent several games this year watching from the press box as opposed to the sidelines.

Two months after talking of coaching until he has 500 wins -- he sits at 486 -- Gagliardi said his comments were meant more as a joke, as opposed to a real goal.

He also said some may be relishing his team's losing record, and what might come next. "I suppose they'll be smiling when I die. I'm sure there will be people like that," he said. "I don't think everybody in the world loves me."

Coach will make the call

Down the hallway from Gagliardi's office, Athletic director Tom Stock said it will be up to the coach to tell him when he is done, and that the school has privately put a plan in place to conduct a national search for a successor.

"I think the losses really take their toll," Stock said. "He's won four out of [every] five games in his 60-year coaching career. He's an ultracompetitive person.

"The losses really, in a sport as visible as football, sap the energy and strength out of him," and everyone else, Stock said.

In an indication of how rapidly speculation is spreading that an announcement may be imminent, Stock, who spent Thursday in meetings in the Twin Cities, said he called Gagliardi to make sure the coach had not had "a change of heart" and was now considering making a decision before the season ends. Gagliardi, he said, told him no.

Stock was also asked whether the school would ever formally approach Gagliardi about retiring, rather than waiting for Gagliardi to make the first move. "I hope we never have to go there," he said.

Program declines

The coach -- like most of the school's employees -- gets a one-year contract that begins on July 1. Stock said the conversation with Gagliardi about the next year typically takes place after the season. Last year, Stock said Gagliardi simply told him, "If I have my health, if I have the energy, I want to coach another year."

In many ways, this is uncharted territory for a school that has been synonymous with winning football.

"It would surprise me" if Gagliardi announced this was his last year, Bobby Fischer, a senior cornerback from Plymouth, said before a weekday practice. "At the same time, I wouldn't be overly shocked because of the situation."

Gagliardi was the first active head coach in the College Football Hall of Fame. He passed former Grambling State coach Eddie Robinson as the winningest college football coach in 2003, the year Gagliardi led the Johnnies to a 14-0 season and an NCAA Division III championship.

His teams, however, have slipped in the past three years. After winning the MIAC four out of five years ending in 2009, the Johnnies finished 7-3 in 2010 and 6-4 last year -- good for fourth place. Gagliardi's teams last made it out of the postseason's first round in 2007.

Eden Prairie High School coach Mike Grant, who has built a perennial state title contender and is the son of legendary Vikings coach Bud Grant, has long been rumored to be the leading candidate to succeed Gagliardi. Stock on Wednesday called Grant "a great alum" but added that Grant has not talked to him about the job. "Mike, like all the internal candidates and others who may be interested, would be welcome to apply," he said.

This year's losses likely mean that Gagliardi, who entered the season needing 16 wins to reach 500, will be hard-pressed to reach the milestone in 2013. Coming back for still another season in 2014 would mean Gagliardi would be coaching on his 88th birthday.

On Wednesday, Gagliardi downplayed his desire to get to 500 and said that, before the season, he also joked that it would take eight years to reach the goal if he won just two games a year. "I was just horsing around," he said.

There is speculation that has Gagliardi announcing his retirement next week -- a bye week for the team -- and then the school honoring its iconic coach at the year's last home game against Gustavus Adolphus on Oct. 27.

"I haven't been privy to any of that," said Gagliardi's son, Jim, who has been the team's offensive coordinator since the early 1990s. "If it's been talked about, it's been between him and someone else."

But Jim Gagliardi said it is difficult to ignore the impact the season has already had. "It seems like everything's snowballing on us," he said. He said he and his father usually postpone discussions of how long Gagliardi will coach until "at the end of season and summers when we can sit off on the lake, something like that, and more or less reminisce.

"He's 86. It's not going to be 10 years from now, that's for sure," said his son.

Standing outside the locker room, senior running back Stephen Johnson said the mood has been somber. "No one takes the losses harder than John," he said of his coach. "It's obviously not where we wanted to be, or expected to be."

Back in his office, Gagliardi watched game film of his next opponent, Carleton, and cursed as he had trouble getting the computer software to cooperate. He also read an e-mail from a supporter who reminded him that "this too shall pass."

Then he turned feisty. "You want me to say I'm thinking of retirement? I'm not thinking about retirement. I'm thinking about this [next] game," he said.

Mike Kaszuba • 651-222-1673

  • related content

  • Chart: John Gagliardi's coaching accomplishments

    Thursday October 11, 2012

    LEGENDARYA look at John Gagliardi's coaching accomplishments:Record: 486-137-11 (most victories in college football history)At St. John's: 462-131-10 (60 years)MIAC titles:...

  • Storylines: MIAC football Week 6

    Thursday October 11, 2012

    GAME OF THE WEEKBethel at St. Thomas, 1:10 p.m. Saturday: For the third consecutive week, Bethel (5-0, 3-0 MIAC) will...

  • get related content delivered to your inbox

  • manage my email subscriptions

ADVERTISEMENT

San Francisco 2 Bottom 7th Inning
Kansas City 7
San Diego 10/23/14 7:25 PM
Denver
Detroit 10/26/14 8:30 AM
Atlanta
Buffalo 10/26/14 12:00 PM
NY Jets
St. Louis 10/26/14 12:00 PM
Kansas City
Houston 10/26/14 12:00 PM
Tennessee
Minnesota 10/26/14 12:00 PM
Tampa Bay
Seattle 10/26/14 12:00 PM
Carolina
Baltimore 10/26/14 12:00 PM
Cincinnati
Miami 10/26/14 12:00 PM
Jacksonville
Chicago 10/26/14 12:00 PM
New England
Philadelphia 10/26/14 3:05 PM
Arizona
Oakland 10/26/14 3:25 PM
Cleveland
Indianapolis 10/26/14 3:25 PM
Pittsburgh
Green Bay 10/26/14 7:30 PM
New Orleans
Washington 10/27/14 7:30 PM
Dallas
Houston 90 FINAL
Orlando 89
Brooklyn 86 FINAL
Boston 100
Washington 100 FINAL
New York 103
Cleveland 92 FINAL
Memphis 96
Minnesota 110 FINAL
Milwaukee 91
Atlanta 115 4th Qtr 1:10
San Antonio 101
Portland 31 2nd Qtr 4:43
LA Lakers 36
Phoenix 19 1st Qtr 5:08
LA Clippers 15
Toronto 0 Postponed
Ottawa 0
Philadelphia 5 FINAL
Pittsburgh 3
Washington 2 2nd Prd 12:52
Edmonton 2
Buffalo 0 1st Prd 10:45
Anaheim 1
Arkansas State 40 FINAL
Louisiana 55
Connecticut 10/23/14 6:00 PM
(18) East Carolina
Miami-Florida 10/23/14 7:00 PM
Virginia Tech
So Florida 10/24/14 6:00 PM
Cincinnati
Troy 10/24/14 6:30 PM
South Alabama
BYU 10/24/14 8:00 PM
Boise State
(6) Oregon 10/24/14 9:00 PM
California
North Texas 10/25/14 11:00 AM
Rice
UAB 10/25/14 11:00 AM
Arkansas
Rutgers 10/25/14 11:00 AM
(16) Nebraska
Maryland 10/25/14 11:00 AM
Wisconsin
Texas 10/25/14 11:00 AM
(11) Kansas State
Minnesota 10/25/14 11:00 AM
Illinois
Memphis 10/25/14 11:00 AM
SMU
North Carolina 10/25/14 11:30 AM
Virginia
San Jose St 10/25/14 12:00 PM
Navy
Northern Ill 10/25/14 12:00 PM
Eastern Mich
(25) UCLA 10/25/14 1:00 PM
Colorado
Akron 10/25/14 1:00 PM
Ball State
Massachusetts 10/25/14 1:00 PM
Toledo
Ohio U 10/25/14 1:00 PM
Western Mich
Ga Southern 10/25/14 1:00 PM
Georgia State
Kent State 10/25/14 1:30 PM
Miami-Ohio
Oregon State 10/25/14 2:30 PM
Stanford
Fla Atlantic 10/25/14 2:30 PM
(23) Marshall
Louisiana Tech 10/25/14 2:30 PM
Southern Miss
(1) Miss State 10/25/14 2:30 PM
Kentucky
Georgia Tech 10/25/14 2:30 PM
Pittsburgh
(22) West Virginia 10/25/14 2:30 PM
Oklahoma State
Texas Tech 10/25/14 2:30 PM
(10) TCU
Michigan 10/25/14 2:30 PM
(8) Michigan State
Boston College 10/25/14 2:30 PM
Wake Forest
Central Mich 10/25/14 2:30 PM
Buffalo
Vanderbilt 10/25/14 3:00 PM
Missouri
Old Dominion 10/25/14 3:00 PM
Western Ky
UNLV 10/25/14 3:00 PM
Utah State
Temple 10/25/14 4:00 PM
UCF
(15) Arizona 10/25/14 5:00 PM
Washington St
Texas-El Paso 10/25/14 6:00 PM
TX-San Antonio
Wyoming 10/25/14 6:00 PM
Colorado State
Syracuse 10/25/14 6:00 PM
(21) Clemson
Texas State 10/25/14 6:00 PM
ULM
(3) Ole Miss 10/25/14 6:15 PM
(24) LSU
(4) Alabama 10/25/14 6:30 PM
Tennessee
So Carolina 10/25/14 6:30 PM
(5) Auburn
(13) Ohio State 10/25/14 7:00 PM
Penn State
(20) USC 10/25/14 9:00 PM
(19) Utah
(14) Arizona State 10/25/14 9:45 PM
Washington
Nevada 10/25/14 10:59 PM
Hawaii
Chivas USA 0 2nd Half 35:00
Real Salt Lake 1
Montreal 10/24/14 5:30 PM
Ottawa
Saskatchewan 10/24/14 8:30 PM
Calgary
Hamilton 10/25/14 3:00 PM
Toronto
Brt Columbia 10/25/14 6:00 PM
Winnipeg
Connect with twitterConnect with facebookConnect with Google+Connect with PinterestConnect with PinterestConnect with RssfeedConnect with email newsletters

ADVERTISEMENT

Date/Opponent Time W L Score
2014 season     
Aug 28 - vs. E. Illinois 6 pmX42-20
Sep 6 - vs. M. Tennessee St. 2:30 pmX35-24
Sep 13 - at TCU 3 pmX30-7
Sep 20 - vs. San Jose St. 3 p.m.X24-7
Sep 27 - at Michigan 2:30 pmX30-14
Oct 11 - vs. Northwestern 11 amX24-17
Oct 18 - vs. Purdue 11 amX39-38
Oct 25 - at Illinois 11 am
Nov 8 - vs. Iowa TBA
Nov 15 - vs. Ohio State TBA
Nov 22 - at Nebraska TBA
Nov 29 - at Wisconsin TBA

ADVERTISEMENT

ADVERTISEMENT

ADVERTISEMENT

question of the day

Poll: How will the Vikings and Gophers do this weekend?

Weekly Question

ADVERTISEMENT

 
Close