In an interview with the Star Tribune in 2014, two years after he retired from his six-decade career as the football coach at St. John's in Collegeville, Minn., John Gagliardi was asked to describe his coaching style in one word. His response: "Unorthodox."
His unconventional coaching style was based on a "winning with no" philosophy, which included no tackling or whistles in practice, his refusal to cut players and his request that his players call him "John" instead of "coach." He said he operated with one basic team rule: "the Golden Rule — treat everybody like you'd like to be treated yourself."
Gagliardi, a Colorado native, arrived at St. John's in 1953 at the age of 26 after four seasons as the basketball and football coach and athletic director at Carroll College in Montana. When he retired in 2012, his 64th season as a college coach, he was the winningest coach in college football history. His teams had a 489-138-11 record.
Gagliardi died in 2018 at age 91. It seemed all of Collegeville, Minn., paused then to honor the coach.
Gagliardi started coaching football in 1943 while he was still in high school. As a senior, he became the coach at Trinidad Catholic high school after the team's coach was drafted into military service. He coached the Trinidad Catholic team for four years before becoming the coach at a high school in Colorado Springs. He coached Colorado Springs St. Mary's for two years while earning a college degree from Colorado College.
After graduation from Colorado College in 1949, he accepted the Carroll College job. In his four seasons as the Carroll football coach, his teams won three conference titles and went 24-6-1. His basketball teams also won two conference titles.
In 1953, he was hired by St. John's to replace Johnny "Blood" McNally as the Johnnies coach.
His first team at St. John's went 6-2 and earned a share of the MIAC conference title — the first of 27 conference championships for the Johnnies under Gagliardi. The Johnnies won four national championship under Gagliardi — the NAIA championship in 1963 and 1965 and NCAA Division III titles in 1976 and 2003.
Gagliardi announced his retirement in November of 2012, shortly after his 86th birthday. His final team went 5-5, the Johnnies' 44th consecutive season with a .500 record or better.
Gagliardi, who became the winningest coach in college football history in 2003 with his 409th victory — surpassing Grambling's Eddie Robinson — was named to the College Football Hall of Fame in 2006. Gagliardi and Florida State coach Bobby Bowden were the first active coaches to be named to the Hall of Fame. In 1993, the Gagliardi Trophy was unveiled. It is presented annually to the NCAA Division III player of the year.
During his first decade at St. John's, he also coached the Johnnies hockey team to a 42-25-1 record in five seasons.
Gagiliardi told the Star Tribune, "I coached a lot of sports along the way I didn't know much about. You just have to learn on the job, somehow. If there's a key, I think it's that I didn't alienate my players."
Team: St. John's.