There was some grumbling from a minority of St. Thomas followers on Saturday, when St. John’s quarterback Jackson Erdmann threw a 16-yard touchdown pass to receiver T.J. Hodge with 34 seconds remaining to increase the final to 38-20 in favor of the unbeaten Johnnies.
The more-astute Tommies supporters would be aware of the nonsense in questioning an add-on touchdown in a competitive game against the archrival opponent – considering a good share of the reason St. Thomas was invited to leave the MIAC was the brutal drubbings it had administered to overmatched opponents since coach Glenn Caruso turned it into a national power in Division III football.
The Johnnies trailed 14-0 early and then carved up St. Thomas 38-6 in final 48 ½ minutes. Erdmann passed for 456 yards, second best of his career behind the 470 yards in a 40-20 victory over the Tommies last season.
This caused predictable attempts at humor on Twitter and in other outlets, comments such as, “Does this mean St. John’s is going to be thrown out next?’’, or, “Look out St. John’s; the MIAC softies are coming for you.’’
I’m not sure that 100% of these comments were strictly sarcasm. There might be a few believers that Carleton, Augsburg, St. Olaf, Hamline, etc. will seek to give the boot to any schools with an athletic program that has wide-ranging success – and greatest sin of all, dominates in football.
Don’t buy that. Evicting St. Thomas was a one-off (or one-out), due not only to its enormous athletic success, but also the fact it fits in the MIAC neither in its undergraduate enrollment, nor its business model with post-graduate programs.
My first visits to St. John’s came from 1966 to 1968, when I was a neophyte reporter at the St. Cloud Times. There are many more bodies in the athletic department, with nice additions in facilities, but when I dropped in last Wednesday, the feel was the same as a half-century earlier:
It's a vibe that says small-college athletics, Division III, in the truest sense: wanting to continue a great football tradition, wanting to be good in everything, but not being overamped about it.
There isn’t quite the guarantee of chuckles as there was in the decades when John Gagliardi was winning more football games than any college coach in history, and could be found in his office, looking at tape, maybe walking down with an index card to share an idea for a play with his offensive coordinator, son Jim, or to issue a warning about a certain player the Johnnies would be facing to his defensive coordinator, Jerry Haugen.
Haugen is still near the end of the hall, after 48 years first a player and then a coach, and balancing work in planning football defenses with being the head coach in baseball.
Pat Haws, another of the great St. John’s characters, was not spotted on last week’s visit. Haws was in the group added to the Johnnies’ Hall of Honor earlier this month. He retired as the soccer coach in 2009, was replaced by his son John, and now Pat serves as an assistant.
John is the third generation of Haws coaching at St. John’s. The first of the Haws was Terry. He still rates among my all-time favorites, first as a multi-sport coach at St. Cloud Cathedral, then as Gagliardi’s first full-time assistant and the wrestling coach at St. John’s.
Terry died of his second massive heart attack in 1973, at age 49. Grandson John never met him. Even Terry’s death came with a colorful kicker, though -- a story either I had never heard, or had forgotten (a strong possibility).
Back in ’73, Pat applied to replace his father as the wrestling coach. Jim Smith, the basketball coach for over a half-century in Collegeville, was the athletic director at the time.
Smith couldn’t hire such an inexperienced coach to take over an established program but he had another offer:
There was a pool in the new Warner Palestra and St. John’s wanted to start a swimming program. Smith knew Pat had an adequate resume, since he worked with his father in tending a St. Cloud municipal pool as a summer job.
Pat McKenzie, Smith’s replacement as basketball coach after being a player and an assistant (of course), said last week: “Pat got the swimming coach job because he knew how to monitor and change the chlorine in the pool. And then he won.''
Five years later, Gagliardi was the thletic director and needed a soccer coach. He informed Pat Haws that he wanted him to add coaching soccer to his duties.
“John, I don’t know anything about soccer,’’ Haws said.
To which the AD gave a vintage Gagliardi response: “You didn’t know anything about swimming, either, and that’s worked out OK.’’
As did soccer, where Pat Haws retired with a Minnesota state college record of 341 wins.
St. John’s athletics have added considerable staff and upgraded facilities, but what has never changed for a reporter is this: You come for the article, you stay for the laughs.