Gagliardi, College Football’s Winningest Coach, Dies at 91


John Gagliardi was ahead of his time as a football coach, believing he did not need to make his players suffer for them to succeed.

Using unconventional methods at a small private university in Minnesota, Gagliardi won more football games than anybody who has ever coached in college.

Gagliardi died Sunday at the age of 91, according to St. John’s University.

“John was a winner in so many ways, but mostly in his ability to connect with others,” Gina Gagliardi Benson, the coach’s daughter, posted on Facebook. “His appreciation of others ran so deep that it was the core of who John was.”

Gagliardi retired in 2012 after a record 64 seasons as a head coach, with 60 of those at St. John’s, an all-male private school in Collegeville. He finished with 489 victories, 138 losses and 11 ties, winning four national championships with the Johnnies. But he drew as much national attention to a school with fewer than 2,000 students with his laid-back approaches to the sport. His policy was to not cut any players from the roster and guide nonstrenuous practices that never exceeded 90 minutes.

“John Gagliardi was not only an extraordinary coach, he was also an educator of young men and builder of character,” St. John’s President Michael Hemesath said in a statement. “John inspired deep and enduring loyalty and passion among his players across the decades because he taught them lessons through the medium of football that served them well in their personal and professional lives long after graduating from St. John’s University. His is a legacy any educator would be extremely proud of.”

Where Gagliardi truly made his mark was with the word “no.”

His entire coaching philosophy was based on a list of “nos,” a rejection of football’s sometimes-sadistic rituals that he detested as a player. Gagliardi hated it when people called him “coach,” preferring John instead. Long before football became safety conscious at all levels, Gagliardi was terrified of injuries, so contact in practice was kept to a minimum and tackling was prohibited. Everybody who wanted to be on the team could make it, often leaving a roster of more than 150 players.

Grueling calisthenics? No way. Same for hazing, screaming, whistles, superstitions and even practicing in extreme conditions. If the mosquitos were swarming? Forget it.

“We have one rule with our players — the golden rule,” Gagliardi said in the 2003 interview with The Associated Press. “Treat everybody the way you would want to be treated. We get the right guys. The ones that don’t need any rules. … We just hope they can play football.”

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