Legendary football coach values the game itself over attention and money
Coach John Gagliardi watches as his team, the St. John's Johnnies, plays Hamline University on Saturday, November 12, in St. Paul, Minnesota. St. John's routed Hamline, 61-0.
November 23rd, 2011
08:20 AM ET

Legendary football coach values the game itself over attention and money

By Chris Welch, CNN

Collegeville, Minnesota (CNN) - John Gagliardi knows a thing or two about football. He’s 85 years old, and he’s been coaching since he was in his teens.

“Because of WWII, when I was a high school senior, my coach got drafted, and we didn’t have any coaches in the town,” he recalls.

That’s when he took over.

Now, more than 60 years later, Gagliardi hasn’t stopped. Since 1953, he's been the head football coach at St. John’s University, a small liberal arts college outside of St. Cloud, Minnesota.

He’s the winningest coach in college football history — all divisions included — and the first active head coach to be inducted into the College Football Hall of Fame.

When it comes to college sports, Gagliardi says, St. John's University suits him best because he “couldn’t stand all that attention” at a larger university.

Because St. John's doesn't have tens of thousands of students and televised sporting events, he and his team are able to concentrate more on the game of football.

Gagliardi said if he were leading a multimillion-dollar football program at a big school, he isn’t sure he’d be such a pure guy.

“I’d like to see if I could withstand that temptation. I’ve never been tested,” he said, adding that “wherever there is money, there is going to maybe be some negligence.”

That led to a brief discussion on the unfolding Penn State scandal, but Gagliardi kept his comments short on the topic.

“I was so busy preparing for my last game that I tried to ignore what was happening. … I was sorry to see the whole thing happen.”

Gagliardi and ousted Penn State coach Joe Paterno share a few similarities: They are the same age, and Paterno is second only to Gagliardi in number of wins. The two have had minimal communication with each other over the years. Nevertheless, when news of the scandal broke, the local media wanted to hear Gagliardi’s reaction.

“Frankly, it was a bad distraction for me, and I can’t imagine what kind of distraction it was for the Penn State campus," he said.

Referring to Penn State's football game against Nebraska the weekend after Paterno was fired, Gagliardi said, "They played great under unbelievable circumstances. It’s sad to see.”

When asked if top-division teams like Penn State put too much priority on their football programs, Gagliardi hesitated.

“I’m not an authority on that, because I don’t know much about it.”

He did say he thinks that education sometimes takes a back seat for players at big-name football schools. Whether that's right or not, Gagliardi said, it's just the way it is for certain star players destined for the NFL.

“A lot of those [star] guys have the equipment to become great pros, and a lot of them are going to be, so I can see how a lot of them see college sports as just a steppingstone," he said.

Gagliardi, who has lead his St. John's Johnnies to more than 460 victories, says that's not the case with his players.

“They can’t get in here unless they’re great students. We’ve turned down a lot of football players … [because] their grades weren’t good enough to get in here,” he said.

“Unless they’re going to be a pro football player or basketball player, they’ve got to earn a living, something other than the sport. So they’ve got to have a good, solid background.”

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soundoff (4 Responses)
  1. crabman

    just a side note some football and basketball players in these big collages can't spell grade let alone make the grade -–

    November 28, 2011 at 2:15 pm |
  2. crabman

    and thats how it should be in all collages grades first-- oh by the way refused GET SOME HELP

    November 28, 2011 at 2:12 pm |
  3. refused

    i know u think is a game , your chicken game that like to hurt a child ,,, so sick of u people lecturing others on moral issuse,.so sick of u people ,,wage war and kill based on your messed up moral,,,,i know u dont see it that way ,,denial is what best suited to u people,.. will never be u thats for sure ,,

    November 26, 2011 at 6:46 pm |
  4. LtButRt.


    I like it. The glory of the sport is paramount whether you win or not... GO JOHNNIES!

    November 25, 2011 at 2:17 am |