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Minnesota coaching legend John Gagliardi passes away

The winningest coach in college football history was 91 years old

Oakland Raiders v Denver Broncos Photo by Doug Pensinger/Getty Images

Before any of the football action got underway on Sunday, the state of Minnesota lost a truly legendary football coach.

John Gagliardi, who spent six decades at St. John’s University in Minnesota as the school’s football coach, passed away on Sunday at the age of 91.

Gagliardi too over the football program at St. John’s in 1953, and was the head coach of the Johnnies until the 2012 season, when he finally hung up his whistle. In 2003, he passed the legendary Eddie Robinson as the winningest coach in the history of college football (at any level), and finished his college coaching career with a record of 489-138-11. He also won four Division III national championships along the way, and the trophy that the outstanding player in Division III football takes home every year (their equivalent to the Heisman Trophy) was named for Gagliardi in 1993.

Gagliardi had an unusual coaching style, from all accounts. This comes from the story that ESPN did on him after his passing was announced earlier on Sunday.

Gagliardi used an unconventional coaching style that included no tackling in practice or lengthy calisthenics. No whistles or wind sprints. There were no team captains, either, unless you count the honor shared by the seniors. He insisted that his players just call him John, not Coach, at a school that doesn’t offer scholarships.

”John also felt great pride in his own children and his 3,000 football players,” his daughter wrote. “John honestly believed every one of his players were wonderful and he spoke often about how proud he was of them all. Not just how well they played football, but the things that mattered most to John: being hard working, successful, good men.

”When asked if he ever had a player he didn’t like, he’d say, ‘No, for some reason St John’s only draws great guys. They were great kids, all of them. From great families. I was lucky to be around them every day. They made me look good.’ And when he talked about their successes he’d say, ‘I don’t think there’s a single one who hasn’t gone on to do great things in whatever field they chose.’”

Gagliardi’s coaching career actually went all the way back to his high school, Trinidad High School in Colorado, when he was hired as the coach of the football team at the age of 16. Yes, a sixteen-year old coach. What happened was the team’s regular coach was drafted into military service (for World War II), and was a player-coach in his senior year. He continued coaching high school football while getting his college degree as well.

Legendary Minnesota Vikings’ head coach Bud Grant paid tribute to Gagliardi just a short time ago with one simple picture on his Twitter account.

Picture from the Twitter account of Bud Grant

I’m not sure how many St. John’s alumni we have out there among our readers, but I think that if you’ve spent any time in the state of Minnesota watching football, you know who John Gagliardi was. He had a unique style, and he produced a lot of upstanding young men that went on to do big things after their football careers were done.

Our thoughts prayers go out to the family and friends of John Gagliardi in light of John Gagliardi’s passing.