MINNEAPOLIS (AP) — John Gagliardi, who won more games than any other college football coach with his unconventional methods at a small Minnesota school, has died. He was 91.
St. John’s University said Gagliardi died Sunday. A cause of death was not immediately known.
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, Minnesota. Gagliardi 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.”
Gagliardi passed Grambling’s Eddie Robinson for all-time coaching victories with No. 409 in 2003 and again for all-time games coached with No. 588 in 2008. The major-college leader in wins is the late Joe Paterno, who finished with 409 at Penn State.
The journey for Gagliardi began at Carroll College in Montana in 1949 when three conference titles in four years changed that school’s mind about dropping the sport. He then moved east to St. John’s, a Catholic institution founded in 1857 by Benedictine monks who came to minister to the influx of German immigrants in central Minnesota. Though Gagliardi — born in the mining town of Trinidad, Colorado — knew little about the school when he showed up, he soon found his niche.
During the hiring process, the monks asked him if he could beat rival St. Thomas and another conference foe, Gustavus.
“I had never heard of them,” Gagliardi said. “But I said, ‘Sure.'”
St. John’s went 6-2 and won the Minnesota Intercollegiate Athletic Conference in his first season, his first of 27 MIAC titles.
“When I came to Minnesota … I’d never seen television,” Gagliardi said in a 2003 interview with The Associated Press. “I was unmarried at the time, living in the dorms. I asked them if I could have a TV set. They weren’t so sure at first. But after we beat St. Thomas and Gustavus, they were like, ‘You still want that TV?'”
Gagliardi is survived by his wife, Peg, two daughters, two sons and numerous grandchildren.