SJU's Gagliardi, football's winningest coach, retiresby Tim Post, Minnesota Public Radio
COLLEGEVILLE, Minn. — John Gagliardi's 60-year run at St. John's University is coming to an end.
After a record 489 wins and four national championships, the 86-year-old Gagliardi announced Monday that he is stepping down as the school's head football coach.
The last couple of seasons have been tough for Gagliardi and his team, and his departure leaves a big hole at St. John's, not only in sports, but on campus.
Even after decades of coaching at St. John's, Gagliardi admits he isn't sure how to feel about his retirement, which is official when his contract ends in June.
"I don't know whether to accept congratulations or condolences," Gagliardi said. "That's the mixed emotions."
Gagliardi got his start coaching in 1943 in high school in Colorado. He was a senior and a football player himself, when his coach was shipped off to fight in World War II.
The players begged to finish out the season, and so school officials named Gagliardi coach.
He came to St. John's in 1953 after coaching college football for only four years.
His years at St. John's are legendary among college football circles: 489 wins, four national titles. And the only active coach to ever be named to the College Football Hall of Fame.
The last couple of years have been tough however, with the Johnnies' football team sliding through two consecutive losing seasons, the first in decades.
Gagliardi doesn't understand the fuss over his retirement. He and the players worked well together, he said, and it's now time to move on.
"It happened and it's gone," he said. "Like a lot of good memories, like my wedding day, it's just a pleasant memory."
Gagliardi is such a fixture at St. John's, it is hard for anyone at the private Catholic college to imagine a campus without him.
"It's difficult for us to grasp, because we're only 18 and he's been here over three times longer than we've been alive," said freshman Josh Bungum, from Paynesville and a receiver on the team. "It's tough to understand how long he's been here and how much he means to the school."
Bungum said Gagliardi's style has transformed football at the school. Gagliardi is well known for his approach to practice. He doesn't yell at his players. And he doesn't allow tackling.
That's cut down on injuries said grandson Billy Gagliardi, 19, a freshman and wide receiver.
"He always says that you don't win games Monday through Friday. You win games on Saturdays," Gagliardi said. "There's no point in jeopardizing a victory on a Saturday with a stupid play on a Wednesday."
Gagliardi's players and his fans are sad to him go. But there is also a sense that it is time to start something new.
Erin Whissler, 21, a junior at the nearby College of St. Benedict, St. John's sister college, hopes elements of Gagliardi's approach remain.
"I hope the boys on the team remember what he taught them," Whissler said. "Hopefully the new coach can gain some insight from the boys as well, but I think we could probably use a winning season here soon."
St. John's officials said they are searching for a new coach now. They'll consider internal candidates, and widen their search out nationally.
Tom Stock, the college's athletic director, heads up the search committee looking for Gagliardi's replacement.
"Is he going to be replaceable? Yes, but it's not going to be easy," Stock said. "It's not going to be easy to find the next winningest coach in the history of the game to give us 60 years, and to have a passion for what he's done the way John has."
Gagliardi said he won't take part in the search process.
"I've been on search committees, they're worthless. I've always said committees are for the unwilling doing the unnecessary for the unfit," he said, drawing laughs. "That's what I think about committees, they know that."
Regardless of Gagliardi's feelings about the search process, St. John's officials say they hope to name a successor within 30 days.
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