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John Gagliardi, a truly winning coach

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  • John Gagliardi, a truly winning coach

    A few days ago on Oct 7th, a kind, loving and honorable man passed away. He quietly served his Lord for 91 years and coached football on the side. He also happened to be the winningest college football coach in history, with 4 national titles, 27 conference championships and a record of 489-138-11. For 60 years he coached young men at St. John's University in rural Collegeville, Minnesota. He never felt the need to climb the ladder to more prestigious and higher paying positions because he appreciated where he was and valued peaceful serenity over stress and scorching limelight. And his main mission was young men anyway, so wouldn't a quiet place be more beneficial for all concerned?

    John Gagliardi was born in 1926 to Italian immigrants living in Trinidad, Colorado. 16 years later he began his coaching career. His local high school coach was called into WWII service in 1943, and the football program seemed threatened with collapse. His fellow players wanting to continue the season, came to him and requested that he take over coaching responsibilities. Serving as a player-coach his senior year, his legacy began..and with it, a radical departure from the norm.
    You see, John was more concerned with doing things the right way than just following accepted procedures. And for him, the right way was simply treating his players the way that he would like to be treated himself. Everyone made the team who wanted to be on the team, no one was cut and all got to play sometime during the season. All were treated with the same respect, whether star or 4th stringer. His teams averaged 180 players from a total campus of 2000 students..with no scholarships. He believed that all the players that came to him (given actually) were high quality individuals and destined for success in one way or another. He thought the best of them before he even knew them.
    He believed that the sport, since it was just a game, should be enjoyable and not a boot camp precursor to military conflict. No practice was over 90 minutes. Water was available at all times. No practices in inclement blocking tackling dummies.. no tackling of your screaming or demands to kill or hit..all of which he felt were disrespectful and rather insane in developing a positive and winning attitude. He had no rules regarding spring practices, weight training, or curfews. He believed training young men to do the right thing in regards to their teammates, opponents and others, should supersede any rules that he could make. "We get the right guys" he said, "the ones that don't need any rules..we just hope they can play football!" But no one was to call him "coach"..just 'John' was sufficient.

    John cared about his players. On the first day of practice, he took all the freshmen aside. Taking a dime out of his pocket, he held it up above his head having the players look skyward. "This dime," he said, "represents football. The sun you see up there, represents all the other important stuff. While you are here, you are going to learn about important stuff." He taught with examples, with stories, and with humor. His door was always open to any of them. He loved people, he taught them and they responded by playing their hearts out for him, not wanting to disappoint or bring shame to their coach or school.
    John constantly projected appreciation and wonder of the world around him, many times stopping practices to comment on the marvel of creation. On game days, he had the "Nice Day Drill". While the other team was working themselves into a frenzy with boisterous calisthenics and other emotional activities, John would have his entire team lay on their backs in the middle of the field. There he had them gaze up to the sky, to see the sights, hear the sounds, and smell the scents in order to appreciate the day that they had been given. He taught them that the day was a gift from Someone who really loved them.
    John's playbook was simple..less is more and more is just complicated and confusing. In fact he didn't even have a playbook for the team to memorize..and no trite blackboard sayings either. He thought truths were more readily absorbed by example and demonstration..from their leader. He taught basics and techniques with relentless patience until they became flawless automatic habits. Then his players could apply them in all manner of situations. They learned from John that success was nothing more than ordinary people doing little ordinary things.. in an extraordinary manner.
    At the end of home games, every player's family and friends were invited out on to the field to be with his players so they could all relish the moment together..(on the field of dreams so to speak). During this festive time, John would quietly slip away go home to be with his family. By avoiding the limelight, he was able to spend more time with those that he cared the most about.
    And his family was able to remember him..and later miss him. His children would remember how he would come home from school to play and do silly things with them. They remembered how he loved and appreciated their mother..both complimenting her frequently and apologizing when necessary. They stated clearly that the most valuable thing he taught was how to treat their spouse. Peggy was John's wife for 57 years. She remarked frequently that it was to her utter amazement that she had been so fortunate to be John's wife. Maybe thankfulness and appreciation is contagious and easily spread.
    At the end of John's obituary, "In lieu of flowers," the Gagliardi family would request that "You compliment your spouse often, listen intently to others, and look for the best in all."

    True success endures.

    Last edited by Lou Newton; October 13, 2018, 08:53 PM.

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      Excellent video capturing the essence of the ol ball coach while accepting an award..he thought he should have the decency to at least be dead when it was given! Loved his 3 signs of knowing when to retire. His demeanor is not quite the same as a Nick Saban or an Urban Meyer is it? Who would you rather play for?


      • #4
        Originally posted by RoyDavid View Post
        Excellent video capturing the essence of the ol ball coach while accepting an award..he thought he should have the decency to at least be dead when it was given! Loved his 3 signs of knowing when to retire. His demeanor is not quite the same as a Nick Saban or an Urban Meyer is it? Who would you rather play for?
        Hi Roy. Well Meyer seems to be a a lot more mellow than Saban. I sure would not want to be involved with Saban. Gagliardi sure has a good sense of humor and he spouted off a lot of real funny lines.