MINNEAPOLIS (WCCO/AP) — One of the greatest coaches in college football history, who Minnesotans know better than most, has died.

John Gagliardi died Sunday morning at 91 years old. The local legend spent 60 years as the head coach of the St. John’s University football team.

With a list of accolades and NCAA records almost as long as his illustrious coaching career, it’s almost impossible to think of St. John’s University football without including coach Gagliardi.

“John has this aura of success that might be intimidating and what I would tell you is if you spend two minutes with him, that immediately goes way,” said Blake Elliott. Elliott was one of thousands of players who donned a Johnnie’s jersey under Gagliardi.

An All-American wide receiver who led his team to a D-III national championship in 2003, Elliot said his esteemed coach created a culture his teammates coveted. Gagliardi was known for never cutting players, making the rosters balloon to 200 players.

“It was the expectation that if you’re gonna beat out 17 or 18 other kids to start, that you were going to be a good student. That you were gonna work out and lift weights. That you were going to practice hard and watch films and be respectful, and do the right thing all the time,” said Elliott. “And if you didn’t, somebody else was gonna play.”

Gagliardi’s accomplishments are staggering. He has 489 wins, the most in NCAA history. He led St. John’s to five D-III national championship games, winning four of them (1963, 1965, 1976 and 2003). He won 27 conference titles at St. John’s.

But he also well known for his “No’s,” such as no whistles and no tackling in practice.

“It wasn’t because of some sort of medical knowledge that he had, it was because he cared about his players,” said Elliott. “And he knew that they had a life after football and you wanted them to be safe and healthy. He also wanted them to be healthy on Saturdays so they could be effective.”

For more than six decades, Gagliardi coached young men on the field and in life. And Elliot feels the lessons they learned will continue having an impact even with their beloved coach gone.

“In terms of creating great husbands and great doctors and great people in their profession, that is John’s true legacy,” he said.

Last week, Gagliardi was the first inductee into the St. John’s Hall of Honor. His family, along with former players such as Elliott, were there for the ceremony.  Elliot said he was thankful they were all able to share that moment, knowing their time with Gagliardi was short.

Gagliardi is survived by his wife, Peg, two daughters, two sons and numerous grandchildren.

“There will never be another John,” said Bob Alpers, who has been golf coach at SJU for 26 years and athletic director since 2016. “We are forever grateful for his contributions to Saint John’s, our student-athletes and the fans of Johnnie football.”

(© Copyright 2018 CBS Broadcasting Inc. All Rights Reserved. The Associated Press contributed to this report.)

Jeff Wagner

Comments (2)
  1. RIP. A good life well lived. I loved his humility and kindness. We could use much more of that today more than ever before…CLASS OF ’86