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St. John's (Minn.) Athletics | October 8, 2018

College football's all-time winningest coach John Gagliardi passes away at the age of 91

St. John's (Minn.) Athletics DIII football, John Gagliardi

Saint John's University notes with sympathy the passing of its legendary football coach John Gagliardi, who achieved national attention for his success both on and off the field at Saint John's. Gagliardi passed away on Oct. 7, 2018, at the age of 91.

"I offer my deepest condolences to John's wife, Peggy, his family and friends and the thousands of Saint John's alumni who played for him," said SJU President Michael Hemesath. "John Gagliardi was not only an extraordinary coach, he was also an educator of young men and builder of character. 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 Saint John's University. His is a legacy any educator would be extremely proud of."

The winningest coach all-time in college football with 489 victories, Gagliardi won four national titles at SJU (1963, 1965, 1976 and 2003) and made the 2000 national title game. The Johnnies also advanced to the national semifinals six other years and overall earned 24 post-season appearances. His teams won a total of 30 conference championships, including 27 at SJU. 

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"I'm profoundly sad about John's passing and he was a dear friend," said Bob Alpers, SJU athletic director. "On behalf of Saint John's athletics, our heartfelt condolences to Peggy and the Gagliardi family. There will never be another John. We are forever grateful for his contributions to Saint John's, our student-athletes and the fans of Johnnie football. We're going to miss him." 

Gagliardi was born in Trinidad, Colorado, and was a graduate of Colorado College. He coached collegiately for 64 years–four years at Carroll College in Helena, Montana, before coming to Saint John's in 1953 and replacing Johnny "Blood" McNally, a charter member of the Professional Football Hall of Fame.

He was an outstanding mentor to the thousands of young student-athletes who came through his program. At Saint John's, Gagliardi produced 113 All-Americans, as well as 22 Academic All-Americans (either first- or second-team selections). Gagliardi's former players have gone on to become leaders in government, politics, education, business and finance.

Gagliardi's insights on strategy, success and motivation were the subject of five books, including Sports Illustrated writer Austin Murphy's "The Sweet Season." Murphy spent four months in Collegeville during the 1999 football season working on the book about Gagliardi, the football program and Saint John's. His unique way of coaching were distilled into a series of "Winning With No's," including no tackling in practice; no long practices; no whistles; and no use of blocking sleds or tackling dummies.

The success of the program led the program and Saint John's to be featured in the Wall Street Journal, USA Today, New York Times, Boston Globe, Los Angeles Times, Washington Post and the Chicago Tribune newspapers; Sports Illustrated magazine; and broadcast outlets like ESPN, ESPN2, CNN, CNN/SI, "The Today Show" and "CBS News Sunday Morning."

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Gagliardi was the first active head coach to be inducted into the College Football Hall of Fame (Class of 2006). He also received the 2009 American Football Coaches' Association Amos Alonzo Stagg Award; the 2007 Liberty Mutual Division III Coach of the Year; and the National Association of Collegiate Directors of Athletics Hall of Fame in 2006. Gagliardi received the National College Football Awards Association's (NCFAA) Contributions to College Football Award in 2013 on ESPN. He was inducted into the Colorado Sports Hall of Fame in 2015 and the first member of Saint John's University's J-Club Hall of Honor in 2018. 

In 1993, Josten's and the SJU J-Club unveiled the Gagliardi Trophy, awarded to the outstanding Division III player in the nation. Three Johnnies have captured the award – wide receivers Chris Palmer (1995) and Blake Elliott (2003) and linebacker Carter Hanson (2016).

Gagliardi announced his retirement as SJU head football coach on Nov. 19, 2012. During his tenure, he also coached the SJU track and field and hockey teams, and served as athletic director from 1976-94. He was a Regent's Professor Emeritus of Exercise Science and Sport Studies.