John Gagliardi, College Football’s Winningest Coach, Has Died At 91

Gagliardi was known as much for his unconventional methods as he was for his record-setting number of wins.

John Gagliardi College Footballs Winningest Coach Has Died At 91
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Gagliardi was known as much for his unconventional methods as he was for his record-setting number of wins.

John Gagliardi’s daughter, Gina Gagliardi Benson, announced the death of her father Sunday morning via Facebook. Gagliardi was 91-years-old. He was the winningest coach in college football history and was inducted into the College Football Hall of Fame in 2006. His cause of death was not disclosed.

Bleacher Report details that John Gagliardi began his coaching career at Montana’s Carroll College in 1949. He stayed there for four seasons and managed to accrue an impressive 24-6-1 record. He left Carroll College for a position as head coach with St. John’s in Minnesota, which would be where he built his legendary career — and where he would remain for 60 years. During his time there, St. John’s went to 27 conference championships, and won two NAIA titles in addition to two Division III titles. His career record at St. John’s was an astounding 465-132-10. The statistic that won him the title of “the winningest coach in college football history” is his 489 lifetime NCAA wins — a record that surpasses even Joe Paterno’s 409 career wins.

The New York Times noted that Gagliardi was at least as well-known for his unconventional approach to college football as he was for his record number of wins. He didn’t cut players, and he never ran a practice that lasted longer than 90 minutes. St. John’s President Michael Hemesath said in a statement Sunday that, “John Gagliardi was not only an extraordinary coach, he was also an educator of young men and builder of character.”

Gagliardi was well regarded for his noble sense of humility, and would sometimes pull a rather unique book from his shelf to show to people. The title on the front cover was “Everything I know about coaching football for 35 years.” The book was worn and dog-eared pages were visible even when it was closed. When Gagliardi opened the book, he revealed one blank page after another. There wasn’t a single word written in it.

Some of Gagliardi’s other unconventional traits included his insistence that his players call him John, not coach. Injuries scared him, so practices included little contact and no tackling. There were no demanding calisthenics, practices in extreme heat or extreme cold, screaming, whistles, or hazing.

Gagliardi is survived by his wife Peg, two daughters, two sons, and several grandchildren. In her statement on his death, Gina Gagliardi Benson described her father’s legacy. She called him John.

“John was a winner in so many ways, but mostly in his ability to connect with others. His appreciation of others ran so deep that it was the core of who John was. Without a doubt, John’s greatest pride was always his wife Peggy. He was a great role model of what true love is. John honestly believed every one of his players were wonderful and he spoke often about how proud he was of them all. Not just how well they played football, but the things that mattered most to John: being hard working, successful, good men. In honor of John, today make an effort to do what was effortless for John: Compliment your spouse many, many times today; listen intently to others; and ‘Be interested, not interesting.’ See the best in others.”