The Other Legendary 80-Something College Football Coach


In the wake up the Penn State scandal – what do you think of Joe Paterno’s dismissal? – Sports Illustrated staffer Austin Murphy decided to write about the other legendary 80-something college coach, “the man who until Nov. 9 was one of two active, bespectacled, octogenarian Italian-American football coaches with 400-plus wins”: John Gagliardi, head coach at St. John’s University in Collegeville, Minn., a Division III powerhouse.

Gagliardi and Paterno were born six weeks apart in late 1926. The press had long associated the two, and just this October (before the Penn State scandal broke) Gagliardi told the St. Paul Pioneer Press that it’s “nice to be attached” to Paterno and that he didn’t mind being in has shadow.

“Let’s face it, he’s the big show,” Gagliardi told Charlie Walters. “If you go by salary, his salary’s a little more than mine.” And yet, even then, Walters pointed out, it was unlikely Paterno would ever catch up to Gagliardi’s win count.

Now that’s a fact. Gagliardi has coached 483 victories – with more to come next season – while Paterno’s wins stand at 409, a D-I record.

(Gagliardi was respectful in a recent Pioneer Press interview about Paterno’s firing, saying he hoped the longtime coach would eventually be remembered for his on-field success. “I guess Paterno did what he thought he should do,” Gagliardi told the newspaper. “I think I’d go confront the damn guy.”)

Single Catholics will appreciate an anecdote about Gagliardi’s bygone teaching days. The 85-year-old used to teach at St. John’s, the all-men college where classes are mixed with students from its sister college, St. Benedict. He was well known for two things: giving an easy A and matchmaking his single Catholic students. I haven’t heard how his success rate in classroom romances compared to his on-field success, but a slew of Johnnie-Bennie marriages have sprung forth over the decades (including my parents).

This fall Reid Forgrave wrote about what a good fit Gagliardi is at the Catholic campus nestled in Minnesota woods:

“It’s been a marriage between [Gagliardi] and the Benedictine values that underlie this institution,” says Father Doug Mullin, who oversees the athletic department. “John’s lesson is that there is a place for people. People can become committed and find something worthwhile. Life is not empty, full of short-term, big-lights thrills. There is something deep and meaningful in the human relationships that endure.”



  1. Christina-519533 November 17, 2011 Reply

    I like Gagliardi too, Jeff. I know he is Catholic, been married a long time and has a big family — raised lots of kids. One teaches natural family planning.

    Now two of Gagliardi’s grandsons play for him and one of his sons is an assistant coach.

  2. Jeff-406043 November 17, 2011 Reply

    I like this guy. It’s too bad that we don’t know more about him.

    I am disgusted at what has happened at Penn State. Anyone who knew what was going on and did not report it to police, shame on them. And shame on those college students who took it upon themselves to riot and commit acts of violence. Where is the anger towards the alleged abuser who raped those kids?

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