77-year-old coach in a win-win situation
By Brandon Masuoka
Advertiser Staff Writer
St. John's (Minn.) coach John Gagliardi caused quite a stir when he was introduced to the players by Ohio State coach Jim Tressel, who will lead the Aina team with Gagliardi as an assistant.
"When Jim Tressel introduced me to the players, they all applauded," said Gagliardi, who is only one of 10 coaches to have won more than 300 collegiate games. "I was surprised. These are big-time players. I didn't know that they knew I existed."
The annual college all-star football game will be played Saturday at War Memorial Stadium at 3 p.m. (HST) and will be televised on ESPN.
This season, Gagliardi, 77, became the all-time winningest coach in college football history, passing former Grambling State head coach Eddie Robinson's 408 wins with a 29-26 victory over Bethel on Nov. 8. Gagliardi, whose team won the Division III national title this season, holds a 414-114-11 record in 55 seasons, including a 390-108-10 mark in 51 seasons at St. John's.
Gagliardi and wide receiver Blake Elliott are the first St. John's representatives in the 58-year history of the Hula Bowl.
Elliott, listed at 6 feet 2 and 215 pounds, earned the 2003 Gagliardi Trophy given to the most outstanding player in Division III. This season, Elliott caught 117 passes for 1,319 yards and 13 touchdowns. He also rushed 60 times for 586 yards and five touchdowns.
This week, players and coaches are finding out what Elliott knew all along about Gagliardi.
"He's a great person and he definitely cares about his players," Elliott said. "I know he definitely cares about how this week goes for me, and he cares about me after I'm off the field.
"It's different from some coaches who care about guys because they want him healthy so they can win football games," Elliott continued. "John cares about his guys because he wants them to be great people and have great lives."
|||Hula Bowl Maui
What: College football all-star game
Where: War Memorial Stadium, Maui
When: Saturday, 3 p.m.
TV: Live, ESPN
Radio: Live, Westwood One, CBS Radio
Tickets: $25-$35. For information, call (808) 874-9500 or visit Web site www.hulabowlmaui.com
In addition to football, Gagliardi has coached track and hockey at St. John's and has won there, too. He won championships with the track team, and compiled a 42-25-1 record with the hockey team. That mark is the best career winning percentage of any hockey team in school history.
Part of Gagliardi's winning formula emphasizes repetition and fundamentals. Some of his popular "Winning with Nos" coaching methods include no blocking sleds or dummies, no scholarships, no spring practices, no compulsory weightlifting program and no "coach" players call him "John."
"John hates to lose," said Gagliardi's wife Peggy. "He doesn't get mad at the players. When they lose a game, he goes right back to the films and goes over things to see what he could have done better."
With his winning personality, Gagliardi has befriended many at the Hula Bowl, including opposing coaches such as Maryland's Ralph Friedgen, who will lead the Kai team.
"It's just a privilege for me to be here coaching with him in the same game," Friedgen said. "To me, he's the winningest college football coach. When you're ahead of (former Alabama coach Paul) 'Bear' Bryant and (former Pacific coach Amos) Alonzo Stagg, you've done an accomplishment in your life."
As assistant coach, Gagliardi will oversee quarterbacks Casey Bramlet (Wyoming), Ryan Schneider (Central Florida) and Kentaro Namiki of (Waseda, Japan). Gagliardi will assist Central Michigan coach Brian Kelly, who organizes the offense.
Bramlet is eager to get a few pointers from Gagliardi.
"He's a legend in coaching," said Bramlet, who completed 241 of 425 attempts for 3,037 yards and 22 touchdowns this season. "I'm glad I get a chance to meet him and be coached by him.
"He's been successful for a long period of time," Bramlet continued. "A lot of coaches will have a successful season and a few bad seasons. He's continued to have great seasons. It's a great accomplishment. It's very hard to do."
If Gagliardi has his wish, he said he would love to continue coaching for as long as he's healthy.
"It's his life," said Peggy Gagliardi, who will celebrate their 48th anniversary on Valentine's Day. "That's why he's not retiring. He won't retire because he doesn't play golf, he doesn't play tennis, he just works with football. When he retires, it will be when his health goes and he's just not feeling like he can do it anymore."
Gagliardi said he doesn't want to retire and "I've never said anything different."
"Everybody believes I should retire," he added. "As long as my health holds out, and we're winning, and if we don't hit the brick wall either way, we'll try to stay in it."
Reach Brandon Masuoka at firstname.lastname@example.org or 535-2458.