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Talking victories? Think of Gagliardi

By BRIAN LANDMAN, Times Staff Writer
© St. Petersburg Times
published August 18, 2002

Talk of coaching records should always include John Gagliardi.

It rarely does.

Gagliardi owns a remarkable 388-112-11 record, which has him 20 wins behind the all-time leader, Grambling's Eddie Robinson. But you don't get into the conversation often enough when you've spent 53 seasons at the lowest level of college football, including the past 49 at Division III St. John's University in Collegeville, Minn.

But that doesn't bother him in the least.

"Thank God a lot of people don't know me," he said with a gentle laugh, adding he doesn't regret that he couldn't prove his techniques -- no spring practices, no compulsory weightlifting program, no blocking sleds or dummies, no tackling in practice, no whistles -- could succeed at a big-name school.

"I had some Division II offers, at North Dakota State, South Dakota U., that's about the best I ever had. I didn't think they were that great, so I didn't take them. I never did get a shot at anything beyond that, but maybe if I had, I would be out of coaching."

Even at 75, he would miss all that his coaching entails, which he admits is far less demanding than his idols, Florida State's Bobby Bowden, Penn State's Joe Paterno and former Florida coach Steve Spurrier, had to endure day in and day out.

"In my area, which is entirely different than Division I, I'm dealing with guys who are here first and foremost for an education; they're paying their way through school," he said. "They're good kids, they've got to be smart enough to get in here and smart enough to stay here. It's pretty hard to beat that. Where else would I go to have people like that listen to me. At this age, I'd have to find a park bench some place and nobody there wants to hear you. Even reporters call me."

Sometimes.

More often as he nears Robinson. "Two of the great coaches are Amos Alonzo Stagg, who coached until he was 90, and Eddie Robinson," he said. "So if I can hang in there for another 15 years and win 1.3 games a year, I'll get them both. Hey, you only hit your stride when you hit to 70."

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