John Gagliardi, winningest coach in college football history, dies at 91 news services
October 07, 2018, 8:26 AM

John Gagliardi, the winningest coach in college football history, has died at the age of 91.

Gagliardi's daughter Gina Gagliardi Benson announced the former coach's death Sunday morning on Facebook.

"John was a winner in so many ways, but mostly in his ability to connect with others," she wrote. "His appreciation of others ran so deep that it was the core of who John was."

Gagliardi began his coaching career in 1949 and spent six decades (1953-2012) at Division III Saint John's University in Minnesota. He retired with a record of 489-138-11 and surpassed Eddie Robinson for the career wins record in 2003, piling up four national titles at Saint John's along the way.

Saint John's president Michael Hemesath offered condolences to Gagliardi's wife, Peggy, as well as his family, friends and former players.

"John Gagliardi was not only an extraordinary coach, he was also an educator of young men and builder of character" Hemesath said in a statement. "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."

Saint John's athletic director Bob Alpers said "there will never be another John" in a statement and that the school is "forever grateful for his contributions."

Gagliardi used an unconventional coaching style that included no tackling in practice or lengthy calisthenics. No whistles or wind sprints. There were no team captains, either, unless you count the honor shared by the seniors. He insisted that his players just call him John, not Coach, at a school that doesn't offer scholarships.

"John also felt great pride in his own children and his 3,000 football players," his daughter wrote. "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.

"When asked if he ever had a player he didn't like, he'd say, 'No, for some reason St John's only draws great guys. They were great kids, all of them. From great families. I was lucky to be around them every day. They made me look good.' And when he talked about their successes he'd say, 'I don't think there's a single one who hasn't gone on to do great things in whatever field they chose.'"

Gagliardi began his college coaching career at Carroll College in Helena, Montana, from 1949 to 1952. He also served as Carroll's basketball coach and had a stint as ice hockey coach at Saint John's.

He was inducted into the College Football Hall of Fame in 2006. Since 1993, Division III's outstanding player of the year has taken home the Gagliardi Trophy.

"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," Gina Gagliardi Benson wrote.

Information from The Associated Press was used in this report.

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