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Open Door Policy

A Look Inside a Coach\'s Office: John Gagliardi
by: Rex Lardner
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With this issue, American Football Monthly begins a new section of the magazine entitled Open Door Policy... it’s an inside look at the office of a head football coach. But not just the inner-workings of a day in the life of a coach, but what goes on behind the scenes; that is, the good, the bad, and the unusual. It’s an intimate look inside a coach’s den....

Our first Open Door Policy, appropriately, is that of the winningest college football coach of all time – St. John’s (MN) John Gagliardi. Last fall Coach Gagliardi surpassed Eddie Robinson as the sport’s all-time leader in wins. He finished his 55th season with an all-time record of 414-114-11 (.778). Last year St. John’s went a perfect 14-0 and won the NCAA Division III Championship.

AFM: What’s a typical day like for you at your office?
JG: Well, it consists of a few things but absolutely no meetings. I don’t believe in them. We delegate and divide responsibilities. A large part of the day is administrative or looking at tapes – it could be a potential recruit, one of our previous games, or that of our next opponent.

AFM: Over the years at St. John’s, what coaches have visited or written to you that stand out?
JG: Off the top of my head I talk and correspond with Glen Mason who’s relatively nearby and the coach of the Minnesota Gophers. Dick Jauron, now with the Lions has written and I’ve traded letters with Paul Tagliabue. He wrote a very gracious letter when the record was passed last fall. I’ve also received a number of congratulatory letters when the record was passed and since that time I’ve been invited to speak at a number of great places – Phil Fulmer invited me to Knoxville, Mason to Minneapolis, and Jim Tressel to the Ohio State campus in Columbus....even after 50 years of coaching I pinch myself and am thrilled that I still have a job.

AFM: If you could have three coaches in your office to discuss football on any level, who would you select?
JG: I would certainly include Bud Grant – a great coach, innovator and person. Probably Glen Mason and Jim Tressel as well...could I have three more? They’d be Phil Fulmer, Bill Belichick, and Steve Spurrier... I admire Spurrier and we developed a great relationship....he sent me a nice note and felt I ‘was up there with Joe Paterno.’

AFM: There have been four books published recently about your insights on people, strategy, and winning..what kinds of books do you have in your office?
JG: I have some of those but also a big 300 page book with my picture on the front that’s titled, “All I Know About Coaching Football.” There are 300 blank pages on the inside.

AFM: With your career spanning over five decades, you’ve coached and interacted with thousands of athletes... any players particularly stand out?
JG: We’ve had three players go to the NFL and there have been, over the years, a lot of other good one’s... Mike Grant, Coach Bud Grant’s son, was an outstanding player here and is now a very successful high school coach at Eden Prairie (HS) of my former players is now the Bishop of Cleveland....another player that was with me in the early 70’s-now the CEO of Super Value grocery stores-was John Hooley, an All-American quarterback in 1974.
AFM: Over the years you must have had some unusual calls... any come to mind?
JG: A few years ago I got a call from Ed O’Neill the star of “Married with Children.” The guy that played Al Bundy. When we started talking I didn’t believe it was really him and thought it was one of my players playing a prank. O’Neill said he wished he had a coach like me when he played in high school and college and to prove it he said he would send me an autographed picture...which he did. He was very supportive.

AFM: Tell me about your philosophy of football at St. John’s?
JG: While we emphasis teamwork and discipline I’ve adhered to my ‘No’ philosophy...that includes no blocking sleds or dummies on the field, no scholarships, no spring practice, no compulsory weightlifting sessions, no whistles, and no tackling in practice...I ask my players to call me ‘John’ and we try to make the practices as short as possible...our players really have to want to play.


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