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'Winningest' Coach Succeeded With Discipline

Host Scott Simon talks with John Gagliardi of St. John's University in Minnesota who retired this week as the coach with the most wins in college football history.

Transcript

SCOTT SIMON, HOST:

John Gagliardi is hanging up his clipboard. He announced his retirement this week, as the winningest coach in the history of college football. Over the course of 64 seasons - that's also a record; most of them at the St. John's University in Collegeville, Minnesota - Coach Gagliardi has racked up 489 wins, 138 losses and 11 ties. He's now 86 years old. Coach Gagliardi joins us from his home. Thanks very much for being with us.

JOHN GAGLIARDI: It's my pleasure.

SIMON: I was going to say you were hanging up your whistle; but I gather, from the New York Times, you don't use whistles in practice.

GAGLIARDI: That's for sure.

SIMON: Why?

GAGLIARDI: I don't know. I just - we've been doing some things for so long, that I can't even remember why we were doing them. I don't know what. Maybe I forgot my whistle and things went off pretty well; we just figured, well, OK, that's the way - it'll do it.

SIMON: I've also read, no tackling in practice; no mandatory weight training; and practices don't go longer than 90 minutes.

GAGLIARDI: All of that's true. (Laughter) A lot of this became - because of the things that as a player, that I didn't like. And I started coaching - not thinking that I was going to be in this thing for all these years. I thought it would be a couple years, at best. So we just started doing things that I didn't like, as a player, doing. And by gosh, we were winning. And as they went onto the next year, I figured, well, let's just keep doing what we were doing. And years mounted up. And we're here, at this point.

SIMON: And you've been able to coach three of your grandsons?

GAGLIARDI: Yes, I have.

SIMON: Wow.

GAGLIARDI: Two of my sons played for me and now, one of their sons is playing on the team.

SIMON: What's that feel like? That must be satisfying.

GAGLIARDI: Well, I - you have mixed emotions, you know. You think, gee whiz, I've been around here a long time, when you've got your grandkids on the team.

SIMON: Yeah.

GAGLIARDI: And yet it's very nice to see them playing, and joining our program.

SIMON: What made you decide to retire now, Coach?

GAGLIARDI: Well, I've thought about it many times, ever since I've turned - probably - 70 years old. Every year I thought, well, you know, this is getting pretty long. But we were winning pretty good; winning real big, for most of the time. And probably the other thing that's happened, I'm approaching 90. To have that kind of scary (laughter) - for me to be out there with these 20-year-old guys.

SIMON: What are you going to do now?

GAGLIARDI: These are uncharted waters. I've never been here. I've done one thing for all of my life, since I was 16 years old. Now, I'm 86. That's a long span. So starting another chapter, but I know that a lot of people have retired. They all have gone through the same thing I've gone through, and they got through it.

SIMON: Coach, thanks for being with us.

GAGLIARDI: My pleasure.

SIMON: John Gagliardi, who has just retired this week as coach of the St. John's University football team, after 489 wins. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

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