Gagliardi aims for record win
COLLEGEVILLE, Minn. -- It was a brief encounter at a speaking engagement several years ago. But it was long enough for Peg Gagliardi to make up her mind. "Peg bumped into Eddie Robinson," said John Gagliardi, Peg's husband of 47 years and longtim...
COLLEGEVILLE, Minn. -- It was a brief encounter at a speaking engagement several years ago.
But it was long enough for Peg Gagliardi to make up her mind.
"Peg bumped into Eddie Robinson," said John Gagliardi, Peg's husband of 47 years and longtime coach of NCAA Division III St. John's University. "She said 'that's my favorite coach.'"
Peg's second favorite coach isn't too bad, either.
Her husband is on the verge of surpassing Robinson -- the legendary former coach at Division 1-AA Grambling for 57 years -- on the all-time college coaching wins list.
Milestone victory No. 409 of Gagliardi's 55-year career could come at home Saturday against Minnesota Intercollegiate Athletic Conference foe Bethel.
This game has it all.
Both St. John's (8-0) and Bethel (9-0) are undefeated. Both are ranked in the Top 10 nationally, with the Johnnies at No. 2 and the Royals No. 10.
The winner will earn the MIAC title and likely the top seed in the West Region playoffs.
And there is the extra weight of the record.
"There are a lot of story lines," said Johnnies All-American receiver Blake Elliott. "It's as big as it gets. I don't know how you can not get up for that.
"We want to get the record for John and we're going to play hard for him. But we want to do it for ourselves, too. We want to be playing deep into November."
As always, the 77-year-old Gagliardi has shielded his players from the hype that surrounds his record chase.
Right now, it's business as usual in Collegeville.
All the old rules still apply -- even for big games.
- No blocking sleds or dummies.
- No whistles.
- No tackling in practice.
- Practices are an hour and a half or less.
"He's a very even-keeled man," Elliott said. "He's the rock of the team."
But the coaching staff is not exempt from feeling the pressure.
"Unfortunately, the script has already been written for this thing," said Jim Gagliardi, John's son and the Johnnies' offensive coordinator. "People have already circled the date as the day the record is broken. But Bethel is a great team."
However, Jim said he knows if the record isn't broken against Bethel it's just a matter of time until it falls. And the thought leaves the 1988 St. John's graduate in awe.
"This is how I look at it," Jim said. "If I started coaching right now and won 80 percent of my games I'd be 90-years-old by the time I broke the record. It's unbelievable that its happened."
When the record is broken, it will be bittersweet for John and Peg.
Both have great respect for Robinson, who helped put black college football on the map starting his coaching career in 1941.
Robinson is battling Alzheimer's disease and reportedly is unaware his record is about to be broken.
"It's unfair," John Gagliardi said. "He did a great job in coaching. He always had the right message."
Even when Robinson falls to No. 2 on the coaching wins list, his contribution to football won't soon be forgotten.
Not by fans. Not by players. Not by coaches.
And definitely not by the Gagliardis. John prominently displays a photo of him and Robinson in his office. The photo was taken at that memorable speaking engagement.
"When I met him I had no idea I'd even come close to his record," John said. "I've had a hell of a run the last 10 years."
Make that the last 55 years.
Readers can reach Forum reporter Heath Hotzler at (701) 241-5562