COLLEGEVILLE, Minn. - The winningest coach in college football has decided to close the book on a long and storied career.
John Gagliardi has recorded 489 career victories in his 64 seasons as a head coach at the collegiate level - the last 60 of which were spent at St. John's - but said Monday that the Nov. 10 regular season finale against Bethel was indeed his final game.
His retirement means St. John's officials will have to conduct the school's first search for a new head football coach since 1953, when Gagliardi was hired to replace legendary Johnnies standout and NFL Hall of Famer John "Blood" McNally.
The coach's legendary shadow stretches far beyond Minnesota. U.S. Press Secretary Jay Carney released a statement on behalf of the President. It reads:
"I want to congratulate John Gagliardi on his retirement as the winningest coach in college football history.
Over the course of 64 seasons - 60 of them at his beloved Saint John's - Gagliardi's 486 (St. John's says 489) wins put him among the greatest to ever coach the game. With a career that began as a 16-year-old after his high school coach was called to serve in World War II, Gagliardi was never the most conventional figure."
"Even as his time on the gridiron comes to a close," Carney continues, "Gagliardi's genuine concern for players as scholar athletes and human beings will ensure that his influence will be felt for years to come."
Since taking over in Collegeville at the start of the 1953 season, Gagliardi, who turned 86 on Nov. 1, has led the Johnnies to four national titles. St. John's won NAIA championships in 1963 and '65 and NCAA Division III crowns in 1976 and 2003.
His last national title in 2003 capped a season in which St. John's finished 14-0 and Gagliardi also surpassed former Grambling coach Eddie Robinson atop college football's all-time victories list by recording win No. 409 with a 29-26 victory over Bethel in the season's ninth game.
The Johnnies then went on to knock off perennial Division III titan Mount Union 24-6 in the national championship game, ending the Purple Raiders' then-record 55-game winning streak.
Besides notching four national titles, Gagliardi's teams have won or shared 27 MIAC crowns, the last of which came in 2009. That year also marked the last of the Johnnies' 23 postseason trips in his tenure.
St. John's then finished 7-3 in 2010, 6-4 last season and 5-5 in 2012. Some began publicly questioning the coach's future at that point.
Gagliardi's retirement brings to a close the longest head coaching career in college football history, and also one of its most unorthodox.
His legendary list of no's, as well as his success, has drawn countless amounts of national media attention over the years. The Johnnies do not tackle in practice, there are no whistles or tackling dummies, and his players do not refer to him as coach - rather addressing him simply as John.
There have been no team captains; That honor has been bestowed upon all the seniors on the roster each season. Gagliardi's teams eschew the traditional calisthenics so common to the sport, instead employing such routines as the "beautiful day drill," in which players drop to their backs and gaze up at the sky.
Gagliardi began his coaching career at the age of 16 in 1943 when he convinced school officials at Holy Trinity High School in his native Trinidad, Col. to let him take over as player-coach when the Tigers' previous head coach - Dutch Clark - was called into military service in World War II.
He spent four seasons there, advancing to the Colorado parochial school state title game in 1946, before taking over for two seasons at St. Mary's High School in Colorado Springs, Col., where he attended Colorado College and graduated in the spring of 1949.
He was then hired as the head coach at Carroll College in Helena, Mont. prior to the 1949 season . His team's there compiled a record of 24-6-1 and won three conference titles before he was hired at St. John's following the 1952 campaign.
For years, Gagliardi and his family - which includes wife Peg, daughters Nancy and Gina and sons John and Jim - resided just a short walk away from the Johnnies' home football field in a house in Flynntown, a small group of homes located on the edge of the St. John's campus.
But Gagliardi and his wife gave up that home in the summer of 2011 and moved full-time to their residence on nearby Big Watab Lake.
Gagliardi not only coached his sons John and Jim at St. John's, but this season also had three of his grandsons on the roster.
(Copyright 2012 by The St. Cloud Times. All Rights Reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed. )