John has an amazing ability to remember names and personal history. My role on the 1965 team was small, but I continued to play and would not trade one minute of that experience. I saw John personally again in 1990 when we had a reunion of that team. John remembered everyone.
What did I learn from John? - A lot of football for sure. A recognition of the need to take responsibility for oneself, and one’s team. And, a conviction that all human beings deserve dignity and respect—they deserve it because they are alive—no other reason is needed.
You didn’t beat each other up. You ran plays—over and over and over—getting blocking assignments from “flashcards” held up in the huddle. It worked.
I still use John’s ideas and fundamentals in everyday life. I keep things simple just how you keep practices simple. I work on things I need to improve on, just how he stressed that on the football field. I hold pride in what I do for my community just like I did when I played for St. John’s. John and the St. John’s football program have shaped me into the individual that I am today and I couldn’t be more happy, honored, and thankful.
John put school and studies before football. If you had a test, you could miss practice to study. He knew school was more important and would tell us to keep our priorities straight in life and things should work out.
Gag’s taught us many lessons and made it fun, that’s what I’ve done throughout my life. I only played for John for two years but had a lifetime of memories and lessons from him.
I think John’s successful career can be narrowed down to a few key ideas – Inspiration, Respect, and Desire. He can inspire like no other. He truly treats each person he meets with the utmost respect. John may disagree, but deep down, I think he is driven to be the absolute best at everything he does.
John coached with the highest ideals – the love of the game and impeccable integrity, both of which are in short supply today. Many a young boy has played at St. John’s and left a man – much of that transition is owed to John.
John created a powerful legacy by breaking football into small parts and giving a few small parts to each player a handle for a short time on Saturday afternoon. When all those small parts were assembled at the end of the day you had a football game. If you took care of the little things the big things would fall into place. Football is made up of 3-5 second plays and anyone can do something for 3-5 seconds.
I think that John has done so well for so long because he focuses on the mental aspect of the game, which almost all other coaches fail to do. I remember him saying "envision making the perfect play" and he would get everyone's minds thinking the same thing. The result would be dominance on the football field as a team.
After losing, he proceeded to make one of the best analogies I have ever heard:
“You know what I think about losing? I think about it like a bad meal. You have a bad meal, you don’t particularly enjoy it and then a few hours later, you go to the bathroom and you see it again. Now, when you see that bad meal again, you don’t get up, pick it up out of the toilet, poke through it, and try to figure out the reason it was a bad meal. You just say to yourself, well, that was a bad meal, and you flush it and forget it. There’s no sense on dwelling on the past and trying to go through everything that went wrong. Sometimes you just have to forget about it and move on”.
This is the first time I saw the genius way John looked at the game and how his philosophies in football can translate over into life.
There is a reason that the football players typically grow up to be successful husbands, fathers, and employees; and a lot of that has to do with what John does. I think what John understands is that we are all just kids when we arrive on campus as freshman, and we need time to mature and grow before we become successful. John fosters that with personal responsibility. He never forced anything on anyone, but everyone knew that a substantial amount of work needed to be done if you were going to play, and that personal responsibility extends to off of the field as well.
The most lasting philosophy and practice that John taught us and that I have embraced my whole life is to trust your plan and the team you are on. As a team, if we fully implemented the plan together, we would be successful as long as we did our part and had full accountability. I have implemented this lesson into my life with great success.
A lot has been written about St. John's football and John Gagliardi, but I recall John's coaching skills and his ability to mold the team into a winning team of good men. He was influential to the lives of thousands of young men beyond those initial years of coaching, he has helped place St. John's on the map and he has given all of the fans some memories to never forget.
The leadership skills that John taught are timeless; be humble, work hard, and spend time with those you care about. These leadership skills span into any discipline, whether it is with sports, business, or in your personal life, and I have carried these values with me through new jobs, graduate school, marriage and parenting.
John believed that I could do the job on the offensive line that he asked, despite being small, not very fast and not overly strong. I committed myself to learning and practicing the perfect technique, and to this day, I still remember him saying “performing ordinary tasks extraordinarily well” and that was the key to success in his program.
John always taught us that whenever you greet someone that is not a family member or your best friend, stick your hand out and say your full name. This simple gesture of giving your name relieves the tension of those encounters where you know the person, but cannot recall their name. This lesson has had the most impact throughout my life, and is a very simple one, but has been extremely influential in my personal life and business career.
I want to extend my gratitude to John for instilling in me the tools it takes to be a champion not only on the football field but in life as well. I have carried the lessons I learned while playing football at Saint John’s over into all other aspects of my life, and it was an honor to play for John.
I was told recently, “Every person is a treasure of knowledge: As you encounter people in life, try and take just one jewel from their treasure, and you will be a very wealthy man.” I reflected on the leaders that I look up to, and what I have taken from them to put in my treasure chest. At the top of the list were two people; my father and John. Between the two of them, I felt as though I was already rich!
I think my time as a football player at SJU was like that of many others, we loved it and still love it and feel fortunate to have been a part of it. There is no doubt what we learned from John translates in to our personal lives and our personal success. To me, the most important thing I learned was that you had to answer to yourself if you wanted to be successful. It was up to the players to do the extra things that made the huge difference in the team's success.
As with many people at SJU, I am always baffled at how John remembered his players, even years later. I only played one year and certainly was not a star player. Despite this, years later I would bump into John at SJU during a game and he still remembered my name--I was really proud of him for that. In my opinion, that speaks to what his players mean to him and how people at SJU conduct themselves in general.
One thing that I do not hear much from a football perspective is how aggressive John is with going for it on 4th down. Although it is statistically a better decision to do so, most coaches decide to punt because they do not want to be criticized. I'm sure he has won several games with gutsy calls like these.
One thing I learned from John that I apply today is the fact that while a person may be talented and is able to function at a high level, if you do not continue to hone your skills, work hard, and be a self-starter--you will most definitely be replaced.
There are two very important "lessons" I learned from John...that to this day, I practice.
#1: When complimenting someone, make sure it is a trait that is unique to that individual, (like their eyes, skin, hair, laugh, etc.). We practiced this "skill" in John's Theory of Football class on multiple occasions.
#2: Be careful with your first bite of pizza!!! If you burn the roof of your mouth on that first bite...as John state, "It can ruin your whole meal"!
Much of what I have learned from John I have been able to instill in my own life and coaching practices. He was always so modest giving credit to his players and assistant coaches while never once wanting recognition for his accomplishments. By doing that, he gave me and so many others the confidence we needed to win football games. One trait I really admire is that he cared more that his players were good people than good players. I remember him saying over and over again that someone is a great player but more importantly a great person. I try hard to relay to my players that being a good person and representing your team with class is just as important as being a good player. Another coaching pint I got fro his is that you play the guy that gets the job done. I think too many coaches look at how big and strong and fast their players are instead of finding the guy who simply gets the job done and knows how to play the game.
To this day, I am very proud to be able to say I was a member of SJU's football team and to have played under John. One of my strongest memories of my three years of playing was when he took me to the woodshed at practice for not running a play at full speed. I learned two valuable lessons that day. First, you play like you practice. Second, always assume someone is watching and always be at your best. I have incorporated these lessons into my personal values and philosophies, including while coaching my girls' various sports teams, professionally at work, and personally.
John was not a coach in my eyes. He was a friend and father figure. That is the respect I gave him and he deserved. In my opinion, he defines SJU. He and the football program influenced me more than any class or major did at SJU, and I can never thank him enough. He truly is a great man and SJU is very lucky.
Some of my learning experiences playing for John in my four years:
- Keep it moving, learn what you can from the past but do not dwell and let a setback slow you down. Get ready for the next thing.
- Football is important but classes and education will serve you longer than football.
- Relentless self-motivation and preparation are keys for success.
Three things I learned from John:
- When challenges or adversity arise, "Just do it". Keep the play/life/challenges simply and "just do it".
- Manners: stand up, look people in the eye, and give them a firm handshake when greeting them.
- "Why run that play when they can't stop the other one?" Translation: if something is working, stay with it.
After being fortunate enough to play football at Lincoln High in Lake City, what a change it was to watch John Gagliardi coach football. The first thing that struck me was instead of calling him Coach, he insisted the players call him John. The second thing that struck me was John’s focus on execution. While watching film, John often had entertaining comments about players on both teams, making the sessions as much fun as they were constructive. Many aspects of John’s coaching philosophy continue to be passed on today.
I enjoyed hearing John’s jokes, anecdotes, and lessons during our team meetings. There are many lasting lessons I have taken away from our meetings with John.
- LOSE stands for "Lack Of Sustained Effort" – success only comes from sustained effort.
- Show up – half the battle in achieving a goal is taking the first step; it's up to you to show up and begin.
- Be early – promptness is important.
- Treat others (especially women) with respect
- Show/tell others how much you appreciate them – a nice compliment goes a long way.
- "Just do it!" – you shouldn't need rules to make you do what's right. Just do the job, do it well, and do it right.
- Know what is expected of you. If you don't know, ask. There is no excuse for not knowing an assignment.
John not only understands that everyone is an important part of the team, but he treats them as such. He respects each contribution, no matter how small. John is very proud of how his players thrive after their time at Saint John's; he doesn't just mold young men into football players, he gives them the tools they need to be successful in the game of life.
People often ask me what it was like playing for a legendary coach like John. I respond by letting them know that obviously he is an outstanding “x’s and o’s” coach, but that I learned more about the game of life from John than I did the game of football. I learned the importance of doing the right thing, which at the time was performance on the football field. Now being in the business world for six years, doing the right thing has taken on a different meaning. When confronted with situations where it seems easy to do the wrong thing or take the easy way out, I feel that planted somewhere in the back of my mind are John’s words “Do the right thing!”
Throughout my four years at SJU and on the team, people would come up to me and ask the secret to the team's success (and John's success, the terms were virtually interchangeable). The lessons John teaches wholeheartedly can be appreciated by those outside of football. In a lot of ways, John's messages are a self-improvement plan with themes of physical AND mental preparation, hard work, not wasting time and being smart in all areas of your life. John addresses those themes daily in practice and in the games. I remember John saying, "Practice doesn't make perfect. Perfect practice makes perfect. If you practice the wrong thing over and over again, you'll continue do the wrong thing and never get it right. That's why you have to practice what you want to accomplish, doing it the right way."
The one thing about John that sticks out in my head is when I injured my knee freshman year. That same day, John took the time to send me a very nice, personal email. In it, he apologized for what happened, wished me the best recovery, and said to let him know if there was anything more he could do. That email meant a lot to me because at the time, I was just another first year player. Something as simple as writing that emailed proved to me that John cared about every one of his players.
My perception on how John created such a powerhouse is exactly what he taught so many of us to do, he took an opportunity and made the very most of it. John’s dedication to the game and recruitment has been second to none. When John recruits you, he is selling exactly what it is, a quality institution and education along with a quality football experience. He seldom fails on this promise, even to those of us who didn’t see much field time. I can honestly say that the football experience I had at St. John’s, however limited, had a tremendous impact on who I became and who I am today. Whether you’re a starter or a first year player, you were always treated with genuine respect. John works to keep track of his players over the years, and through his lifelong lessons, he has made all of us better people.
I was part of the team for only my first two years of college, which I am lucky to even have played that long. John had the philosophy of giving everyone a chance to be a part of the team. I am very thankful for this because I had no business being on a college football field but John allowed me to continue my dream. I met a lot of great guys and had a wonderful experience playing at St. John’s.
John helped me push myself through two ACL tears during my last two years at St. John’s. The only reason I even considered playing on an injury was because of the relationship John and the coaches. John is the guy who you want to impress, and never want to let down. People go through extraordinary lengths with John. He has charisma that motivates you. John was my number 1 fan as I struggled through the rest of my final year. Every time I was down on myself John was there to brighten my day. As my senior ended, John gave me the ultimate compliment by recognizing that he saw me go through was nothing like he had ever seen and for that he appreciates the heart we put on the field every Saturday. Little did John know that the only reason I even decided to play was because he had instilled a commitment in his program to succeed like no other.
There were 3 key things that I walked off the field with after 4 years with John.
1) Vision - John spent very little time focusing on the Wins and Losses in practice as much as he did on the execution of the play. He knew what the play was “supposed” to look like and understood that if the play was executed properly, we would be in a better position to achieve the goal. I have successfully taken this approach in my business life, focusing on day to day execution of our goals.
2) Accountability – The philosophy of self-accountability is one that has given me the biggest life in my life and career. If I rely on someone else to tell me what I need to do, I am not being a leader. At home, we’ve adopted the slogan “I will do today what others don’t so tomorrow I can achieve what others won’t!”
3) Teamwork – It is important to know your job and trust others to know and do theirs. John did not put people in a position to fail, but he expected the job to get done. If you were a weak link or didn’t do your job, John owed it to the team to fix the link. This is one of the greatest approaches I have taken to my current role. It is not about being great “friends” with your team, but making the tough decisions that allows the team to be successful.
I walked off the field in December 1993, understanding that my opportunities to play football were over, but what I did not realize is that my opportunities in life were just beginning. I have become a “starter” in life and part of the success I have achieved up until this point has roots in John’s practice fields.
The thing that really impressed me about John was his "Single Mindedness". He thought about football, day and night, all year long. He taught us that if you want to succeed; you have to give it ‘all you got’, every play and every day no matter what you want to succeed in.
Shortly after during timed wind sprints this skinny short manager type guy remarked, 'Way to run kid!' I'll be darned if that same skinny kid didn't speak again to me a few days later---only then I knew him to be the head coach! [I couldn't believe it!} It was during a "live" punt return drill pitting the varsity against us scrub freshmen a few days befor the opening game. Finally it was my turn to receive. Convinced I'd surely muff the punt, I miraculously fielded it cleanly and took off upfield. No one touched me as I ran for my very life! As I headed back to the frosh group at the other end of the field, I saw John running up to me at good clip. As he patted me on the back he remarked, "J---- C----- Kid, where in hell did you learn to run like that?"
That single comment would endear me to this world renowned coach, John Gagliardi, for the rest of my life.
Why had John's words touched me so? It took a few years , but I believe I now know for sure. It was becaused John had AFFIRMED something which I possessed, an attribute, a talent. My response was an immediate explosion of self confidence, of being accepted, of wanting more than ever to succeed, of feeling convinced that I CAN DO IT!
I played football at St. John's in ‘51 and '52 under Johnny "Blood" McNally of Green Bay and NFL fame. I returned from the Army in ‘56 to play for John Gagliardi. John had already gained the reputation of being a fierce competitor as a coach but, even more importantly, for his concern as to how his football program would prepare us for life after football.
I feel that never can enough be written or said about John Gagliardi. I'm sure he is embarrassed by the accolades but that is the beauty of this exceptional, humble man. God gifted him with a humility unknown in an achiever like him...and we who had the honor of his company were similarly blessed. Thank you, John.
As time passes memory fades, but one conversation I had with you has always stuck and influenced me in how I treat people. The conversation was in the lunch area in St. Mary’s hall where I think you were residing. As I was a strong headed freshman set in my own ways, you told me that everyone is the center of their own universe and when we deal with people I should remember this. It will help understand where others are coming from and where I am. As I said this stuck with me and gave me insight as a lawyer and youth coach in how to deal with and understand others.
John has the ability to recognize raw and potential talent. His recruiting philosophy helped sign players from both inside and outside the state. On game day, John was able to change his offensive and defensive thinking, staying one step ahead of the opponent. He also used feedback from his players to make adjustments during the game.
John did tremendous PR work with the monks and included them in film night. As a result, the monks knew who the players were and wished us luck in upcoming games. As I went into coaching, I used a number of things on the X and O side, but injected a lot of humor into the equations, which is something John did very well.
John is an enigma, so any attempt to simplify him is limiting a very complex and elusive personality. That being said, here are three qualities which I feel have made him a great coach:
- John has high expectations. He believes he will win, while encouraging and empowering others to join him. He does not always know what will be successful but he has confidence that he will find success.
- He encourages his team to participate in the creation of the winning scheme. John creates models for his teams to emulate. His teams see video of great plays and he encourages each team member to find ways to be part of the legacy of greatness which future teams will view. Players envision themselves being part of the legacy of greatness of John's team.
- John does not give up on people. Players may feel discouraged through critiques, but John uses this pressure as motivation. At the end of the day, he truly believes and pulls for each of his players. Many senior starters have groveled through three years of ignominious toil to be rewarded with success in their final year. He respected dedication and loves the survivor spirit in his journeymen.
I remember fall of 1964 a new freshman player had arrived. He was fabulous talent. I was watching him carefully, because it was obvious that I would see very little play time as we were completing for the same position. It was a full contact day of punt return and kick off drills and I was just down field of John as the play unfolded. The freshman was on the kicking team and as he ran the field, he was hit from the side, his knee buckled and he went to the ground - even from a distance, he was clearly significantly injured. I looked up at John and he simply put his head down and punched the ground twice. He looked up again and said, "That is never going to happen again". That day he stopped all full contact punt and kick off returns. To my knowledge, that player never played another moment of sports for the college. He truly is a man who cared more for his boys than the team - no matter how much we put into the game, we took away more. Winning was incidental to his lessons for life.
In 1963, in particular, the team was loaded with fine athletes, who were also fine students. Many have gone to become very successful professionals and business people. I think of them often and of course recognize them when I see current news about their successes. Regarding Gags, I can say that he has always been a highly focused, preparation-oriented coach who has given St John's another good reason to be proud. He has had the absolute respect of his players and his methods and results continue to recreate enthusiasm and spirit within the SJU community and beyond. And that's a very good thing.
I played from 63-67 (graduated in 68). John knew several pro scouts and he sent some films of me and a recommendation to the scout for the New Orleans Saints. Thanks to that I got an offer from the Saints –they said if I would agree to sign with them, they’d draft me. I told them to use their draft choice on someone else because I figured going to law school was a better bet for an obscure, D3 lineman. That’s a choice I’ve never regretted but it was flattering to have the opportunity to at least say “no thanks”. But it was John who got me that opportunity which I otherwise never would have had.
I have experiences a lot of ups and downs since graduating from SJU. Failed relationships, a failed business, many relocations-with almost all of them being international, children with mental and physical birth defects, etc. And I'm still facing a number of challenges at age 65. Remembering John, his philosophies and his humor have helped me deal with these issues. John always preached about being "dogged", never giving up, and always challenging yourself to do better and stay position.
Whenever we won a game, I could tell that John was honored by the accomplishment, but he always responded to it with humility and self-deprecating humor. That was a lesson from John: be a good man and do not get too caught up in yourself. So my junior and senior seasons provided further lessons in humility. I only travelled to a few away games and I acted as D scout team fodder for the starting O. In all honest, I could have - and probably should have - hung up the cleats at this point. But I learned another lesson from sticking around: don't be a quitter, even in difficult situations, and you'll probably learn something from just being in the presence of success and accomplishment...and I did. John never asked me to quit, and I am grateful for that. He allowed me to be part of a winning tradition. I will always remember that.
I think John was a master at psychology without really trying. One of the biggest life lessons that I learned from John is that he was phenomenal at getting the team to buy into the game plan. His discussions were always the same: he asked the players what they thought was going wrong, and then asked them what we should do about it. When you think about it, here was the winningest coach of all time, asking a bunch of college kids what the fix should be. This is remarkable, because most coaches would tend to think that they had all the answers and be yelling at the players to do it right. But with John, there was no ego involved...just a need to get everyone pulling in the same direction. I suspect that John knew exactly the solution he was looking for at those times in the game, but the fact that he invited input, and maybe learned something new in the process, tells me something about his long term success as a motivator and coach. His biggest legacy may be the influence he exerted on players' lives after they graduated.
There is something about John that really transcends our human understanding. Simple phrases like “be humble” and “focus on effort” reach far outside of football.
John Gagliardi, St. John’s University head football coach, describes the key to sustained championship level performance as enabling and motivating ordinary people to do ordinary things extraordinarily well every single time. You can’t depend on the trick plays or the hope of superstar athletes carrying the load.
John has influenced so many of us over the years. He personifies what small college athletics should be all about. John wants to win as badly as anybody. However, his emphasis on sportsmanship, academics and humor are equally important to winning. What struck me most when I came in as a freshman in 1979 was how we treated all his players as adults. I had never seen this from a coach in any sport. He had all his players call him “John” as opposed to “Coach”. This was shocking to me. If you had a science lab that conflicted with football practice, you missed practice, not the lab. What a concept. In the era of major sport scandals this was revolutionary. John is unique in so many ways in a sport usually based on conformity and clichés.
The lesson of giving back and being generous with our time and words and making people feel important is one I will never forget and is a mantra I try to incorporate in my life daily.
Of all the people I met at St. John's, John Gagliardi is the most memorable. Over the year, I have been asked many times, "What makes John so successful as a coach?" My usual answer is that John understand people better than anyone I know. I took 4 lessons from my experiences with John. First and most importantly, stay in correct position. Second, John takes the time to watch every play for every player, several times. Third, it is important to understand the player and how they think when teaching them something. Fourth, make a good first impression. John deserves all of the accolades he has garnered. He has given a huge gift to the St. John's community with his example and presence.
The four years I played for you I consider to be the most formative years in my transition from being a boy to a man. There are lessons learned in life that come from the root of being part of something bigger than yourself. St. John's Football was that for me. The life changer for me was being part of a group of men where the lessons learned were underwritten by the expectations of John. Those lessons started with the expectation that if you were not willing to do it for yourself, it wasn't going to happen. Sure as teammates we were there to support each other and life each other up, but it started with a self awareness that life success begins with a personal expectation of excellence. That was evident in the long line of players waiting for their chance to impress you and make the travel squad. If one had the will and self confidence to see oneself succeed, you were the master of bringing opportunity to life. I often wonder if I would have taken as much away from the experience if God had blessed me with an over abundance of athletic talent. As a father I recite life lessons often to my children, hoping they learn from hearing them but knowing they too will need to experience something much like I did by playing for John.
For me, John’s football management philosophies that translated into everyday life were creativity, mental preparedness, and accountability. John seems to take pride in defying status quo. He does not do things because everyone else is doing them. It appears that he is always breaking down the root of a particular activity and determining if it has real value. The things that did not appear to have significant value in the success of the team (though widely being considered as the norm--like tackling/blocking drills) were disregarded. The things that he felt had the greatest value in success (like mental preparedness) got most of our attention. St. John’s is probably one of the most efficient programs in the country in spending the most time on the things that matter most.
End of the day… John will be judged on two levels. 1) How he ran and built the organization 2) How he left, which will happen one-day, and developed others to run, grow, improve and develop of St. Johns Football. The great coaches and leaders today not only run great company’s sport teams but develop people to continue on the tradition.
Since playing for John, he has had a growing impact on my life. As a coach, his ability to simplify a game that so many people complicate is what makes him so special. John was able to capture the true meaning behind playing sports, using football as a vehicle that guided so many young men into being successful husbands, fathers, and "professionals," in the truest sense of the word.
What John expected as ordinary, everyday occurrences for his players would be considered exceptional for other teams. John did not allow pride to take players' attention away from the true task at hand, which was the idea of winning as a TEAM. These expectations for success through ordinary occurrences have helped me raise my kids in a time where glory seekers are a dime a dozen and humility seems to be the source of scrutiny, instead of the norm. If more people coached like John, I truly think we would see sports in today's society differently.
My favorite learning from John was to do the “ordinary things extraordinarily well”. I can hear him say those words even today – nearly 15 years since I’ve played for him. I think those four words can have such influence on a person’s life. Sure it applied to what we did on the football field, but the message transcends to a what you do in your marriage, in your career, in how you parent your kids, etc.
It was evident John was a genius with the Xs and Os of football. More impressively and importantly, however, John has a remarkable ability to know people. He knew how to get the most out of his players and get them to buy into the mission of the team over their interests. Success, John stated, does not take superhuman abilities, nor does it take accomplishing something extremely difficult. Rather, it takes extraordinary performance of everyday tasks by regular people, and doing it over and over again. For his players, he took the fear that success was reserved only for the privileged and crushed it. I can't think of a better lesson in leadership than what John taught. He'd point to the greatness that exists in the performance of ordinary people who seek greatness day after day, leading by example and demanding excellence.
Without John, I would be successful in the ways of the world and a failure at life. He was the extended father to all of our parents, for without our own parents, the foundation would not be set. When our parents embraced the upsetting fact that they must let their children stay out in the world, John said do not fear - I will guide them as an extension of your being and your morals. I will ALWAYS treasure John, not for football, but for life.
As a ’03 grad and a four year football player, John continues to influence my life. The following are some of his teachings that have endured with me in particular. 1)We’re just normal guys doing normal things exceptionally well. 2) Working hard is a must, but you also need to out think and out execute you opponent. There’s a reason why we run the same plays over and over and over. 3) Fundamentals are key.4) Above all else, John teaches you to be a man.
John made us and continues to make all of us feel like his "all-time favorite player or student or colleague” and I suspect even “all-time favorite daughter and son.” John does this with complete authenticity. He sets high expectations for everyone, and along with my father, John is one of my "all-time favorite mentors."
Two things come to mind immediately when I think of [John]: his key to success and common sense. His key to success I remember hearing over and over again on the field and at film sessions on Sunday nights. He always said: "It is OK to make a mistake, just don't make the same mistake twice!"
I was there when John came to St John's. In fact he lived in St Mary's Hall on the ground floor and was really one of us . . . [if there is] only [one] thing I could do [it] is to reinforce John's great qualities of continued friendship over all of these years. He never forgets my name or the name of anyone with whom he has come in touch.
I do remember something from my sophomore year that has really impacted me and my approach to life and I don't think that I would have gotten any where else but from John. We were playing at St. Thomas and had just finished a pretty miserable first half. We were down and everyone was sitting pretty dejected in the locker room and came in did his thing . . . [and] said something to the effect of...." just relax, you have to remember we are playing St. Thomas . . . [and] we are St. John's, we always find a way to win." I remember this being a one of those profound moments you have so rarely in life. Sure, it was funny to put St. Thomas in a negative light, but it really picked everyone up to think "We are St. Johns, and we win". As I have grown I have realized the deeper meaning of this small interaction and that is what it means to have someone believe in you and what it means to build a life of character. The brand name, if you will, of yourself, that is built on overcoming obstacles.
The quality that I remember most about John was his ability to motivate and ‘fire up’ his players before a game. I recall games early in my career (freshman & sophomore years) when I had virtually no hope of seeing the field unless we were way up, but in John’s pregame speech, he had a way with words that convinced me without a doubt that we were absolutely going to go out and win the football game. In fact, had he asked me to try and run through a brick wall, I would have tried it without a second thought and being utterly convinced that I would succeed. The most fascinating part about John’s ability to motivate was that it was all done in his quiet, soft-spoken manner that only those who know/knew him can truly appreciate. There was no yelling, screaming, carrying on. Just his voice, telling you who we (SJU) were, what we could do, and how we were going to do it.
I am now a teacher and coach and [these are the] things that I feel have influenced me in my current work. While I was probably destined for SJU anyway based on family history and proximity to my hometown, I know that my decision to play football was influenced by the design of not having a great deal of mandatory activities outside of our practices, such as weightlifting and/or required film time (outside of our team film on Mondays). I always felt that this philosophy showed respect for my time outside of practice, and I feel I make an concerted effort to do the same for my students in terms of work outside of our classroom.
I realized that the secret to John’s success was incredible preparation. Based on what John taught me, I believed (and still believe) that everyone’s chances of winning go up dramatically if they are the best prepared. As a lawyer, I have tried over 300 jury trials, and I have never waivered from the method of preparation that John taught me.
John strives for perfection from his student-athletes, on and off the field. This has allowed John to have players that are great students and people. He teaches his players how to succeed in all aspects of life. His legacy is clear, especially when talking to former players. They all loved playing for him. It is amazing to hear that nothing has changed from John's earlier years as a coach to now. The older graduates love to talk about the old days of practicing on the old practice field and how some days it was so cold or the bugs got so bad that John would bring the practice inside.
John truly was an amazing coach and his knowledge of the game is matched by no other coach I have seen but what I really liked about him was his way of letting players be who they are and trusting us to make the right decision and trusting his coaches to coach us well. We were never forced to conform to a set of rules or a code so we all could be ourselves but it was our trust in the system and him that drove us to make all the right decisions and play well and stay out of any trouble. We were 33 and 5 in my 3 years there and I don't regret a single second of my time on his team!
Because of my experience with John and SJU I wanted to stay in football after SJU. Knowing that a guy couldn't get much of a shot with the NFL coming from a small school since there were only around eight teams in the league then, I turned my attention to officiating after watching the first Viking game in it's inaugural season at Metropolitan Stadium vs. the Bears in 1961. I started officiating in the intramural leagues of SJU to earn extra money for schools and John was instrumental in getting me that job. From there it blossomed into high school, small college, mid-sized college, major college, and finally the NFL officiating. Because John did, I paid particular attention to even the smallest of details regarding officiating. If you didn't do that in the NFL, you would not last very long. So, I did and it paid off in a big way.
I think one of the outstanding things about John is how a conversation is never about him. He always asks questions of his visitor and of course making that person the focus, not him. That little lesson had worked wonders over the years while meeting individuals throughout my career.
I would propose that the typical Johnnie player is no more than average in their physical qualities compared to other D3 football players. Certainly that was the case in my situation. I do not recall ever being timed in the 40, having body fat measured, or having my bench press ability measured. In John's world, the mental preparation was stressed more than the physical. I think that John was 60 years ahead of his time on this one and that ultimately this will be the norm in football, spurred by the rapidly developing knowledge in the area in traumatic brain injury.
I believe the legacy of John and St. John's football plays a huge role in the continuing success. When you put on that uniform, whether during a practice or on a Saturday afternoon, I think one feels a certain responsibility to perform at a level which reflects the history of the school, the program and the coach. I remember coming into each game assuming that if we gave our top effort and did what we were coached to do, we would win rather than only hoping we would do so. This legacy is extremely powerful.
My favorite part of my SJU football experience had to be the Monday film sessions, I learned more life lessons and ancedotes from John in those group sessions than any school setting in my life. Some of my favorites that I still quote from time to time is the cow who kept tripping over the rock (thatsa one) and of course John's use of the Bell curve to describe everything from referees to teachers, of course if you played football at SJU you had to be in the top 15% of the bell curve.
John taught us that the most important thing about football is being in the right place at the right time on every play. If you are out of position, you are lost. Give yourself the best chance possible and be in the right place at the right time, and then see if your talent can muster its way through the block...the tackle...closing the sale or what it is you are trying to get done.
The essence of what I learned from the experience [on the football team] can be stated in one word - character. This would be true not only of my experience of John Gagliardi, but of St. John's itself. By what John said and how he acted, instilling character in his charges was of paramount importance to him.
John’s incredible memory was something that also always struck me as something special about him. It was sometimes something as small as remembering a perfectly timed play that others forgot in the heat of competition. Other times it was something large that really touched a person in a special way. In my case, I have felt both experiences with John and will always cherish both of them.
The respect that John got from everyone he ever came in contact with was palpable. Even his longtime assistants Gary Fasching and Jerry Haugen looked up to him with respect and admiration. John has done more for this school and this football program than anyone could ever dream of. The number of games won, the number of former players graduated, and the millions of dollars he’s brought into this institution, John has had an impact that no one will ever match at St. John’s University. He’s coached players that became NFL players, players that have gone on to coach State Championship winning teams, players that have gone onto become esteemed professors, and players that have gone onto save lives on the operating table. No matter if the player scored touchdowns, rode the pine, or quit after a week on the team, John has had an impact in their lives that they will never forget.
I give John credit for helping shape my career and mold my character. I left football at St. John's longing for more. John's style did not burn me out. Because of that I went into teaching and coaching. I look back and think I did okay. When I retired I would tell people that wheni counted up all the students I worked with the number approached 10,000. Sounds hard to believe. But where I taught we had semester classes. Get 150 kids the first semester and another 100 or so new students the second and the numbers add up quickly...Then consider that I coached football for 25 years, basketball for 10 and track for 5 year. I think you can see how I got to 10,000. The vast majority of these would say I had a strong positive influence in their lives. Thus John's influence extended far beyond just me. Indirectly he helped mold thousands of young men and women.
John liked to often times refer to Nike's logo of "Just do it", but he said if it were up to him it would read: "Just do it, damnit". Although humorous, the point was that in football and in life there are things that you don't want to do, but you just have to bite the bullet and do it. Often times we think longer about doing something than the actual amount of time it would take to do. By the time we are done thinking about it, if we would have just done it right away it would be over with.
The other comment I will reference is that we were always made aware that the key to our success was ordinary guys doing ordinary things extraordinarily well. Most of us were good athletes, but if we were extrememly talented, we would have been playing at a higher level of collegiate football so we had to do the everyday things very well. Again this relates to life outside of sports very well. It tought me that even if you aren't the smartest or most talented person, you can do ordinary things very well and succeed becuase of it.
The biggest reason that I think John’s legacy is what it is today is because he’s made the SJU football experience so much more than just football. With all the success that he’s had in 60+ years of coaching you would think he would have gotten to where he is based mainly on X’s and O’s. He’s made the program so much more than that. He’s used the program as an opportunity to groom young men so that they are prepared to do great things in society when football is done. I’m sure you’ve experienced this with the number of responses you’ve gotten back from other Johnnies. Obviously John will always be known as having won more college football games than any other college football coach in the country but I would be willing to bet that even more important than the wins, that he’s proud of all the young men that he’s molded in great people over those 60 years. I know that I appreciate and am grateful everything that I learned from him in the 3 years I was at SJU.
On behalf of all the late bloomers I can honestly say 'thank you' to John for giving me an opportunity. When I was in high school I never had the opportunity to start. I was too small, too slow, and too little. My dream of playing football in college was diminished. But my dad pointed out that my current high school head coach - Mike Grant - had played at St. John's. I thought very highly of Mike not only as a coach but also a person/mentor and figured I would visit. I knew nothing about John's history. When I visited, not only did John treat me like I was important, but he made me feel like I could really be successful at school. Freshman year came around, I was able to walk-on and play for the team thanks to John's willingness to let everyone dress and start games. Never starting a game in high school or college for roughly 7 to 8 years straight...John gave me the opportunity to play one of the crucial positions: left tackle. Luckily I must had done something right as I was able to keep my position through my senior year. He gave me a chance and I am forever grateful for that. It was an honor to play for John.
Whether John realizes it or not, he is a pillar - a stepping stone if you will for every person that you have the freedom and choice to self-determinate in your lives. There are two things that have always stuck with me since that first practice and meeting with John as a player:
- When you meet someone you shake their hand, and say "Hi John, Derek Solt class of 2008". To this day I walk up to people and introduce myself in some form recalling when I've previously met them. this is an essential part of life. Its amazing seeing someone's face light up when you introduce yourself and remember their name or where you met them. That person respects you a little bit more because you've kept that small gesture important.
- John represents self-determination through his simply daily actions. He never speaks of it and definitely never coaches it but yet he simply chooses to life his life with freedom. Every person in this world can make a difference and it all starts with themselves. You don't even need to believe in yourself at first, you simply start by making a choice and building on that.
Unlike many coaches, especially successful ones, I was impressed with how collaboratively he worked with his coaches. He often would ask for input from his coaches and not be authoritative about things; instead he would listen, think about it, and make a decision. Unfortunately, I also got to see how John reacted to losing; which is something he hasn’t had to do for a very long time. I’ve never seen someone take a loss as hard as John, and I can see why he was so successful in his career as a coach because of his hatred of losing.
John has created such a successful legacy simply because of the genuine person he is. He is more than just a coach….he is a friend to all of those that play under him, coach with him and simply meet him, either in the Reef or on the sidelines after a game.
Probably the thing I valued most about John is the way he approached excuses when mistakes were made. It is amazing how fast we try and think of a reason for WHY when something goes wrong. I remember the first game I played in my freshman year I was on Special Teams and was extremely nervous. It was the opening play and I was on kickoff return. We returned the kick for a touchdown but it was called back for a block in the back on ME! I wanted to quit…I thought I never see the field again!! I remember John came up to me I tried to explain myself. All he said was “I am not looking for excuses just don’t let it happen again God Dammit.” As everyone knows, John’s infamous quote is “Just do it God Dammit.” It is simple and to the point and is a great principle to carry over to everyday life. Don’t make excuses for yourself when things go wrong whether it’s on the football field or in life’s events.
I took some time to think back on all of the memorable moments that happened that happened during the four years I participated and played under the great John Gagliardi. Some that came to mind were John’s jokes he told at our different team meetings. As freshmen it was the first time many of us had heard these jokes. As we became upper classmen a couple were retold, however we laughed just the same.
A lot of John’s success revolves around the simplicity in his life and how he portrays it to others. In a technologically advancing society it is often easy to get caught up in our phones, computers and gadgets rather than reaching out to others in public and being outgoing. Everyone knows him to be the happy going coach who says hi and asks how everyone’s day is going or how classes or exams went. It is not easy to find people like that anymore and I think that by being able to relate to everyone is a special characteristic and has lead him to be able to influence so many people, including myself.
I have had the privilege of spending a significant amount of time with John over my time at St. John's University. Throughout the years, I have been fortunate enough to catch a glimpse of the characteristics that make a successful communicator, leader, and person. As a communicator, John's use of humor and sternness are perfectly balanced to convey his vision and expectations of the St. John's football family. As a leader, the fire in John is contagious, whether it is the look on his face before a game or the fury the official receive after a bad call, there is no one that wants to win more than John. Even so, John remained unbelievable, personable, and humble through all of his success. Outside of practice, our conversations are not about football; rather, girls, the food at the reef, and whatever else is going on in my life. Because of this, John is much more than a football coach to me. It's his ability to apply these attributes to so many generations that produces an unforgettable legacy.
John has accomplished a lot in his life and I am not referring to football. Many people have walked on the field as young adolescents and left as men, under his wing. I owe him a debt of gratitude for what he has taught me and the world is a better place for the lives he has positively impacted during his coaching career. The man always put his players first and that is why he was so successful. The wisdom he has shared with my peers and I in the past four years have really played a vital role in my development as a person. I will continue to use his teachings in order to make an impact in other people's lives in the future, just as he did mine. I learned to stay positive when things don't go my way, mistakes are inevitable, be confident and ignorant, and procrastination is the thief of time. He is one of the most humble beings I have ever met in my life and the biggest lesson I will take from him is to stay humble.
Just finished reading Boz's new book on the life and legacy of John Gagliardi. A great read! It's a book I'll encourage my ministry apprentice participants to read as part of their personal leadership development.
Thanks so much for the great book on John! I enjoyed it so much. I am a former player from 1963-65 and really appreciate all that John gave to us. The lessons that we used all of our lives, and the confidence he instilled to let all of us participate in the American dream. Thanks for capturing all that he gave to us and many others.
Great work! Written only as a former Johnnie football player who knew John well could have written it! I laughed again at John's jokes that I've heard many times, as well as some of the new ones you write about. Taking readers inside of John's "Theory of Football" class really allows people to see what makes him so special as a coach. I could just see John saying the things to our team that you write about. John is a truly unique individual and a blessing for St. John's University and the many athletes who played for him over the years. I think you've captured the essence of the man and what makes him such a unique human being. There is no question in my mind that John's greatest quality is his ability to make people feel that they are important and capable of doing great things - on and off the field. Even at this stage in his life, John wrote in my book last Wednesday: "Bruce, you were (are) one of our greatest". Knowing that he writes that in every former player's book doesn't matter. The feeling of pride in receiving such a compliment from someone of John's caliber, even at my old age of 66, reinforces why so many think so highly of him. Thanks for your effort in writing such a great book about John's Legacy!
I just finished your book and though it was fabulous. I loved reading it after taking John's class, it made me wish I could take it all over again. You should be proud of the book, it will impact many people including myself!
Great book for a great coach and brother. Boz, you captured the best and real facts of John's way of doing what has made him successful..He has always been an innovator in new ways to "go with the flow" but did it his way. His class reviews that I have read for many years give validation of how his students and players believe and love him.
The book was unlike what is expected: no long lists of his accomplishment, but simply a look how he lives his life and influences people around him. Your association writing was not only as observer but, participant as a player, student, colleague and close friend. All of the stories you relate are very personal.
You did a remarkable job of capturing his personal life as a parent and humble man as well his success in various sports he has coaches.
John's variety of his jokes are classic and memorable as well. I've also have heard and read them many times and I still laugh at his great timing to capture his audience. He is a great speaker and conversationalist I think he got some this from my Father who loved to "trap" our friends to discuss religion. John has that gift, but wants to trap them to talk about themselves. Nice turn around without them being aware. Not many people can do this.
Boz, thanks for writing this book. It makes me and all the family very, very proud of John.
Great book, Boz. For those of us that played for John and took his class, the history is well known and the punchlines wonderfully nostalgic (That’s-a-once”). John’s approach to football and to life reached not only the four-year starters, but equally the guys that never quite cracked the lineup. One could take for granted such an experience – but we know better – because we were taught better. I’ve always been proud to be a Johnnie and to have learned from John. Your ability to capture what that means to so many and should mean to so many more is impressive.
I found the book very entertaining, an easy read and extremely well written. Besides providing us former players a closer look into John as a person, it was a reminder of how lucky we were to be part of something truly special. Many valuable lessons to be gained and I will recommend it to anyone regardless if they have a connection to Saint Johns. I thought you did an extraordinary job! As John would say..it was a 10 out of 10!
Some may see John Gagliardi’s coaching and classroom style as humorous but caring. That’s only a small part of the story. As a member of John’s first national championship team in 1963, and continuing to observe him over the years as a mentor and friend, I can attest that the least known secret on the SJU campus is that John is a superb educator/teacher. While his coaching techniques and tactics have evolved somewhat over the years, here’s what hasn’t changed. He has a firm set of Principles which guide his every action. They are: 1) He has a strong belief in the intelligence and common sense of his players, and demonstrates that trust by asking and involving players in game time decisions. 2) John emphasizes personal responsibility and accountability as a key activity toward individual growth. 3) He emphasizes planning and preparation, not just for football games, but for the game of life after SJU. 4) He has never wavered from his belief that every player must bring perfection of execution to practice and games – just like in life. 5) While he doesn’t say it this way, he provides opportunity for his players to learn leadership skills in small increments as preparation for becoming a leader after SJU, such as in being a captain for a game or leading game warm ups, or mentoring freshmen. This book, A Legacy Unrivaled, should be read with an eye toward seeing those Principles in action. The reward will be immense enjoyment as well as real value.
Boz, You hit it out of the park in capturing the simplicity of John's complex humanity or the complexity of his simple humanity. Easily the best book ever written about John and I will encourage my grandsons to read it for success in life. Thanks for sharing the great privilege you have experienced in your time with John.
What a great read!! The life lessons the are constantly mentioned are so true and dead on. Boz did a great job.
I thoroughly enjoyed the book--- you did a great job !!! I had many great memories rekindled by your book.
Hey there! Just wanted to let u know that I already finished the book by your friend and just wanted to let u know that I didn't really want to read it... I hate football and whatnot... Anyway I figured I would just "skim" it... Well, I tried to skim it but it turns out I really loved it! I cried when I read about John retiring... Thanks for "making" me read it.
I couldn't put the book down after I started it and absolutely loved it. What a great refresher of the lessons I learned in his course. You captured his personality and articulated the key lessons he taught us so well. At the time, I wasn't even aware of the lessons I learned and how important they are in the 'real world'. John is truly a legend and thank you for writing this book so all can see a glimpse at least of what he accomplished. Even for me, I was able to learn so much about him as I was only there at the 'end' of his career.
I would like to personally thank Boz for the fantastic portrayal of such an incredible human. I became familiar of John sometime in the early 2000s. After attending several games and gaining some level of insight as to the program and John himself, it convinced me to attend SJU. After receiving the book, I showed it to my wife who did not think much of it. When she saw your name, she seemed a bit more excited as she took a class or two of yours (sometime between 2005-2009) and enjoyed you as a professor. Needless to say, she read the book before I finished it and we both are extremely thankful for such a good depiction of who John is as a person. While readin gyour book I had laughs that brought me back to the all-too-familiar one liners I heard many times before. Additionally, the book brought moments where I choked up as it neared the end. While John may have retired from the game of football, football will never retire from John. More impmortantly, John's life lessons as you eloquently detailed are what I will carry with me forever. being so far away from Collegeville, I know your book can draw me back in an instance. I hope John's health continues to stay strong. Wish him well for me.
Wow! That was fun, and much-needed. Inspirational. Humorous. Motivational. Did I mention inspirational? You did a great job showing the character of a great man. and his principles of leadership. You showed how one man's purposeful use of his God-given gifts and talents can change the lives of thousands of others. Your book should be read by anyone who comes in contact with other human beings (which would, of course, make it the first 6+ billion best seller).
I just finished reading your book on John. Very well done. You really captured the essence of John and how important he was an dis to the lives of so many players and students. I want to thank you for the kindness you showed John and Peggy. As your book illustrates, many of John's players have expressed their thanks to John for all he has done, but you have taken that gratitude a step further by spending sustained time with John and really making him feel special. In a way you have been our spokesman in making John aware of how important he is to us. I am delighted to know you will continue to teach the leadership course with John as long as he is able and carry on beyond when he is unable. This will help ensure John's legacy will live on in the lives of future students.
Your book just kept me reading and reading and most of all...enjoying every word. So many lessons for life to learn from it.
I just finished your book last night and thanks for a great read! I have never actually met John but feel like I know a bit more about him and really about what makes SJU such a special place! As I read your book I really felt even more blessed that Joe is at SJU as a student and a football player. Thanks for writing and sharing a great story about a great man!
Finished the book a couple nights ago. Thoroughly enjoyed it, thank you. You did an impressive amount of research!
I wish to say that your book on John Gagliardi was GREAT. So many memories and good material on a great man. Thank you – it made me a better person.
You did a great job with the book, Boz. You draw out the human side of John so well, and at least for those of us who played for him, it is a vivid flashback with great insights to the times we cherished so much. The last few chapters brought tears. Thank you, Boz!
Thank you for honoring a true legacy with dignity and grace.
I have read a dozen books on leadership, this book is in the top two, True North by Bill George is the other. Needless to say, I found your book very moving. I am grateful for 'meeting' John through this book. I was elated that the book was not just about winning but revealed the characteristics of leadership and all the other traits that you so eloquently listed. Thank you very much for the time and effort you put into writing it, certainly your relationship with John is priceless, what a gift in and of itself.