St. John's coach can break record next Saturday

Updated: November 1, 2003, 8:42 PM ET
Associated Press

ST. PAUL, Minn. -- John Gagliardi tied Eddie Robinson as college football's career victory leader Saturday, guiding Division III St. John's to a 15-12 victory over St. Thomas.

John Gagliardi
AP PhotoJohn Gagliardi needs just one more win to pass Eddie Robinson.

Gagliardi, celebrating his 77th birthday, is 408-114-11 in 55 years as a college coach, the last 51 at St. John's. He can break the record next week in St. John's home game against Bethel. Robinson was 408-165-15 at Grambling.

Gagliardi, who has won three national championships, coached at Carroll College in Montana before coming to St. John's in 1953.

"I haven't thought much about the record," Gagliardi said afterward. "I was too busy thinking about this game."

St. John's (8-0) won the low-scoring, defensive struggle on a 35-yard-field goal by Brandon Keller with eight seconds left.

"To be able to say I played for John and to be able to hit a kick like that to give him the win is awesome," Keller said afterward. "It's an honor to play for a coach like him."

St. Thomas (3-6) picked off St. John's quarterback Ryan Keating three times and led 12-7 in the third quarter, but failed to mount any offense down the stretch as St. John's rallied behind a safety and pair of field goals from Keller.

"We just wanted to win," St. Thomas coach Don Roney said. "We didn't care about all the hoopla. I'm real proud of our kids and how we played."

After the final whistle blew, St. John's players and fans gathered on the field to celebrate with Gagliardi. Players unfurled a long banner that read, "Congratulations on your record-tying 408th victory."

"The record was never something I worried about," he said. "I just worry about each game. I wouldn't have gotten to the record without each game along the way."

Gagliardi's career record is 408-114-11 and he has won three national championships and 22 conference titles during his time at St. John's. The Johnnies, ranked second nationally in Division III, will try and win their 23rd conference title under Gagliardi when they take on unbeaten Bethel (9-0) next Saturday.

Gagliardi said it was nice to have so many family, friends and former players among the overflow crowd of 7,300 at St. Thomas. He also said being mentioned in the same breath with coaching legends Eddie Robinson, Joe Paterno and Bobby Bowden is something special.

"I have great respect for Eddie Robinson and always have," he said. "To be mentioned on the same list as guys like him and Joe Paterno, I think, 'This can't be right."'

Gagliardi added that he has no intention of retiring anytime soon.

"I get asked that question all the time," he said. "And I've finally got a good answer. I want my tombstone to read, 'I'd rather be coaching."'

Copyright 2003 by The Associated Press