MINNEAPOLIS - John Gagliardi, the winningest coach in college football history, announced his retirement Monday from Division III St. John's University in Minnesota.
The 86-year-old Gagliardi started coaching college players in 1949 and spent the past six decades at the private school in central Minnesota. He retires with a record of 489-138-11 (77.5 winning percentage) and surpassed Eddie Robinson for the career coaching victories record in 2003, piling up four national titles at St. John's along the way.
Gagliardi's decision comes after the Johnnies finished a rough season with a 5-5 record and went 3-5 in the Minnesota Intercollegiate Athletic Conference.
"Seventy years is a long time to be doing the same job," Gagliardi said in a statement posted on the school's website. "Luckily, I've always been blessed with great players, friends, family and support to make it this far. Nobody ever said that getting older was easy. I just can't do the job at the level I used to anymore."
He gained fame for an unconventional coaching style that included no tackling in practice or lengthy calisthenics. No whistles or wind sprints. There were not team captains either, unless you count the honor shared by the seniors. He insisted that his players just call him John, not coach, at a school that doesn't offer scholarships.
"It has always been my way of doing things and it's more solidified than ever as the years go by ... because it's proven to be successful for us, and we think we've prevented a lot of injuries," Gagliardi told The Associated Press as this season began. "We seem to have won more than our share of games."
Gagliardi wound up coaching earlier than most, in 1943 when he was just 16. His high school coach at Trinidad Catholic in Colorado was drafted for World War II and Gagliardi, a team captain, took over and wound up coaching there and at St. Mary's High School in Colorado Springs for six years.
In 1949, he got his first college gig at Carroll College in Helena, Mont., leading the team to three conference titles in four seasons. He took the reins at St. John's in 1953, and piled up 27 conference titles and national championships in 1963, 1965, 1976 and 2003. He was inducted into the College Football Hall of Fame in 2006; since 1993, the outstanding Division III player of the year has taken home the Gagliardi Trophy.
"Arguably, John Gagliardi has impacted the lives of as many young men as any individual in the history of Saint John's University," school President Michael Hemesath said. "His legacy of educating young men at Saint John's is one that any coach or professor would envy."
The school said Gagliardi's 64 years were the most in college football history, surpassing the record of 57 years held by former University of Chicago and University of the Pacific coach Amos Alonzo Stagg.
Gagliardi's coaching methods at the Catholic Benedictine university was, in many ways, a list of "Nos." No single way to coach. No goals, just high expectations. No playbooks. And that no-tackling rule at practice.
On the quiet campus 80 miles northwest of Minneapolis, the bookstore sells T-shirts with pictures of Gagliardi throughout his coaching career and the word "Legend." There is no statue of Gagliardi on St. John's campus, which is nestled amid prairies, lakes and forest and encloses an abbey. Yet.
Gagliardi will remain on the staff until his contract expires June 30, 2013. The search process for his replacement begins immediately.
"Today is another milestone for the greatest head coach in the history of college football," athletic director Tom Stock said. "I witnessed him spending his days passionately doing what he loved, coaching college football and mentoring young men. And, because it was such a passion for him, no one has ever done or will ever do it better."