Gagliardi welcomes Paterno to club
COLLEGEVILLE -- John Gagliardi got some additional company in the 400-win club this past weekend, and the longtime St. John's football coach was happy to welcome the high-profile new member to the group.
That would be Penn State's Joe Paterno, who recorded his 400th career victory when the Nittany Lions defeated Northwestern 35-21 last Saturday.
He became just the third coach in college football history to reach that milestone -- joining the late Eddie Robinson of Grambling, who finished with 408 wins, and Gagliardi, who is well in front of the pack at 477 victories and counting.
"It's just good to be mentioned in the same group with a guy like that," Gagliardi said of Paterno. "We're not in the same pay scale, I can tell you that."
But as college football's winningest all-time coach -- a distinction he achieved when he passed Robinson back in 2003 -- Gagliardi received plenty of mention in the print and broadcast accounts of Paterno's latest milestone.
"Everybody tells me it was all over ESPN," said Gagliardi, who was busy leading his team to a 42-17 win at St. Olaf on Saturday. "I've had a lot of reporters call me over the past week. I guess to be in the same group as he is now brings a little bit of publicity my way too."
After Gagliardi, Robinson and Paterno, the next-closest still active coach is Larry Kehres, who is in his 25th season as the head coach at Mount Union and has 298 career victories heading into his team's game against Muskingum this Saturday.
That puts Kehres in 11th place overall, behind the 10 coaches, counting Gagliardi and Paterno, who have 300 wins or more.
But even if Kehres' Purple Raiders win Saturday, and post the five victories that would be required in the playoffs to win yet another Division III national title, he would still have to coach at least seven more seasons just to reach 400.
And given the longevity required to achieve such a feat -- Gagliardi is in his 58th season at St. John's and his 62nd season as a college head coach, while Paterno is in his 45th season at Penn State -- it's hard to imagine anyone other than Kehres coming close to breaking Gagliardi's record.
But Gagliardi said never say never.
"There were some years early on in my career when we only played six or seven games in a season," Gagliardi said. "Teams are playing a lot more than that now. So it's possible. But someone has to get an early start and they have to stay healthy.
"And they probably have to stay at the same place for awhile and have success."
Gagliardi, who turned 84 last week, has certainly done that. So the question now is does he plan to stick around long enough to establish the 500-win club?
It's a feat that would likely require him to coach at least three more seasons.
"I'm not even thinking about that now," said Gagliardi, whose team closes out its season when it plays host to Hamline at 1 p.m. Saturday at Clemens Stadium. "I just want to get to 478 and I'll be happy.
"My whole life, I've just gone from one game to the next. There's no way I'm going to change that now."