Unconventional coach was a winner; Manti for Heisman

Published: Sunday, Nov. 25 2012 6:20 p.m. MST

Notre Dame linebacker Manti Te'o during the second half of an NCAA college football game against Wake Forest in South Bend, Ind., Saturday, Nov. 17, 2012. Notre Dame defeated Wake Forest 38-0. (AP Photo/Michael Conroy)


SALT LAKE CITY — You’ve probably never heard of John Gagliardi. I hadn’t, until I listened to him being interviewed on NPR the other day.

Gagliardi just retired as the winningest college football coach in history after coaching longer than anyone in history.

He coached for 64 years, starting at Carroll College in Montana, before moving to St. John’s College, an NCAA Division III school in Minnesota, where he has coached for the past 60 years.

On the radio he sounded like a gentle man, which may have had something to do with him being 86 years old. He certainly didn’t sound like your typical rough and tough, hard-nosed football coach.

Gagliardi didn’t believe in overpracticing. In fact he had a rule that practices couldn’t last longer than 90 minutes.

He didn’t win by overworking his players when they did practice. He didn’t allow tackling in practice, never used blocking sleds and didn’t run windsprints. He let his quarterbacks call their own plays because he trusted them. He didn’t yell.

Weight training? Players could do it if they chose to, but it wasn’t mandatory. He also allowed as many players to join his team as wanted to, and only capped the number at 190 because that’s the number of lockers the school had.

Of course this wasn’t Division I football that we’re all used to, where programs can spend $100 million for fancy athletic facilities, where coaches get paid five times as much as the university president, where players must forgo summer vacations so they can work out every day with their teammates at their schools.

Gagliardi coached like it was the 1940s, which, as a matter of fact is when he began coaching. He was known to cancel practice if the weather was inclement or the gnats were too thick. He didn't have team captains, and there are no cheerleaders at the school.

"I eliminate the unnecessary," Gagliardi once told the Los Angeles Times. "And I think almost everything is unnecessary."

Gagliardi coached longer than any college coach in history, going for seven more years than the legendary Amos Alonzo Stagg.

You might be thinking, an unconventional coach like Gagliardi didn’t worry much about winning and that he only won a lot of games by coaching for such an extraordinarily long time.

You’d be wrong.

Actually, Gagliardi won four national titles, including one as recently as 2003. He won 77.5 percent of his games with a career mark of 489-138-11. That’s 81 more career wins than second-place Eddie Robinson of Grambling and 166 more than Bear Bryant. It’s nearly twice as many as LaVell Edwards.

"It's unbelievable that I could make a living with a career in a game that is so popular and is such a huge business," Gagliardi told the Minneapolis Star Tribune last week after announcing his retirement. "To be a small part of that has just been wonderful."

Good for coach Gagliardi. Too bad there aren’t more coaches like him out there.

MANTI FOR HEISMAN: As one of the dozen or so voters in Utah and one of about 900 voters in the country, I have a week to get my Heisman Trophy ballot in.

Most years, it’s been a pretty easy selection with the likes of Cam Newton, Tim Tebow and Reggie Bush. But it’s been getting harder lately. Last year, it came down to Robert Griffin and Andrew Luck, both of whom were deserving.

This year it’s been hard to get a handle on the whole thing. Before the season started, USC’s Matt Barkley looked like a shoo-in. Of course that was before he lost four games and got injured. After five games, West Virginia’s Geno Smith looked like the obvious front-runner after putting up some amazing numbers. But five straight Mountaineer losses doomed his chances. Kansas State’s Collin Klein looked like the man until his team was crushed by a sub-.500 Baylor team.

There are other top candidates out there, such as Ohio State’s Braxton Miller and Oregon’s Kenjon Barner

But I’ve got it down to three.

No. 3 — Johnny Manziel, Texas A&M: I loved his game in the upset win over No. 1 Alabama when he passed for 253 yards and two touchdowns without an interception. For a while I thought he might be worthy of a No. 1 spot on the ballot, but I have a hard time voting for a freshman as No. 1.

No. 2 — Marqise Lee, USC: I got to see Lee up close in October when he caught 12 passes for 192 yards against Utah. For the season, he’s averaging just under 10 receptions per game and nearly 150 yards. His team didn’t play as well as expected, but there may not be a better player and future pro than Lee.

No. 1 — Manti Te’o, Notre Dame — Forget the fact that he shares the same name as the town where my dad was born and shares the same religion as 65 percent of the people in Utah. Te’o was the best player on the best team (so far) in college football. He had more than 100 tackles for the third straight year and had seven interceptions this year from his middle linebacker spot. Plus it’s kind of cool to vote for a defensive player for the Heisman for a change. I hope he gets it.

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