America's most unusual coach Football factories, please note

Ralph Nader

September 24, 1993|By Ralph Nader

Collegeville, Minn. -- THIS pleasant town is not the most likely place to find the most remarkable college football coach in America. Except don't call John Gagliardi "coach." Say "John" or Gags."

That advice is only one of many "No's" that his players learn from the second-winningest active coach -- Grambling's Eddie Robinson is first -- in college football.

For 40 years, the beneficiary of John Gagliardi's unique approach to coaching has been St. John's University, a small school (1,700 students) in a bucolic setting an hour from Minneapolis.

Given Mr. Gagliardi's record -- 300 wins, three national championships and national ranking 28 of the last 31 years -- one might expect a paramilitary operation with machine-like

discipline and endless hours of practice.

No.

Players start with Mr. Gagliardi's rule that there is to be no hitting in practice sessions. That's right: no blockers colliding, no tackling, no swarming over the quarterback. Why? Mr. Gagliardi says there are fewer injuries that way, and the players are fresher and ready to tackle harder during Saturday's game.

There are a few dozen other No's: no athletic scholarships, no freshman or junior varsity program, no players cut (anyone can join the team and be suited up at home games), no big staff, no staff meetings, no player meetings, no special diet, no slogans, no playbooks, no agility drills, no lengthy calisthenics, no practice apparatus, no blocking sleds, no wind sprints, no use of words like "kill," no whistles, no practice on Sundays or Mondays and no spring practice.

And . . .

No practice in foul weather, no long practices, no posting of statistics, no big scenes or showing off in the end zone when the Johnnies score, no field phones, no player unplayed in a rout, no computer analysis and no cheerleaders.

And the results:

No player has failed to graduate, there are few discipline problems, no college team has had fewer injuries. Attendance at home games is excellent, and no small-college team in history has won more games.

Yet Mr. Gagliardi has enjoyed almost no national publicity (except for an article in Sports Illustrated). When I asked him about this, he replied, "I'm not looking for converts."

But the big football factories could learn from Mr. Gagliardi's coaching philosophy, which may be unconventional but produces happy, healthy football players and winning seasons. He is proof of the old adage that more is less and less is more.

Ralph Nader, the consumer advocate, recently lectured at St. John's University.

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