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Lessons I Learned from John Gagliardi

All my fellow St. John’s football alumni were saddened on Sunday, Oct 7th when I learned of the passing of longtime Saint John’s head football coach John Gagliardi.  I gathered with friends at the funeral on the 15th and was moved by all the stories my peers shared about John.  The lessons he taught us have extended far past the pine curtain of St. John’s.  I played on a Gagliardi led team for 3 years at St. John’s, (to be honest, I practiced more than I played) and the lessons he taught then, still show up in my work-life, my home-life, and in the youth teams I coach.  John had a special way of teaching through common-sense, storytelling and transparency.

During John’s celebration, most of the stories told by former players included three common lessons that I use every single day in my professional and personal life.


1. Say Your Name

John coached thousands of young men over his incredible career and he knew that after graduation most of us would return to the St. John’s campus looking to track him down for a conversation.  John knew he was good with names… (not as good as Eric Fowler) but 60+ years of impacting Johnnies is bound to add up to a lot of names.  John said, “When you seniors come back to campus to visit, don’t come up to me and say, ‘John, do you remember me?’.  Instead, reach out your hand and say, ‘John, I’m (insert first name and last name here)’ and I’ll say, ‘Oh $#^!, sure I remember you. Good to see you again”.

To this day in networking meetings or upon running into former classmates I lead with my hand and name.  This tactic sets everyone at ease and leads to better conversations.

Related Post: 5 Unexpected Performance Management Lessons From Coaching Little League ➢


2. Again!

John was a stickler for getting the details right when running football plays.  We didn’t do a lot of hitting or drills during practice… we ran plays over and over and over.  We ran plays until we knew our role and the roles of our teammates.  If any person on the offense had a misstep during the play, John would say, “Run it again! Practice does not make perfect.  Perfect practice makes perfect.”

Details matter.  Don’t settle for good enough.



John’s lifetime winning percentage at St John’s was 77%.  John knew something about winning or maybe it was his story about not “losing” that made him successful.  One of my favorite anecdotes that John shared with his teams during each season was his definition of L.O.S.E.

John would write the letters L, O, S, and E on a whiteboard in front of the team during a film session.  He would then say, “Do you know what the definition of ‘LOSE’ is?  You will lose if you have a L-lack O-Of S-(We’ll get to that) and E-Effort.  You will lose more games than you win if there is a lack of effort certainly.  The ‘L’, ‘O’ and ‘E’ are important to understand however, the S… the S is the most important letter.  S stands for sustain…  You must sustain your blocks for one extra second, you must sustain your studies even when you are tired, you must sustain your effort!  You must sustain, sustain, SUSTAIN!”  You will lose more times than win if you have a lack of sustained effort.

Nothing comes easy.

John, thank you for the impact you made. You will be missed.

Go, Johnnies!