Just Call Me John

Book Review by Ann Jonas, Tradebook Buyer - CSB/SJU Bookstores
this review was published in the St. Cloud Visitor

Just Call Me John: The Leadership Story of John Gagliardi by David J. Weeres, Ed.D. Published by North Star Press, May 2010, 73 pp

Whether they are football fans or not, most Minnesotans have heard of John Gagliardi, longtime head football coach at Saint John's University in Collegeville. This fall Gagliardi will enter his sixty-second year as a college football coach, his fifty-eighth year as head coach at Saint John's. He has won more games than any other college football coach.

Author David Weeres, while studying for his doctorate in education of leadership, was in search of a proper research project. He noted that many studies done for academic exercise deal with problematic topics. Weeres decided he would "find something that appeared to be going well and to study it", and in February 2004, he made an appointment with Coach Gagliardi. Weeres has no connection to Saint John's, but as a Central Minnesotan, he was aware of Gagliardi's success, and sensed that there was more to John's character and coaching than what he read and heard in the media.

During his first visit with Gagliardi, as he observed the interactions and conversations taking place in the coach's office, Weeres realized he might have found his doctoral thesis. He decided to examine how Gagliardi influenced his players beyond the football field, especially in regards to leadership. Weeres interviewed a number of former SJU football players, met with Gagliardi and his family, and learned his philosophy on coaching. The research conducted by Weeres for his dissertation was the origin of Just Call Me John.

The beginning of the book contains a short biography of Gagliardi, including family photographs and quotes from John, his wife Peggy, and their son Jim. It tells of Gagliardi's thoughts concerning changes he has seen in his years of coaching and his non-conforming teaching methods (no tackling in practice, no blocking sleds and no using whistles as coaches). Most importantly, in this part of the book John talks about his priorities in life. In the section titled "On Winning, Losing, and Disconnecting" Gagliardi talks about the photograph in his office of his two oldest children when they were quite young. They are at the concession stand during a football game. He has kept the picture for years as a reminder of what's important to him: "I'm sure I was down on the field fighting for what I thought was life or death, and they were interested in whether or not they could get some popcorn at the concession stand. On the field, win, lose, they would be the same, happy to see me."

The second half of the book includes comments and observations from eleven former players. The general theme from all of them is that Gagliardi has had a major impact on their lives and careers. Adam Herbst, who played football at Sartell High School and works for State Farm Insurance, stated that Gagliardi taught him to give the employees he manages the tools they need to succeed and then let them do their jobs, without micro-managing them. Denny Schleper, who played high school football at St. Cloud Cathedral, gave numerous examples of how he has used Gagliardi's leadership style in his work as an executive principal at LarsonAllen LLP. He stated "A phrase he (John) repeatedly gave to us, and I actually use it still in our firm, is the comment 'We are very ordinary people, we do very ordinary things. We just have to do them in an extraordinary way.' ...Too many people concentrate on really trying to stand out, and most of us can't do that. We really just need to concentrate on those ordinary things and doing them in an extraordinary way."

Weeres, who grew up on a small farm near Saint Nicholas and currently lives in Clearwater, believes that Gagliardi's players "stepped out of the football program after four years with skills to be more effective leaders." As Brandon Novak, former player, and head wrestling coach and assistant football coach at Saint John's states "It's all about relating to people. He's a master at that."

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Just Call Me John