“A Legacy Unrivaled: The Story of John Gagliardi” by Boz Bostrom; Minnesota Historical Society Press; August 2016; 216 pp; $16.95
By Ann Jonas
John Gagliardi, the legendary football coach at St. John’s University in Collegeville from 1953 to 2012, still teaches a popular class on campus. Formerly called “Theory of Coaching Football” and now called “Leadership Lessons with John Gagliardi,” the class is always at full enrollment, with many students turned away. It attracts women from the College of St. Benedict as well as men from St. John’s.
Boz Bostrom, who teaches accounting and finance at the College of St. Benedict and St. John’s University, took a sabbatical from teaching in 2012 to write about Gagliardi’s greatest legacy: his leadership and example on how to treat people the right way. His new book, “A Legacy Unrivaled: The Story of John Gagliardi,” is the impressive result.
As part of his research for the book, Bostrom sat in Gagliardi’s class, observing the coach’s way with students, including his wit, wisdom and keen interest in them. Bostrom also wrote to many of Gagliardi’s former and current players and collected insights from more than 200 of them, from star players to those who never saw playing time. After sorting through the responses and then spending time with Gagliardi, noting his interactions with students and former players, Bostrom was able to identify 11 keys to winning exemplified by Gagliardi.
The keys identified by Bostrom are spread throughout the book — at the end of 11 of the 34 chapters — and consist of several sentences that summarize Gagliardi’s philosophies for coaching and also for living. Treating his players as he wishes to be treated, preaching confidence and positivity to his players, creating an atmosphere of fun and laughter, using humility to deflect praise to his players rather than to himself, and making a conscious decision to be interested in other people and their stories are some of the principals listed by Bostrom.
One of the main features of the book is Gagliardi’s class and the lessons he teaches. He stresses self-confidence, preparation and taking responsibility, much as he did as football coach, and uses humor freely. His students definitely enjoy the class.
“A Legacy Unrivaled” contains more than 30 black-and-white photographs of Gagliardi as coach and family man. Anecdotes featuring Gagliardi’s former players are scattered throughout the book. His genuine concern and care for each of them is apparent.
Also very clear to readers is Gagliardi’s love for his wife Peggy and his family. Lou Holtz states in his introduction to the book that Gagliardi “is a legend not because of his win-loss record, but because of his values.” Those values and life lessons are great examples for living a good life.
Bostrom graduated from St. John’s in 1995 and played football for the Johnnies, earning Second Team Academic All-American honors his senior year. He worked as a CPA for a number of years and then returned to St. John’s in 2004 as associate professor of accounting and finance. Bostrom now co-teaches “Leadership Lessons with John Gagliardi” with his former coach.
“A Legacy Unrivaled” is available in bookstores everywhere, including the College of St. Benedict/St. John’s University Bookstores.
Ann Jonas is the general book buyer for the College of St. Benedict and St. John’s University.