After some time away on vacation with family, I'm back and ready to move forward with the ranking of Division III head coaching destinations.
The series started off with a dominant West coast program at #5 - Linfield (OR).
Today, we move on to #4...
Few programs at any level of college football have a culture that has carried over from a head coach and seeped into the campus. St. John's is one of those places.
It is impossible to bring up St. John's without mentioning coaching royalty John Gagliardi and the tradition he was instrumental in building.
The legendary Gagliardi led St. John's from 1953-2012 - a total of 60 seasons leading the football program. Coach Gagliardi led the program to two D-III national titles (1976 and 2003) and a runner-up finish in 2000 on the way to stacking up a career record of 465-132-10 with a 362-99-9 record in conference play with 37 conference titles. That kind of longevity in the coaching profession, especially at the college level, is absolutely unheard of and is one of the many reasons that the St. John's job is so attractive.
Few programs have had that level of sustained success over decades and decades.
That type of continued success has created a passionate following for St. John's athletics. Last year the program ranked #5 in the country in home attendance with just shy of 5,000 fans per game and the MIAC ranks first out of all Division III conferences in terms of attendance.
Following up a legend like Gagliardi is a tall task, and Gary Fasching is entering his eighth season and has been up to the challenge. He previously spent 17 seasons as an assistant and has the program trending upwards in a big way. They Johnnies finished 12-2 last season, won the league and punched their ticket to the playoffs for the 6th straight season. The staff has a unique longevity with many of them close to two decades on staff as an assistant, and at least one assistant with four decades as part of the program and the staff is full of former Johnnies players. It's clear that St. John's has a unique culture that coaches and players really value and want to be a part of for years and years.
The location of the campus is picturesquely located between Lake Sagatagan and Stump Lake, and is just a short hour drive via I-94 to Minneapolis and a little further to Rochester, Eau Claire, and Mankato, where some of the state's top football programs reside. The heavily recruited Chicagoland area is also a quick road trip away. A look at their roster shows well over 100 players, with the vast majority of them coming from in-state - a testament to the brand equity they've built in state over the years.
Their main competition and bitter rival in the Minnesota Intercollegiate Athletic Conference - St. Thomas - was controversially kicked out of the league by fellow members for being too successful in a number of sports (including football), and looks to be heading from D-III powerhouse to Division I member of the FCS Pioneer league. St. John's and St. Thomas have one of the fiercest rivalries in small college football and both have been dominant in league play. The Johnnies lead the all-time series 53-35-1 since 1901 and have won the last two conference titles. The limited time that St. Thomas has as a member of the league means the historic rivalry with St. John's is likely coming to an end - and perhaps that means clearing the way for the Johnnies to assert dominance in the league.
Geographically, it's almost a certainty that if they win their league and make the playoffs, they're going to have an iron-sharpens-iron approach to make a playoff run and will likely have to face fellow powerhouse programs like North Central, Wheaton, and/or UW-Whitewater en route to the Stagg Bowl. Win and remain healthy and you've got a great chance at bringing home another national title. Oh yeah, and the past two trips to the national title game for the program, they faced Mount Union for all the marbles.
St. John's has a ton going for it as a program. Their tradition is unique, they have everything you would look for in terms of location and support and coach Fasching and his staff have built a ton of recent momentum with help from some unique coaching continuity to really make this a special job.
Tomorrow we will continue the series with a look at the #3 head coaching destination in Division III.