But while Paterno's 409 victories is a Division I record that probably never will be broken, it's even more certain that Gagliardi, for 63 years a head coach, the last 59 of which have been at St. John's University, has set the bar so high - his career mark is 484-133-11, and he's still active - that no coach could come remotely close to it. If Gagliardi sticks around through the 2013 season, he conceivably could become the first member of the 500-win club, of which he no doubt would be the only member forever.
Gagliardi was 22 when he was named head coach at Carroll College in Montana.
"I did a study once of how many coaches stay in it for 15, 20, 25 years and up," Gagliardi, who won NAIA national championships in 1963 and '65 and Division III national titles in 1976 and 2003, said during a telephone interview with the Daily News.
"There aren't that many, and particularly so when you're talking about coaching at the same place. I know I didn't plan on staying in it as long as I have. I never imagined I'd be in it even 30 years. When you're 22 years old, you don't think about what you'll be doing at 60 or 65, much less 85. It seems like something a million miles away."
Gagliardi personally crossed paths with Paterno only twice, but, perhaps as much as anyone not a member of JoePa's inner circle, he has an insightful perspective of the life and times of someone he admits to always having admired. And that respect was returned in kind by Paterno, who saw in Gagliardi's paternalistic approach to his job much of what he tried to imbue into the Penn State program.
"John is what the coaching profession is all about," Paterno said in 2009. "He's loyal to his institution. He's loyal to his players. He's had a tremendous influence on not only the players that have played for him, but the people who have played against him. He's been a wonderful example."
Gagliardi is aware of the controversy attendant to the last several months of Paterno's career and life, and he is convinced that attempts on the part of some critics to link him too closely to the Jerry Sandusky child sex-abuse scandal are misguided. Paterno might have made errors in judgment, Gagliardi conceded, but a man of his integrity never would have participated in a coverup.
"It's very sad, and a tragedy his career ended the way it did," Gagliardi said. "For him to go from the top of the heap to being pushed out like that [by Penn State's Board of Trustees] . . . I can't help but believe it contributed to his death.
"I'm not going to comment on [the Sandusky scandal] without knowing all the details, but it does seem that there was a rush to judgment concerning Joe. It's just hard for me to believe he didn't always try to do the right thing. I had great respect for him before any of this came out, and I still do. That will never waver.
"What bothers me is that it seems like there are so many people who just wanted to throw him under the bus. Did they forget all the man did to help his players, his school, his community? It's pretty sad, frankly."
There are those who have tried to draw parallels between Paterno and Gagliardi, but he said the differences between them are as obvious as the similarities.
"What I've done is like operating a very small but successful business in a small town, and what Joe did was like being CEO of Walmart or some big corporation," Gagliardi said. "You just can't compare the two. I've never coached in Division I and never really wanted to. I'm happy where I am.
"Maybe that's because the stress and the expectations are so much greater at a school like Penn State. At St. John's we might have 10,000 people at a game sometimes. Joe's teams routinely played before 100,000. I could see where that kind of pressure could wear on a coach after a while."
So why did Paterno stay in it as long as he did?
"I guess Joe was like me in that he liked what he was doing," Gagliardi said. "That helps a little bit. But that isn't all there is to it, is there?
"I remember in the early 2000s when his teams stumbled a little bit [with four losing seasons in 5 years from 2000 to 2004]. They were trying to push him out the door. It doesn't matter what you've done in the past. It doesn't matter if you're Joe Paterno, Bobby Bowden, Eddie Robinson or John Gagliardi. Even I live in fear of that a little bit. And when you get to be a certain age, somebody's always going to say the game has passed you by."