Gagliano Howell’s winningest coach

John Gagliano is not one to draw attention to himself. Very humble, he always wants to give the credit for the success of the Howell High School wrestling team to others, most notably, his wrestlers and fellow coaches.

Gagliano, though, couldn’t avoid the spotlight last Wednesday night (Jan. 24) when he became Howell High School’s all-time winningest coach.

When the Rebels beat Middletown North, 47-13, in the first round of the Shore Conference Tournament, it made the Rebels 17-0 for the season and was the 154th win of his career, surpassing the 153 wins his former coach, Doug Bauer, had piled up during his 12-year career at Howell.

“I feel very fortunate,” said Gagliano, whose 10-year record is 155-40. “I grew up in Howell. I had great coaches when I was here. I just wanted to give something back.

“I have to thank my wife, Francine [whom he started dating while they were both in Howell], for always being there,” he added. “I have great coaches, and my [school] administration is extremely supportive.”

True to his nature, Gagliano kept the announcement of his accomplishment from the standing-room-only crowd in Howell until the Rebels had beaten their arch rivals from Ocean Township in their next match that night, the SCT quarterfinals. He did not want it to be a distraction to his team. He wanted to keep them focused on Ocean.

When the Rebels had dispatched the Spartans (37-24), he was joined on the mat by the two previous record holders, Ron Surgent (111-49-2) and Bauer (153-52-2).

Bauer couldn’t have been happier for his former star student (Gagliano was an NJSIAA District and Region champion at Howell) or prouder.

“It’s great,” said Bauer. “He was the hardest-working kid I ever had, and he’s still working just as hard. No one deserves it [the record] more.”

While Gagliano was starring at Howell (he would graduate as the school’s all-time winningest wrestler with 79 wins), Bauer knew the young wrestler was destined to be a coach.

“He was always a student of the game, always wanted to learn,” he recalled.

Watching Howell destroy state-ranked Ocean by registering four straight pins and 28 consecutive points to rally from a 24-10 deficit, Bauer marveled at the team’s overall balance and talent level.

“He has kept it [the program] going and has taken it to a much higher level,” he said. “They can compete on the biggest stage.”

These Rebels, who could well be the finest team the school has produced, are reflective of their coach. They show the class and respect for the sport that he does. They don’t cheat themselves or their teammates by taking shortcuts. They live and breathe wrestling, and that is how they’ve become a state power.