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Former South Dakota State football coach John Gregory dies at 84

John Gregory, who guided South Dakota State to its only Division II football playoff appearance and was one of current coach John Stiegelmeier’s most important mentors, has died at the age of 84.

The cause of death was not immediately known, but the Iowa Barnstormers, whom Gregory coached from 1995-2000 and again from 2008-2011, confirmed Gregory’s passing.

“I owe my position to a lot of people, but none more than John Gregory,” Stiegelmeier said Monday night. “He’s the guy that encouraged me to be a student coach and that’s what got me going to be a college coach. He’s very influential in my coaching life.”

While Gregory achieved minor fame as a head coach both in Canada and the indoor game, he remains a significant part of Jackrabbit football history. Gregory coached SDSU from 1972-1981, going 55-50-3, highlighted by the 1979 team that won nine games and qualified for the Division II playoffs, the only time the Jackrabbits ever reached the postseason in the D2 era.

Gregory not only brought SDSU respectability in his time as head coach, but mentored the coaches who guided the program where it is today. Each of the three Jackrabbit coaches that followed – Wayne Haensel, Mike Daly and Stiegelmeier, all worked under Gregory. Stiegelmeier made his coaching debut as a student assistant in the playoff season of ’79.

Daly had been hesitant to make time for the young Stiegelmeier at the time, but it was Gregory who took a liking to Stiegelmeier and insisted Daly take him under his wing.

“Coach Gregory was a coaching lifer,” Daly said. “He loved the game, his colleagues, his players, the smell of the locker room. He gave dozens of coaches their first full-time jobs, including me, then helped them throughout their careers. He loved to hunt and fish with his current and former coaches – he loved to have fun. SDSU lost a great one. He touched a lot of lives.”

Gregory, after leading SDSU, spent one year as offensive coordinator at Northern Iowa (his alma mater, where he played on two NCC title teams when the school was known as Iowa State Teacher’s College) before jumping to Canada, where he coached both the Saskatchewan Roughriders and the Hamilton Tiger-Cats, winning a Grey Cup with the Roughriders in 1989.

Gregory made the move to arena football in 1995, and would spend 17 years coaching in the AFL, with Iowa, New York, Carolina, Arkansas and Iowa again.

He was the Barnstormers inaugural coach, where he rode future Hall of Fame quarterback Kurt Warner to back to back Arena Bowl appearances in 1996 and ’97.

“We are deeply saddened to learn about the passing of legendary Iowa Barnstormers head coach John Gregory,” the team said in a statement. “John was a huge part of the Barnstormers organization, laying the foundation for Barnstormers football. Words can not express how much he will be missed by Barnstormers fans, staff and community.”

Gregory had a 61-82-1 record in Canada and a 117-90 mark in the AFL for an overall combined coaching record of 233-222-4.

Gregory reconnected with Stiegelmeier and the Jackrabbit program after retirement, and was happy to see the success they’ve had since moving up to Division I in the early 2000s. SDSU has now made 11 straight playoff appearances, put several players in the NFL, and are one win away from their second berth in the FCS national championship.

“He was very proud, and he should be, of what the Jackrabbits have accomplished,” Steiegelmeier said. “They have TVs in heaven, so I know he’ll be able to watch us.”

Source: Argus Leader