Amos Alonzo Stagg was one of the most important figures in the development of football into a great national game. And even though Walter Camp was responsible for the rules that changed football from a rugby-soccer derivative into a uniquely American sport, Stagg -- in his long career as player, coach, innovator, spokesman, and conscience of the game -- may have done more to popularize it.
Stagg (1862-1965) first achieved prominence as a baseball player at Yale, pitching the Elis to perennial Big Three (Yale, Harvard, and Princeton) championships. He turned down a baseball contract offered by the New York Giants to enter Yale Divinity School, but believing he was a poor public speaker, he entered the YMCA Training School at Springfield, Massachusetts.
As a football player, he was named an end on the first All-American team in 1889. He coached the Springfield football team and also took part in the first basketball game, aiding Dr. James Naismith in that sport's creation.
In 1892, Stagg became football coach at the University of Chicago, where he remained until mandatory retirement at age 70 forced him to leave in 1932.
His Chicago teams, though nearly always outmanned, won seven Western Conference titles and had four undefeated seasons.
Much of his success stemmed from his hundreds of innovations -- everything from the invention of the tackling dummy to the Statue of Liberty play. He also served on the NCAA Rules Committee. Painfully honest, his unquestioned integrity made him the leading spokesman for college football during this period.
After leaving Chicago, Stagg became head coach at College of Pacific. In 1943, at age 81, he was voted national Coach of the Year when little COP registered seven wins over major teams.
He resigned after the 1946 season but continued as an assistant for 12 more years, first at Susquehanna University under one of his sons and finally at Stockton J.C. In 57 years as a head coach, he compiled a record of 314-199-35.
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