Pop Warner

Pop Warner (center) with other All-American football coaches. See more pictures of the football greats.
Pop Warner (center) with other All-American football coaches. See more pictures of the football greats.

During the 1920s and 1930s, the two most famous and respected football coaches in the nation were Knute Rockne and Glenn "Pop" Warner. Despite their success, the two were complete opposites.


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Rockne was extroverted, inspirational -- a motivator who radiated warmth. Warner was cerebral, inventive -- a tactician described as "gruff, sometimes almost surly and sullen." Despite Rockne's charisma, an Associated Press poll in the 1950s named Warner as the greatest coach of all time.

Warner (1871-1954) gained his nickname of "Pop" when he arrived at Cornell University as a 21-year-old freshman. When he graduated with a law degree in 1895, he thought he had finished with sports. Then coaching offers arrived. That fall, he left for the University of Georgia to begin a coaching career that spanned 44 years.


In 1897, Warner returned to Cornell to coach. A one-sided victory over the Carlisle Indians in 1898 caused Carlisle to offer him the position of coach and athletic director.

It was at Carlisle that Warner first gained national attention. The little government school played the strongest college teams and often won on speed and superior coaching. Warner's most famous player was, of course, Jim Thorpe.

When Carlisle began phasing out its football program, Warner accepted an offer to coach the University of Pittsburgh. His first three Pittsburgh teams went undefeated and won or shared the national title.

In 1924, Warner moved to Stanford University, where he developed fullback Ernie Nevers, a player he regarded as even better than Thorpe because "he always tried harder." Warner's Stanford teams went to three Rose Bowls, and the 1926 squad was ranked No. 1 in the country.

Warner was one of the most innovative coaches in history -- so creative that he is sometimes considered the inventor of things that he may have only developed. Certainly he was the creator of the single- and double-wing formations, football's dominant offensive sets for more than 30 years. By one count, he produced 47 All-Americans.

Warner's final record was 313-106-32, placing him near the top of any list of great coaches.


To learn more about football greats, see:

  • Great Football Players
  • Great Offensive Football Players
  • Great Defensive Football Players
  • Great Football Coaches