College football has been a staple of American culture for over half a century longer than the NFL. Professional gaming owes much of its success to the foundation built by college sport.
A range of varsity coaches have transformed the game on and off the field. From Walter Camp at Yale to Nick Saban of Alabama, here are eight whose innovations or achievements have had a significant impact on the sport over the past 15 decades.
1. Camp Walter, Yale (1888-92)
INNOVATION: The rulebook
While still on the Yale football team in 1880, Camp submitted a series of groundbreaking proposals that took football from a chaotic scrum to the nation’s flagship sport. Camp’s flagship submissions included a line of scrimmage, a center quarterback rally, the concept of downs, and the scoring system itself. Pre-camp, the rules of the sport, including the number of players per team, varied depending on the location.
At 29, Camp took over as coach from Yale. His prescient spirit for the sport helped the Bulldogs win three national championships in five years. One of them came in 1888, the season when Yale dominated their opposition, 694-0, in 13 games. Although Camp’s coaching career did not last long, the frontman of Yale and Stanford became known as “the father of American football”.
READ MORE: Who Invented Football?
2. Pop Warner, Carlisle Indian Industrial School (1899-1903, 1907-14)
The Camp Rules still let the product shine on the creativity field in the early decades of the 11-on-11 era. Operating with undersized teams in Carlisle, Pa., Warner unveiled a multitude of tactics that injected deception into football. One-wing training, the main game of football during the first half of the 20th century, came from the Carlisle years of Warner.
Using shifts, knockoffs, and the new legalized forward pass, the Farm School football team compiled four seasons to one loss during Warner’s tenure. He also made his debut with the three-point position and shoulder pads, which impacted the game much longer than his formations.
At Carlisle, Warner was 113-43-8, bolstered, in part, by multi-sport legend Jim Thorpe. He played for Warner during the coach’s second stint at school. Warner’s tenure at Carlisle included thwarted victories against the national powers Army and Harvard.
3. Fritz Crisler, Michigan (1938-47)
Before World War II, college football had strict substitution limits. Once a team replaced a player, they couldn’t come back until the next quarter. As the war drained football talent nationwide, an emergency rule allowing unlimited substitutions came into effect in 1941. A late capitalization of Crisler on this front ultimately reshaped the construction of football’s depth tables. for generations.
Against the Army team powered by Doc Blanchard and Glenn Davis that won the 1945 National Championship, Crisler’s Michigan team was forced to use several freshmen. To maximize the chances of his exhausted team, Crisler replaced his linemen and linebackers for new attacking bodies and broke with the tradition of Ironman football.
“The coaches would ask me, ‘What is this? What are you doing ?’ “Crisler said in 1964.” A few coaches tried the peloton that season, the military did it next year and pretty much everyone followed suit.
The army consistently won, 28-7, and the college game reverted to substitution restrictions until the 1960s. But Crisler’s emergency tactics eventually led to the demise of players playing both offensive. and in defense during a match.
4. Bud Wilkinson, Oklahoma (1947-63)
INNOVATION: Offense without caucus
The longest winning streak in college football’s premier league has been with Oklahoma, which played 47 games from October 1953 to November 1957. The Wilkinson Sooners established one of football’s great dynasties, dominating with a rushed attack and becoming the first team to regularly deploy a 3-4 defense. To wrap up Year 3 of the streak, Oklahoma created a mid-game surprise that would impact infractions for decades.
Defeated 6-0 against Maryland at half-time in the Orange Bowl, Oklahoma quickly erased the deficit with two practices in the second half. Sooners players sprinted to the line after the games, catching the Terrapins off guard. Wilkinson waited all season to launch the Sooners’ Go-Go package, and it made a difference in securing his second national championship.
Oklahoma defeated Maryland, 20-6, and won their third national title the following season. No-huddle remains a staple for offenses at all levels, especially in college, over 60 years later.
5. Duffy Daugherty, State of Michigan (1954-72)
REMARKABLE ACHIEVEMENT: Pioneer of integration
Long before the other great powers did, Daugherty recruited dozens of black prospects in the southern states and formed a national powerhouse in the mid-1960s. Bubba Smith, future NFL No. 1 draft pick, a 6-foot-7 defensive end and eventual Pro Bowl wide receiver Gene Washington signed with Michigan State in Texas and became part of the Spartan mini-dynasty.
After Daugherty’s 1965 team won a national title, his 1966 team became the first predominantly black team to win a championship in college football’s Premier League. Starring a black North Carolina quarterback, future NFL assistant coach Jimmy Raye, the 1966 Spartans had 12 black starters and 20 overall. After a tie-10 at the end of the season with Notre Dame, Michigan State shared this year’s championship.
Michigan state’s success preceded the rout of an integrated team from Southern California to an all-white Alabama team in 1970, awakening the last remaining resistance fighters in the south and launching the sport’s full integration into the 1970s.
READ MORE: 10 African American Sports Pioneers
6. LaVell Edwards, Brigham Young (1972-2000)
INNOVATION: Air raid
During a period of intense football, BYU gave a break. The Cougars’ pivot to a high octane pass attack sparked a dormant program and gradually led to the metamorphosis of college play.
Building on the concepts of Don Coryell during his time in San Diego, Edwards and his offensive coordinators built a brand that produced passing titles. Edwards’ teams included five All-American first-team quarterbacks, including Jim McMahon and Steve Young. Its teams combined to lead the nation in passing yards nine times from 1976 to 1994. BYU became the most recent non-major conference team to win a national title; the Western Athletic Conference-based team went 13-0 in 1984.
“BYU won in the late ’70s and early’ 80s because no one could figure out what was going on,” Young said in 2012.
7. Jimmy Johnson, Miami (1984-88)
REMARKABLE ACHIEVEMENT: Speed of recruitment
Taking over a fledgling Miami dynasty after Howard Schnellenberger’s exit in 1984, Johnson prioritized speed even at the expense of the size of the coveted teams at that time.
Among Johnson’s speed accomplishments: three consecutive seasons with a top-five defense in the nation (1986-88) and converted linebackers Danny Stubbs and Greg Mark remaining 1-2 in the sacks in Hurricanes history.
Johnson’s Speed Merchants were particularly adept at stopping teams that used the Wishbone attack, a race-based attack. Miami beat Oklahoma, a Wishbone team, in three consecutive seasons; the third conquest obtained the national title 1987.
A speed boom ensued, with the state of Florida following in Miami’s footsteps and intensifying the state’s main rivalry. Johnson helped transport that shot to the NFL, where quick pass rushers are mandatory and quick linebackers, adept at the pass defense, have moved the bulkier stopers.
8. Nick Saban, Alabama (2007-present)
REMARKABLE ACHIEVEMENT: Sustained supremacy
Six national championships in 12 years place Saban-led Alabama at its own level among modern programs. LSU is the only other team to have won three national titles in the 21st century; Saban is responsible for the first of them (2003).
Saban, assistant coach to Bill Belichick when he was with the Cleveland Browns, helped the Southeastern Conference maintain its position as premier college football league.
Initially anchored by menacing defenses, four of which led the nation, the Saban-era Crimson Tide produced dozens of players for the NFL, many of whom were drafted in the first round.
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