Amos Alonzo Stagg: College Football’s Greatest Pioneer
David E. Sumner
Amos Alonzo Stagg (1862–1965) grew up one of eight children in a poor New Jersey family, graduated high school at 21 and worked his way through Yale. His goal was to become a Presbyterian minister, but he dropped out of Yale Divinity School because he felt he could have more influence on young men through coaching. He was hired as the first football coach at University of Chicago after its founding in 1892.
Under Stagg’s leadership, Chicago emerged as one of the nation’s most formidable football teams during the early 20th century, winning seven Big Ten championships and two national championships. After Chicago forced him to retire at 70, Stagg found another coaching position at College of the Pacific, where he was forced to retire at 84. He found another job and never fully retired from coaching until he was 98. His marriage to his wife to Stella—his de facto assistant coach—lasted almost 70 years. Sports Illustrated wrote of him, “If any single individual can be said to have created today’s game, Stagg is the man. He either invented outright or pioneered every aspect of the modern game from…the huddle, shift and tackling dummy to such refinements as the T-formation strategy.” This biography tells the story of his life and many innovations, which made him one of the great pioneers of college football.