John W. Heisman

From Ohio History Central

John Heisman was one of the leading football coaches of the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries in the United States. He was born on October 25, 1869, in Cleveland, Ohio.

Heisman attended Brown University from 1887 to 1889. He then transferred to the University of Pennsylvania for his final two years of college. Upon graduation, Heisman became the head coach of the football team at Oberlin College in Oberlin, Ohio. His team went undefeated his first season at Oberlin, defeating both The Ohio State University and the University of Michigan. He remained at Oberlin College for only a single season, before coaching at the University of Akron for one year. He returned to Oberlin the following year, before accepting the head coaching position at Auburn University.

Heisman remained at Auburn University from 1895 to 1899. He won twelve games, suffered four losses, and tied two games during those five seasons. The next four years found Heisman as the head coach of Clemson University. He went undefeated his first year and attained a record of nineteen wins, three losses, and two ties at this institution.

In 1905, Heisman became the head coach at Georgia Tech University. He remained at the school for sixteen seasons. Georgia Tech emerged as one of the leading football programs in the nation. During 1915, 1916, and 1917, Georgia Tech went undefeated. During these three years, Heisman's team outscored its opponents 1,592 points to sixty-two. In 1916, the Georgia Tech team defeated Cumberland College's squad 222 points to zero, the worst defeat ever recorded. Heisman's final career record at Georgia Tech was one hundred wins, twenty-nine losses, and six ties.

In 1920, Heisman became the head coach at the University of Pennsylvania, his alma mater. In his three years at this institution, he won sixteen games, lost ten times, and tied twice. Heisman ended his career at Rice Institute, where he endured his only losing record. Upon retiring, he became the director of the Downtown Athletic Club in New York City.

Heisman helped develop football into the sport that it is today. He was one of the earliest advocates of legalizing the forward pass. He also called for games to be divided into four quarters rather than into two halves. In 1935, the Downtown Athletic Club began awarding a trophy annually to college football's outstanding player. Upon Heisman's death on October 3, 1936, the organization renamed the award the Heisman Memorial Trophy.

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