Amos Alonzo Stagg dominated college coaching in the first half of this century, his University of Chicago and College of the Pacific football teams winning 314 games. With Alabama's Bear Bryant threatening to break that record this weekend against Auburn, Stagg's son says his father should be given credit for 21 more victories.
Stagg died in 1965 at the age of 102. When he retired from the College of the Pacific in 1946 at the age of 84, he joined his son, Amos Alonzo Jr., as cocoach at tiny Susquehanna University in Pennsylvania. There, the Staggs led the Crusaders to 21 wins in five years. The younger Stagg wants those victories added to his father's total.
"He never took the leadership away from me, but I think everybody recognized my father as the coach," Stagg, 82, said from his Fort Lauderdale, Fla., home. "Twenty-nine years later, I'm still trying to get his efforts recognized. The plays were all his, and I only added in a few from time to time. We had a deal: I coached the lines and he'd coach the backfields.
"I think I was a very good coach; don't get me wrong," Stagg continued. "But if you have a father who is admired tremendously, you want him as coach. As far as I was concerned, he was the coach, and I didn't mind. I couldn't have stopped him if I had wanted to, though. I'd have been a cad."
Stagg petitioned the NCAA in 1969 to recognize the 21 victories, but "the NCAA never officially replied," he said. "All I know is that they dismissed my efforts. I'm sure a great part of it was that the others coaches thought of him as an adviser, although he was listed in the college Blue Book as cocoach. The NCAA is very stiff-necked, and there's a lot of politics and cheating involved, if you ask me."
An NCAA official disagreed. "There's no evidence to support his claims," said Steve Boda, director of statistics for the NCAA. "I think we've been more than generous with the younger Stagg. Even if you give him the advisory-coach wins, you have to give them to Pop Warner, too, and that would make him first on the all-time list."
Warner had 313 victories at five schools. He served as an advisory coach at San Jose State in the mid-'40s.
Stagg's coaching career began at the University of Chicago in 1892, after an outstanding athletic career at Yale. He was a good enough pitcher with the Elis to receive offers from major-league teams; in football, he was named to Walter Camp's first all-America team in 1889. Stagg had entered Yale as a divinity student, but changed his mind.
"I felt especially called to preach," Stagg once said. "But I decided to do it on the athletic fields."
At Chicago, he quickly developed into the leading innovator of the game, introducing the tackling dummy, the fake kick, the cross block, numbered jerseys, the lateral pass and the flanker back. Stagg also played a leading role in the development of the Western Conference (Big 10) and in rules that prevented so-called tramp athletes from constantly changing schools to play sports.
Stagg led the Maroons to a 246-108-29 record over 40 years. The 1905 club went 10-0 and was led by quarterback Walter Henry, a three-time all-America. That year, Chicago outscored its opponents, 245-5.
Stagg reportedly never drank, smoked or swore, but never hesitated to call his players jackasses, double jackasses or even triple jackasses. The Chicago players eventually formed a Jackass Club, which later included both of the coach's sons.
"He was a good example, and all the players respected and admired him," said Bob Breeden, 85, the director of athletics at Chicago during Stagg's tenure. "He never wanted a kid to feel like the king of the college, though. Every year, he'd meet all the new players, even the ones we'd heavily recruited, get their name right and tell them he'd be happy to let them try out for the team."
Upon reaching the mandatory retirement age of 70, which had been especially granted to him, the University of Chicago forced its coach to retire. "It looks like a move into enforced idleness," Stagg said at the time. "I expect to be good for 15 or 20 more years of active service, but it's their decision."
His wife Stella charted plays on the sideline for him during games. Because she became ill and required a warmer climate, Stagg accepted the coaching post at the College of the Pacific in Stockton, Calif., where he served for the next 14 years, retiring at the age of 84 in 1946. Named the college coach of the year in 1943, Stagg led Pacific to five conference championships and 63 victories.
Throughout his career, Stagg never had a salary more than $8,500, and accepted only $3,000 annually from Susquehanna. He once turned down a $500 speaking engagement because it meant missing practice. Nevertheless, when he died in 1965, Stagg left behind an estate of $236,888, mostly from life insurance policies he outlasted.
Stagg enjoyed remarkable health throughout his life. He amazed reporters at his 95th birthday celebration by demonstrating the T-formation in his living room, lining up his interviewers as opposing players. He groomed his lawn daily with an 80-year-old push mower until the last year of his life. At the first day of spring practice with Pacific in 1936, Stagg, then 74, said, "I feel fit as a fiddle, and if I felt any fitter I'd go out for the team myself."
"Mr. Stagg was certainly an individualist," said Breeden. "I don't know how old he was, maybe in his 70s or 80s, but he and his wife were driving east one time and they stopped for dinner in Reno. He turned to his wife and said, 'Well, Stella, we might as well go on home.' They were still . . . miles away (from Chicago) but he drove it in 16 hours by himself."
Stagg closed his career in 1960 after serving for seven years as the assistant coach at Stockton College (now Delta Junior College) in California. He is a member of the College Football Hall of Fame as both a coach and a player, and, as a coach, was voted to the Basketball Hall of Fame. He also coached basketball, baseball and track at Chicago.
"When my father was 100, his insurance policies ran out and he collected a lot of money," the younger Stagg remembered. "He read somewhere at the time that very few people die after the age of 100. He then turned to me and said, 'Well, then, I guess I'll have to live forever.' "