Football teams around the country are furiously training for the upcoming season, so this week let's take a look at five things you may not know about the man whose name has been synonymous with pigskin action for generations of boys, Glenn Scobey "Pop" Warner.
1. He Was Originally a Lawyer
Although Warner played football for Cornell from 1892 to 1894, he didn't think of turning the sport into a job. (He did, however, get a lifelong nickname from his teammates, who called him "Pop" because he was a few years older than the rest of the roster.) When Warner graduated from Cornell, he moved to western New York and began working as a lawyer.
The legal profession didn't suit Warner, though, and he quickly left the field to take a job as the football coach at Iowa State. By 1895 he was the head coach at Georgia. Over the course of his 44-year career as a head coach, Warner also helmed teams for Cornell, Pitt, Stanford, Temple, and Carlisle Indian Industrial School, a Native American school in Carlisle, PA.
The Indians' football program was only active from 1893 to 1917, but Carlisle's .647 winning percentage is still the highest of any defunct college football team. Warner later called the Carlisle job "the easiest coaching assignment I ever had." He continued, "Those Indians were natural athletes, and their powers of observation remarkably keen. The younger players watched the older ones and caught on quickly. I never had to teach them much."
2. He Invented a Lot of Football's Staples
You may know that Warner innovated a number of football basics, but it's amazing just how many of Warner's ideas we now take for granted.
Warner gets credit for coming up with the three-point stance, shoulder and thigh pads, the spiral punt, the screen pass, the single-wing and double-wing formations, numbering players' jerseys, and improved helmets. Historians also credit Warner for introducing blocking sleds and tackling dummies to teams' practice routines. In short, if you enjoy football, tip your cap to Warner.
3. He Discovered Jim Thorpe
During Warner's second tenure at Carlisle Indian, he helped build the career of one of America's most iconic athletes, Jim Thorpe. Warner first discovered Thorpe as a skinny 155-pound Native American boy of 15, but while working as a track and football coach for Carlisle, he saw Thorpe transform himself into the nation's best pigskin talent and an Olympic pentathlon and decathlon champ.
It sounds strange now that Thorpe is a legend, but Warner always thought he could have coaxed more out of his star. He later said, "Thorpe rarely gave more than 50 or 60 percent of himself. But when he went all out "“ well, it was humanly impossible for anyone to be better." Whether or not he was loafing, Thorpe had such an amazing career that Cornell once honored its famous alum Warner as "the inventor of the single wing, the double wing and Jim Thorpe."
4. He Wasn't Afraid to Bend a Rule
For most of Warner's career, football was still getting its bearings, and as a result, the rulebook had its share of shortcomings. Warner wasn't afraid to exploit these loopholes to his advantage, either. During Warner's second stint at Carlisle Indian in 1908, he came up with a particularly brilliant trick. The rules allowed players to wear elbow pads, so Warner outfitted his team with a specialized set of pads that looked like a football when the players' arms were crossed at the chest.
The pads obviously baffled defenders who could no longer tell which one of Warner's players was actually carrying the ball. Percy Haughter of Harvard eventually defused Warner's trick by using the rulebook against the cagey coach. Haughter took Warner aside and said that he understood that the rules allowed elbow pads"¦but they also allowed the home team to pick and supply the game balls. Warner could use his elbow pads against Harvard, but he would have to play through a game with a red-white-and-blue ball.
Smart move by the Harvard men, but they'd been tricked by Warner before. In a previous game, Warner broke out a gadget play for an easy touchdown against the Crimson. Carlisle's quarterback, Mount Pleasant, took a snap and began running downfield. What the defense didn't realize was that the QB had stuffed the ball in the back of his center's jersey. Center Charlie Dillon walked untouched into the end zone for the score.
5. Dependability Helped Immortalize Him
Sure, Warner innovated new offenses and won 319 NCAA games, but how did his name get attached to Pop Warner Football? By keeping his word. In April 1934, Warner was scheduled to talk to players and coaches in the Junior Football Conference, a large youth football league based in Philadelphia. Warner was supposed to appear with eleven other area college coaches, but on the night of the talk the weather was horrendous. It was unusually cold, and torrential rain had begun mixing with sleet. Of all the coaches who had agreed to talk, only the legendary Warner showed up.
As the night's only attraction, Warner took his speaking seriously. He regaled 800 boys with gridiron stories and answered their questions for two hours, and at the end of the night the players and league organizers were so taken with Warner's generosity, enthusiasm, and dedication that they renamed their program the Pop Warner Conference.
If there's someone you'd like to see profiled in a future edition of '5 Things You Didn't Know About...,' leave us a comment. You can read the previous installments here.