Tale of the Coaching Tape: Nick Saban vs. Amos Alonzo Stagg

Christopher Walsh

Even though the University of Chicago dropped football in 1939 (it restarted the program for Division III in 1968), it won a national championship in 1905, and seven Big Ten titles from 1899-1924.

Jay Berwanger was the first winner of the Heisman Trophy in 1935, and subsequently the first selection in the first National Football League draft (he never played pro ball, but is one of nine Chicago inductees into the College Football Hall of Fame). While the program also featured quarterback Walter Eckersall (1903-06) and guard Bob “Tiny” Maxwell (1902, 1904-5) -- for whom both the Maxwell Club and Maxwell Trophy are named – the person most associated with Chicago is legendary coach Amos Alonzo Stagg.

“The Grand Old Man of the Midway,” who was at Chicago from 1892-1932, invented the end-around, hidden-ball trick, fake punt, quick-kick, man-in-motion, double reverse, huddle, backfield shift, Statue of Liberty play, padded goal posts, and having numbers on players’ backs. Incidentally, he also invented the batting cage for baseball and the trough for overflow in swimming pools.

“All football comes from Stagg,” said Knute Rockne, whose football hero as a kid was Echersall.

His championship team shut out every opponent except one, Indiana, which managed just five points. Chicago “rebounded” by winning at Wisconsin 4-0, and eventually beat Michigan 2-0. Over 11 games it scored 271 points.

During his 42-year coaching career, which began at Springfield, Stagg went 275-121-29 for a 68.1 winning percentage at major schools, and 115-74-12 in the Big Ten. He also had 10 consensus All-Americans.

Stagg also coached at Pacific (1933-46), where he had five teams finish atop the Northern California Athletic Conference, giving him an overall record of 314-199-35.

Amos Alonzo Staff on the cover of Time Magazine

Nick Saban vs. Amos Alonzo Stagg

(Statistics through 2018 season)

Category Saban; Stagg

Seasons 23; 42

Consensus national titles 6; 1

Top five finishes 9; 1-i

Top 25 finishes 16; 1-i

Overall record 232–62–1; 314-199-35

Percentage 78.5; 60.4

Losing seasons 0; 20

CFP/Bowl record 14-10; 0-1

Percentage 58.3; 0.0

Conference titles 9; 12

Conference record 138-42-1; NA (115-74-2 Big Ten)

Consensus All-Americans 41; 10

First-round draft picks 34; 1-i

Record against ranked teams 82-40; NA

Percentage 67.20; NA

Record against top 10 teams 42-21; NA

Percentage 66.67; NA


National title seasons One every 3.8 seasons; 42

Consensus All-Americans 1.78 every season; .24

First-round draft picks 1.48 every season; NA

Average wins vs. ranked teams 3.57 each season; NA

Wins over top-10 teams per year 1.82 every season; NA

i-The first Associated Press poll and NFL Draft were conducted in 1936

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Comments (2)
No. 1-2

Eckersall, not Echersall. Once his football eligibility expired, Chicago expelled him. Gambling? He became a sportswriter in the Windy City. - Brian Cooper, author of "First Heisman: The Life of Jay Berwanger"

Christopher Walsh
Christopher Walsh


Thank you for pointing that out. Appreciate it.

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