Sports History Saturday – Glenn Scobey “Pop” Warner: Innovator and “Trickster”

Glenn_S._WarnerGlenn Scobey “Pop” Warner was a legendary college football coach, winning 319 NCAA games during his career.  Warner was born on April 5, 1871 in Springville, New York.  He attended Cornell and played football there from 1892 to 1894.  Because Glenn was a bit older than other players on the team roster, he was given the nickname of “Pop” – it stuck.

He graduated in 1895 with a law degree and had every intention of becoming a lawyer but that didn’t work out, so he left the law profession and landed a job coaching at Iowa State.  A short time later he was the head coach of Georgia and in 1896 he led the Bulldogs to a first-ever undefeated season.  At the time, the University of Georgia only had 248 students – the low pay was not much of an incentive to stay despite his success and he moved on to coach at his alma mater, Cornell.

While at Cornell, Warner compiled an impressive 15-1-1 record but in 1897 he left there to coach at Carlisle Indian School in Pennsylvania.  There he found young Indian men who were natural athletes.  Years later Warner would remark that Carlisle was “the easiest coaching assignment I ever had.”  He noted their quickness to learn and skills of keen observation – which made his job much easier.

Warner took on another coaching stint at Cornell and returned to Carlisle in 1907.  That year Warner was coaching track and field when he first encountered Jim Thorpe.  Thorpe was a natural athlete, competing and excelling in several sports including football, baseball, lacrosse and ballroom dancing (he actually won the 1912 intercollegiate ballroom dancing championship!).  Warner later remarked that “Thorpe rarely gave more than 50 or 60 percent of himself.”

Warner compiled impressive records while at Carlisle.  After his success there he moved on to the University of Pittsburgh, Stanford (three Rose Bowl championships) and finally ending his coaching career at Temple University.  In 1951, he was inducted into the College Football Hall of Fame in honor of a stellar coaching career after compiling a record of 319-106-32.

Tricks and Innovations

Pop Warner was certainly known for his coaching skills and ability to win games, but he contributed more to the sport of football in the way of innovation, equipment and even had a few tricks up his sleeve.

U.S. Patent No. 1,887,473 belonged to none other than Glenn S. Warner.  He filed the patent on April 8, 1932 and the patent was issued on November 8 of that same year (click to enlarge).

pop warner shoulder pads1pop warner shoulder pads2

In addition he is credited with other improvements and innovations in equipment such as the use of thigh pads,  helmets, and numbered jerseys.  The single and double-wing formations, screen pass, spiral punt, as well as the three-point stance, are all credited as well to Warner.

Warner was known for trick plays and maybe even bending the rules a bit.  In the early years of football the rules were somewhat loosely written and ripe for exploitation.   For instance, the rules allowed players to wear elbow pads for protection.  While at Carlisle in 1908, he outfitted his team with a specially-designed pad that looked every bit like a football if a player crossed his arms across his chest.

He came up with another trick play that was used in a game against Harvard.  The quarterback took the snap and began running downfield.  Little did the other side know that the quarterback had stuffed the ball under the jersey of the center, who unbeknownst to Harvard’s defense walked into the end zone untouched.

Pop Warner Football

In 1929 the Junior Football Conference was established in Philadelphia and by 1933 the conference had 16 teams.  That was the year Glenn Warner arrived to coach at Temple University.  The founder of the youth league, Joseph J. Tomlin, met Warner at a banquet and asked Warner to speak at a spring clinic.

On the evening of April 19, 1934, the weather turned unseasonably cold and instead of the dozen invited coaches showing up, only Pop Warner showed up to speak to 800 enthusiastic young athletes.  He spent two hours speaking to them and answering their questions.  At the end of that evening, by acclamation, the conference was renamed the “Pop Warner Conference”.

By 1938 there were 157 teams, but World War II reduced the number of teams to just 42.  Following the war, team numbers and membership rebounded and began to be organized in weight classes so that younger boys could participate.  In 1947, on December 27, the first league bowl game called the “Santa Claus Bowl” was held.  By the early 1950’s, there was more of a push by Tomlin to take the league to the national level, but he encountered opposition.  Some were convinced that the sport was just too dangerous for kids.

Joe Tomlin wanted to tie the sport with the importance of education, but met resistance.  Finally in 1959 the Pop Warner Little Scholars program was instituted, with the emphasis being that education was just as important as playing well on the field.  One of Warner’s players at Temple remarked, “Pop would softly say, ‘Be sure to go to class and get good grades.  You’re here to get an education.’”

Pop retired in 1938 after coaching five years at Temple.  In later years, he served as a football advisor for San Jose State College.  In 1954, at the age of 84, he died of throat cancer in Palo Alto, California.

Everyone have a great day — someday it will be history!

© Sharon Hall (History Depot), 2013.

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