Today’s post remembers the passing of former Michigan football coach and athletic administrator Fritz Crisler. Herbert Orin “Fritz” Crisler died on this day in 1982 in Ann Arbor at the age of eighty-three. Crisler was born in Earlville, Illinois in 1899. After graduating from high school, Fritz Crisler enrolled at The University of Chicago where he became an outstanding athlete for Amos Alanzo Stagg’s Chicago Maroons. When he graduated, Crisler left with a degree, some varsity letters and the nickname “Fritz.” Coach Stagg invited his young star to giving coaching a try. After fifty-years in sports, Crisler become a legend!
Michigan was able to lure the talented Crisler from Princeton to Ann Arbor in 1938. He made his presence felt immediately in Ann Arbor. The innovative Crisler changed the look of the football team when he designed a winged helmet of Maize and Blue for his football players. He did it to improve receiver recognition downfield, but it became an iconic symbol of Michigan Football. It probably helped the passing game in 1938, but it did way more than that. Crisler’s first team finished with a record of 6 wins, 1 loss, and 1 tie. It was Michigan’s first winning season in five years.
Herbert Orin Crisler coached the Michigan football team from 1938 to 1947. He never had a losing season in ten years at the Maize and Blue helm. His teams posted an overall record of 71 wins, 16 losses and 3 ties. What this means, is that his football teams won just over eighty percent of their regular season games. Crisler’s Wolverines were also strong in the Big Ten/Nine Conference during his tenure. Michigan won 42, lost 11 and tied 3 games in conference play under Coach Crisler (.777 winning rate).
Crisler’s teams won two conference championships (1943 and 1947) and a National Championship in 1947. The Wolverines finished fourth once (1939) and third once (1942) during Crisler’s tenure. However, they mostly finished second (six times) when they weren’t winning the conference championship.
The demanding Crisler had a knack for bringing out the best in his players. He coached ten different players who earned All-American honors including Tom Harmon who did it twice (1939 and 1940).
The Wolverines were good against their rivals, but great against Ohio State and Michigan State. Crisler lost his first five games to Minnesota before winning the last five to finish 5-5-0 against his former employer. He won a game and lost another against Notre Dame in the early 1940s. However, Crisler held the upper hand against Ohio State and finished with an overall record of 7-2-1 against the Buckeyes. Amazingly, Crisler was perfect against Michigan State. He finished with a record of 8 wins, 0 losses and 0 ties against the Spartans. Overall, Fritz Crisler won just over seventy-one percent (.716) of the games that his Wolverines played against Michigan’s biggest rivals.
As usual, I could go on and on about the achievements of Fritz Crisler. They would easily fill a book! He was that good as an athlete, coach and athletic administrator. Instead, I will highlight some of the “firsts” that he is associated with in Michigan football history. You can learn more about Fritz Crisler, if you read the articles linked below.
In addition to winning a lot of games for Michigan, Fritz Crisler accomplished some notable “firsts” while he was associated with the Michigan football team.
· Fritz Crisler was the first Michigan coach to put winged helmets on his football players (1938).
· Crisler coached Michigan’s first African-American All-American player, Julius Franks, in 1942.
· Fritz Crisler was the first coach to use the “Two Platoon” substitution system in a college football game (1945).
· Crisler was the first Michigan coach to direct his team in a televised game against Michigan State (1947).
· Fritz Crisler was the first college coach to have his team voted national champions after a bowl game by the Associated Press poll (1947 team after 1948 Rose Bowl).
· Crisler was the first, and only, Michigan football coach to win the Big Nine Conference Championship and the National Championship in his final year.
· Fritz Crisler was the first, and only, Michigan football coach to be voted National Coach of the Year by the American Football Coaches Association (1947) in his final season.
· Crisler is the only, Michigan Athletic Director to “hide” a seat somewhere in Michigan Stadium so that the last three numbers on Michigan’s stadium capacity could be listed as “001.”
Yes, today is a great day to honor the memory of Herbert O. “Fritz” Crisler on his outstanding Michigan career. He was a legendary coach, and a visionary athletic director, who served Michigan honorably for thirty years! Please take a moment to remember this amazing man. Thanks to Fritz Crisler for all his contributions to Michigan! Go Blue!
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