Michigan Football 1891 | bigbluefootballhistory.com BigBlueToday | Michigan Football History

November 28, 2016 The End of an Eventful Michigan Football Season.

Posted on November 28, 2016 by Barry Gallagher

Today’s blog goes all the way back to the end of an eventful Michigan Football season in Wolverine football history.

First, November 28, 1891 marked the end of the first season that saw a coach, or coaches, and not a captain in charge of a Wolverine Football team. There is some controversy about who was actually in charge of the Michigan Football team in 1891, but that was cleared up very quickly at the end of the season.

Frank Crawford | bigbluefootballhistory.com

According to the Bentley Historical Library, Frank Crawford is credited as the first Head Coach in Michigan Football History in 1891. Photo courtesy of the Bentley Historical Library.

The Bentley Historical Library lists Frank Crawford as the first “paid” head coach of a Michigan football team. Mike Murphy is listed as the “Trainer” for the 1891 team. Some experts say they shared the coaching duties, but I am not going to get too deep into that debate today. Let’s just say it was a big change in the way Michigan football would move forward in the future.

Regardless of who was in charge, the season did not end the way most Michigan players and fans would like. The 1891 team started well by winning four of the first five games. Okay, the first game was against Ann Arbor High School so that win is discounted by many. Yes, it was the first time Michigan ever played the high school boys from Ann Arbor and it was also the last.

Michigan did not capitalize on their fast start and ended the season with four consecutive losses. The final record for the first “coached” team finished with 4 wins and 5 losses. This means that the coach/coaches in 1891 led the Wolverines to the first five loss season in Michigan football season – ouch! Interestingly, Frank Crawford and Mike Murphy did not return for the 1892 season.

The 1891 season was also the first season that saw a Michigan team lose twice to the same team. Michigan was trying to upgrade their program so they continued to play at least one team from the “east” every season. Cornell was the team of choice, twice, in 1891. The Wolverines journeyed  to Detroit to meet Cornell on November 21, 1891. They went back to Ann Arbor to ponder a 12-58 loss. This would be the worst defeat that a Michigan team had suffered in the first twelve years of football. Michigan, hoping for revenge, went to Chicago a week later to play the Big Red. The Wolverines played a better game, but still went home with a defeat (0-10).

Mike Murphy | bigbluefootballhistory.com

Mike Murphy, according to the Bentley Historical Library, was the trainer for the 1891 Michigan Football Team. Some believe he was more of a co-coach with Frank Crawford. Photo courtesy of the Bentley Historical Library.

So, the 1891 Michigan football season was a time of transition. The team “captains” would still play a critical role in the success of Michigan football, but they would take the lead from the coaches in charge. Michigan hired Frank Barbour to lead the team in 1892 and he did a little better. He tied the record for losses (5), but set a Wolverine record for wins (7) during the second season with a paid coach.

Today is a good day to reflect on the history of Michigan football and remember what has happened in one hundred-thirty-seven years. Michigan’s “captains” put twenty-one wins into the record book in eleven seasons. Wolverine coaches have led Michigan teams to nine hundred-fourteen wins so far in one-hundred-twenty-six seasons. All captains and all coaches have contributed significantly to the legacy of the winningest program in college football history. Go Blue!


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