John Heisman

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John William Heisman (October 25, 1869 - October 3, 1936) was a prominent American football player and subsequent college football coach in the early era of the sport. He served for four seasons as Clemson's fourth head football coach.

He was born in Cleveland, Ohio and played football at Brown University 1887-1889 and at the University of Pennsylvania 1890-1891. He coached at Oberlin College in 1893, went to the University of Akron in 1894, and returned to Oberlin the next year. In 1895, he went to Auburn University, where he stayed for five years. With all these schools combined, he lost only five games.

In December, 1899, he came to Clemson Agricultural College as the fourth head football coach. He held the position for four seasons, giving the Tigers their first undefeated record in his first year. His salary was so unfixed when he arrived that on December 8, a solicitation document was circulated among Clemson faculty and staff to secure pledged donations for a paycheck. The campaign yielded pledges totalling $415.11.

In his four seasons at the Tigers' helm, he coached 24 games for a 19-3-2 overall record, and an .833 percentage, the best in Clemson football history. He was undefeated at Clemson by Alabama, Auburn, Davidson, Furman, Georgia (four times!), Georgia Tech, Guilford, North Carolina A&M, and Wofford.

Heisman was wily, pulling off one of the legendary stunts in Clemson football history when he played a disinformation trick on Georgia Tech in 1902. On Friday, October 17, a group of Clemson students, assumed to be the football squad, arrived by train in Atlanta. They made a big brash show of enjoying the night life and retired quite late.

Believing the Tiger gridders would be too worn out to play a good game, Georgia Tech fans favored their home team heavily. As gametime arrived, so did the true Clemson squad, fresh from a night's rest in a hotel in Lula, Georgia, up the Southern Railway some 25 miles north of Atlanta, where Heisman had stashed them while the ersatz "team" kicked up its heels. The Tigers dominated the match, 44-5.

Following the October 28, 1903 match with North Carolina State, John Heisman marries Evelyn Barksdale in Columbia, South Carolina.

Heisman was hired away by Georgia Tech in November, 1903. He put together a spectacular 16 seasons at Tech, including three undefeated seasons and a 32-game undefeated streak. He was coaching the Georgia Tech Engineers when they defeated the Cumberland University Bulldogs 222-0 in a game played in Atlanta in 1916, in the most one-sided college football game ever played, during which the Engineers scored with every possession of the ball. Heisman's running up the score against a totally outmanned opponent (supposedly motivated by revenge against Cumberland's baseball team running up the score against Tech 22-0 the previous year) was to prove a point that many would still consider valid, namely that the voters in media polls purporting to rank college football teams pay far too much opinion to the margin of victory at the expense of other factors, including the quality of opponents played, and that a truly superior team can schedule opponents so weak that it can essentially score as many points as it desires, rendering margin of victory useless as a measure of relative strength compared to other good teams.

He went back to Pennsylvania for one season in 1920, then to Washington and Jefferson College, before ending his career with four seasons at Rice University.

He was an innovator and developed one of the first shifts, had both guards pull to lead an end run, and had his center toss the ball back, instead of rolling or kicking it. He was a proponent of the legalization of the forward pass.

Heisman subsequently became the athletics director of the former Downtown Athletic Club in Manhattan, New York, and in 1936 the club began awarding annually in his honor what is now almost universally referred to as the Heisman Trophy, given to the player voted as the season's best collegiate player. Voters for this award consist primarily of media representatives, who are allocated by regions across the country in order to filter out possible regional bias, and former receipients. Following the bankruptcy of the Downtown Athletic Club in 2002 whose Lower Manhattan headquarters was adversely affected by the Twin Towers collapse at the World Trade Center on 9-11, the award is now given out by the Yale Club.

Heisman quoted

"To break training without permission is an act of treason."

"Gentlemen, it is better to have died as a small boy than to fumble this football."

"The true football fan pays no attention to time or mileage when there is a big game to see."


Preceded by: John Penton Clemson University Football Coaches Succeeded by: Alonzo Sheck Shealy
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