10 College Football Legends Who Deserve a Statue
There was more than a little noise made when Nick Saban—a current coach—had a statue of himself unveiled at the University of Alabama. Saban is clearly on a trajectory toward status as one of the all-time greats in college football history, but he hasn't even retired (and shows no signs of getting close).
If Saban can get a statue while he's still coaching, it has us wondering how many legends are out there without a statue even years or decades after their last impact on a college football field. While there are certainly many who could be considered legends, we've selected 10 greats who most deserve to be immortalized in bronze.
And just in case you think we forgot someone, like Woody Hayes, Tom Osborne, Lou Holtz or Bear Bryant, it's probably because they already have a statue stoically guarding the stadium.
Roy Kidd has a stadium named in his honor, but stadiums—even of the college football variety—can always be renamed with some horrid corporate moniker (Louisville, we're looking in your direction). When you erect a statue to someone, there's little chance it can ever be mistaken for anything but what it is.
Kidd was the longtime coach at FCS Eastern Kentucky where he amassed a record of 314-124-8 over 39 years. Kidd guided EKU to at least a share of 16 Ohio Valley Conference titles and two FCS national championships (1979 and 1982). The Cardinals also defeated Ball State in the 1967 Grantland Rice Bowl under Kidd, a 10-time OVC Coach of the Year.
Eastern Kentucky also reached the the playoffs 18 times (one of which was during EKU's Division II years), including 10 straight trips between 1986 and 1995. The Cardinals posted a 16-16 overall record among all postseason games under Kidd.
Kidd's 223 victories in the FCS also ranks him first all-time in the division's annals (counting only wins as an FCS/I-AA program).
Hayden Fry is easily one of the most beloved men in the state of Iowa—unless you happen to be an Iowa State fan.
Fry was the head coach at Iowa from 1979 to 1998, and in those 20 seasons, he won 143 games and three Big Ten titles. His Hawkeyes also finished ranked in the final AP Top 25 poll 10 times and had a 6-7-1 record in bowl games.
Prior to his time at Iowa, Fry took North Texas State (now North Texas) from an FCS program to the ranks of Division I-A (FBS) status. Unfortunately, the program was later demoted back to the FCS due to financial difficulties. Still, Fry posted a 40-23-3 record at North Texas State, which followed a 49-66-1 in 11 seasons at SMU.
But Iowa is where Fry flourished and became a legend not only in the Big Ten, but college football as a whole.
Fry was instrumental in bringing the first signs of modernization to Big Ten football. His early incarnation of what we might call today a primitive spread passing game revolutionized defense as Big Ten teams now needed to defend a prolific passing game.
Other programs began to see the benefit of a wide-open attack and soon began—slowly—implementing their own pass-centric offenses (although one could argue it would be into the 21st century before the Big Ten finally came around to adopting a true spread-style offensive mindset).
An aging Fry retired after the 1998 season, but his legacy can still be felt around the University of Iowa and the nation as a whole. Current Iowa head coach Kirk Ferentz was a former assistant of Fry's, as was Oklahoma's Bob Stoops, Arkansas's Bret Bielema, Nebraska's Bo Pelini, Kansas State's Bill Snyder and Wisconsin's Barry Alvarez, among others.
Fry's impact on college football, not just at Iowa, certainly deserves recognition. And just to give it a little Iowa Fry flair, maybe the pedestal could be pink.
It used to be that only legends—retired legends—got statues. But if an active coach like Nick Saban can be immortalized in effigy, so too should an all-time great like Virginia Tech's Frank Beamer.
Beamer's 258-127-4 record includes the most wins of any currently active FBS coach, and his six appearances in BCS games is tied for third* all time.
Beamer's record at Virginia Tech also include three Big East titles and four ACC titles, including six ACC Coastal Division championships.
Beams is also known nationwide as an innovator in the game when it comes to scoring. Rather than traditionally relying on the offense to score all the points, Beamer's teams have frequently used unorthodox methods to light up the scoreboard.
Nicknamed “Beamerball,” Virginia Tech has had a touchdown scored at least once by a player at every defensive position.
We're not sure how long Frank Beamer intends on prowling the sidelines in Blackburg, but the moment he announces his retirement, Virginia Tech should announce the commissioning of his statue.
*Ohio State's Jim Tressel has eight (2011 Sugar Bowl participation vacated), Oklahoma's Bob Stoops has eight, USC's Pete Carroll had six (2005 Orange Bowl participation vacated) and Florida State's Bobby Bowden had six.
Here's another currently active coach that is quickly closing in on immortality.
Brian Kelly is the latest head coach to attempt to resurrect Notre Dame football, and it looks as if he's having quite a bit of success, at least compared to the last few coaches who gave it a go. Kelly's 2012 Irish team completed the program's first undefeated regular season since the days of Lou Holtz—who has a statue at Notre Dame.
Kelly is also putting together some great recruiting classes that could keep the recent string of success for the Irish humming right along (Notre Dame has the No. 3 recruiting class in 2013, according to Rivals.com).
Kelly's career mark stands at 199-68-2, and in his 23 seasons as a head coach, Kelly has suffered just one losing season (2004 at Central Michigan, 4-7).
In 13 years at Division II Grand Valley State in Michigan, Kelly was 118-35-2 with five Great Lakes Intercollegiate Athletic Conference titles, and they finished lower than third in the conference standings just once. He also led the Lakers to a pair of Division II national championships (2002 and 2003) before departing for Central Michigan.
At CMU, Kelly transformed a MAC bottom-feeder into a conference champion in just three seasons, earning him a job offer from Cincinnati. The Bearcats offered Kelly an opportunity to play for a BCS berth, which took him just three seasons to achieve. He repeated the feat the following year.
Is it any wonder Notre Dame came calling for this Irish Catholic head coach?
Kelly clearly wasn't at Central Michigan or Cincinnati long enough to make a lasting impact on the football culture there, but there's little question his influence in South Bend is as strong as any coach's anywhere.
Grand Valley State already named its athletic training facility after Kelly (and his family, at Kelly's request). A statue, either in Michigan or Indiana, can't be far behind for this future legend.
Fielding Yost was one of the early pioneers of college athletics, and in particular, college football. Yost was a player at West Virginia and later Lafayette College before he was named to his first coaching job in 1897 at Ohio Wesleyan.
Through his career, Yost also coached for Nebraska, Kansas and Stanford, and like Ohio Wesleyan, all of these coaching stints lasted just one season (he also coached one game for State Normal College of California, now San Jose State while the head coach at Stanford).
Then, in 1901, Yost took a job at Michigan that would make him a household name and usher in his status as the father of college football coaching.
Yost spent 25 seasons (1901 to 1926, with the exception of 1924) as the head coach for the Wolverines. During Michigan's 15 seasons in the Big Ten Conference over that span, the Wolverines won 10 conference titles and six national championships.
Yost was also the engineer of Michigan's famed “point a minute” team in 1901, which outscored its opponents 550-0 in 11 games, including famously blanking Yost's previous team, Stanford, in the first-ever Rose Bowl Game (then the “Tournament [of Roses] East-West football game”).
Michigan was so dominant that season that Stanford requested permission to end the game with eight minutes left on the clock, down 49-0.
From 1901 through 1904, Michigan never lost a game, going 43-0-1 (the only tie coming in 1903 to Minnesota). Michigan was named “national champions” by the National Championship Foundation for each of those four seasons, the first non-East Coast team ever to receive such an honor.
Yost's teams were also awarded national championship honors in 1918 and 1923.
But Yost's lasting contribution to the sport comes with the dozens of head coaches that came from his tutelage. Elton Wieman (Michigan, Princeton), Billy Wasmund (Texas), Tod Rockwell (North Dakota, Louisiana Tech), Bennie Owen (Oklahoma), Bo Molenda (New York Giants, Green Bay Packers), Frank Longman (Notre Dame, Arkansas) and Bennie Oosterbaan (Michigan) are just a few of the many future head coaches that got their start in football either as a player or assistant under Yost.
Yost remained the athletic director at Michigan until 1940, and during his tenure, he was credited with many innovations that still have an impact on today's world of college football and college athletics in general.
Yost was instrumental in the design and construction of Michigan Stadium, the largest stadium in the nation. He also is credited with inventing the football position of linebacker.
Yost is also the genesis of the much beloved (if you're from Michigan) or reviled (if you're from Ohio) pronunciation of the name of the state: “Mee-shee-gan.”
The first “field house” in the nation was designed by and constructed under the supervision of Yost while at Michigan, and it still standing and in use today (as Yost Ice Arena).
Finally, Yost's personal rivalry with Knute Rockne led not only to one of the great college football rivalries but also allegedly led to Big Ten programs boycotting Notre Dame in the first half of the 20th century—a wound that still has not completely healed.
With such an impact on college football and college athletics in general, one that we still feel over a century later, it's absolutely crazy to think that to this day there is not a single statue of Fielding Yost anywhere on the campus of the University of Michigan.
Nat Northington, Wilbur Jackson and John Mitchell
We're lumping Nat Northington, Wilbur Jackson and John Mitchell into one big group here because of their similar contributions to the game of college football, all of which occurred in a relatively short span of time.
Shockingly, and somewhat shamefully, it wasn't until 1967 that any program in the SEC allowed an African-American football player to occupy a spot on a roster. The University of Kentucky broke with this racist tradition by allowing Nat Northington to take the field for the Wildcats.
A few short years later, Alabama coach Bear Bryant brought black players to the deep south. Bryant saw the Tide losing out on top-notch athletes, many who left the South to play out west or up north. Wilbur Jackson and John Mitchell became the first black players ever to play football for Alabama, in 1971.
For comparison's sake, the East Coast and Midwest had integrated their teams as early as the 1890s.
Today, four decades later, no one can imagine a great SEC team without black athletes. But the 1960s, deep in the midst of the Civil Rights era, the South—even as far north as Kentucky—was a different place.
It took an insane amount of courage for these brave African-Americans to walk out onto a football field in the South, often with crowds waiving Confederate battle flags and chanting racist slogans. Yet these three barrier-breakers paved the way for thousands of others who have, ironically, brought fame, honor and glory to the SEC with All-America honors, Heisman Trophies and national championships.
The name is nearly forgotten to history, but Eddie Cochems as the head coach at Saint Louis University back in 1906.
Prior to that season, a forward pass was a rarely tried and illegal play. Cochems and a number of other former players and coaches had strongly advocated adding the pass to the game, and with the increase of injuries to the, by modern standards, unprotected players, it was seen as a way to improve safety.
In the first game of the 1906 season against Carroll College, Saint Louis University quarterback Bradbury Robinson threw the first recorded legal forward pass in college football history.
It was an incompletion that resulted in an immediate turnover (as was the rule at the time). Needless to say, with such a penalty for an incompletion, few coaches opted to utilize the forward pass often, if at all.
Cochems was different. The very next possession, SLU completed a 20-yard pass which so stunned the defense, the receiver, Jack Schneider, casually jogged into the end zone, untouched.
With the new aerial attack in place, SLU finished the 1906 season with a perfect 11-0 record. Realizing what the forward pass could do for their teams, other coaches soon made the pass a featured part of the offense.
The rest, as they say, is history.
It's almost hard to believe, but legendary coach Bo Schembechler's likeness is nowhere to be found in or around iconic Michigan Stadium.
Sure, there is a bust of the man at U-M's Cardiovascular Center, and Schembechler's impact at the university certainly extends to this day far beyond football, but the man made his mark in the Big House.
A man who won 194 games, at least a share of 13 Big Ten titles (including 19 seasons with a third-or-better finish) and 10 Rose Bowl game appearances in 21 seasons at Michigan—not to mention building the aura of the program into a national powerhouse and instilling the notion of a "Michigan Man"—really ought to have a statue somewhere related to football, don't you think?
Schembechler also was 40-17-3 at Miami University before arriving at Michigan, bringing his career record to 234-65-8 all time (10th-most wins in FBS history).
Glenn “Pop” Warner
Perhaps one prerequisite of earning a statue is longevity at a single program. In that respect, Pop Warner probably falls short having never spent more than nine consecutive seasons at any one school (Warner spent 13 combined seasons at Carlisle over two tenures).
Still, if ever there's been a college football legend deserving of a statue, it has to be Warner. With a career mark of 319-106-32, Warner is one of just three FBS coaches in the 300-win club (the others being Bobby Bowden and Bear Bryant), and one of only 11 to hold that mark regardless of division.
Warner is also one of a select few coaches to win national championships with different programs.
After leading Pittsburgh to national titles in 1915, 1916 and 1918, he took over at Stanford, where he won the 1926 national title with the Indians (as Stanford teams were known until 1972). With a 71-17-8 record, Warner still ranks as the winningest coach in Stanford history.
There are plenty of people who scoff at college football not played at the FBS level, and even more than roll their eyes at non-scholarship Division III football. But no one can easily dismiss the accomplishments of John Gagliardi.
Having coached St. John's of Minnesota for an unbelievable 60 seasons (plus four additional seasons at Carroll College of Montana before that), the list of Gagliardi's accomplishments is incredibly long.
An all-time record of 489-132-10, one of just two college football coaches at any level to reach 400 career wins (Eddie Robinson of FCS Grambling State being the other), 30 combined conference titles, 23 appearances in either the NAIA or NCAA Division III playoffs, a victory in the 1969 Mineral Water Bowl against Simpson College of Iowa and four combined national championships (two NAIA, two NCAA Division III)—most recently in 2003 where the St. John's Johnnies ended mighty Mount Union's three straight and six-in-seven seasons championship run.
In today's age of demanding immediate success and coaches always looking for the next bigger job, we're not likely to see another head football coach—at any level—quite like John Gagliardi, who retired at the end of the 2012 season.
Sixty years and 489 wins? If that doesn't deserve a statue, nothing ever will.