John Heisman
Head coaching record
College Football Data Warehouse

John William Heisman (October 23, 1869 – October 3, 1936) was an American football player and coach of football, basketball, and baseball. He served as the head football coach at Oberlin College (1892, 1894), Buchtel College, now known as the University of Akron (1893–1894), Auburn University (1895–1899), Clemson University (1900–1903), Georgia Tech (1904–1919), the University of Pennsylvania (1920–1922), Washington & Jefferson College (1923), and Rice University (1924–1927), compiling a career college football record of 186–70–18. His 1917 Georgia Tech Yellow Jackets have been recognized as a national champion. Heisman was also the head basketball coach at Georgia Tech (1908–1909, 1912–1914), tallying a mark of 9–14, and the head baseball coach at Buchtel (1894), Clemson (1899–1904), and Georgia Tech (1904–1917), amassing a career college baseball record of 219–119–7. He was inducted into the College Football Hall of Fame as a coach in 1954. The Heisman Trophy, awarded annually to the season's most outstanding college football player, is named for him.[1]

Early life and playing careerEdit

Heisman was born in Cleveland, Ohio, but grew up in Titusville, Pennsylvania,[2] where he played football for Titusville High School, graduating in 1887. He went on to play football at Brown University (1887–1889) and at the University of Pennsylvania (1890–1891).[1]

Early coaching careerEdit

Heisman coached at Oberlin College in 1892, went to Buchtel College in 1893, and returned to Oberlin the next year. In 1895, he became the fifth head football coach at Auburn University, where he stayed for five years. Auburn is the only school of the eight that he coached to have a Heisman Trophy winner. In 1900, Heisman went to Clemson University, where he coached four winning seasons. A street on the campus bears his name to honor him.

Coaching careerEdit

Heisman moved from Clemson to Georgia Tech in 1904, where he coached for the longest tenure of his career (16 years). He won 77% of his football games, and had his finest success, winning a national championship in 1917. At Georgia Tech, Heisman also coached basketball and baseball in addition to football. He was paid $2,250 and 30 percent of attendance fees; later in his time at Tech, his salary went up and the percentage of receipts went down.[3] Heisman eventually also coached basketball and track, became the head of the Atlanta Baseball Association and the athletic director of the Atlanta Athletic Club.[3] He cut back on these expanded duties in 1918, when he only coached football between September 1 and December 15.[3]

In football at Tech, Heisman put together 16 consecutive non-losing seasons, including three undefeated campaigns and a 32-game undefeated streak. In his first year, his team posted victories over Georgia, Tennessee, Florida, and Cumberland, and a tie with his last employer, Clemson. In a game played in Atlanta in 1916, Heisman's Georgia Tech squad defeated the Cumberland College Bulldogs, 222–0, in the most one-sided college football game ever played. Heisman's running up the score against his out-manned opponent was supposedly motivated by revenge against Cumberland's baseball team for running up the score against Tech, 22–0, the previous year with a team primarily composed of semi-pro players, and against sportswriters he felt were too focused on numbers.[1]

After a divorce in 1919, Heisman left Atlanta to prevent any social embarrassment to his former wife, who chose to remain in the city.[4] He went back to Penn for one season in 1920, then to Washington and Jefferson College, before ending his career with four seasons at the Rice Institute.

Death and burialEdit

Heisman died October 3, 1936 in New York City.[5] Three days later he was taken by train to his wife's hometown of Rhinelander, Wisconsin, where he was buried in Grave D, Lot 11, Block 3 of the city-owned Forest Home Cemetery.[6][7]


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 in 1906 and he originated the "hike" or "hep" shouted by the quarterback to start each play. He suggested that the game be divided into quarters instead of halves.[8]

Heisman subsequently became the athletics director of the former Downtown Athletic Club in Manhattan, New York. In 1935 the club began awarding a Downtown Athletic Club trophy for the best football player east of the Mississippi River. On December 10, 1936, just two months after Heisman's death on October 3, the trophy was renamed the Heisman Memorial Trophy,[5] and is now given to the player voted as the season's best nationwide 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 recipients. Following the bankruptcy of the Downtown Athletic Club in 2002, the award is now given out by the Yale Club.

Heisman Street on Clemson's campus is named in his honor.There is also a street named after him on Auburn University, which intersects with Donahue Blvd. at the site of Tigerwalk, an Auburn tradition.[citation needed]

Head coaching recordEdit

Year Team Overall Conference Standing
Oberlin Yeomen (Independent) (1892)
1892 Oberlin 7–0
Buchtel (Independent) (1893–1894)
1893 Buchtel 5–2
1894 Buchtel 1–0
Buchtel: 6–2
Oberlin Yeomen (Independent) (1894)
1894 Oberlin 4–3–1
Oberlin: 11–3–1
Auburn Tigers (Southern Intercollegiate Athletic Association) (1895–1899)
1895 Auburn 2–1 2–1
1896 Auburn 3–1 2–1
1897 Auburn 2–0–1 0–0–1
1898 Auburn 2–1 2–1
1899 Auburn 3–1–1 2–1–1
Auburn: 12–4–2 8–4–2
Clemson Tigers (Southern Intercollegiate Athletic Association) (1900–1903)
1900 Clemson 6–0 T–1st
1901 Clemson 3–1–1
1902 Clemson 6–1 1st
1903 Clemson 4–1–1
Clemson: 19–3–2
Georgia Tech Yellow Jackets (Southern Intercollegiate Athletic Association) (1904–1919)
1904 Georgia Tech 8–1–1
1905 Georgia Tech 6–0–1
1906 Georgia Tech 5–3–1
1907 Georgia Tech 4–4
1908 Georgia Tech 6–3
1909 Georgia Tech 7–2
1910 Georgia Tech 5–3
1911 Georgia Tech 6–2–1
1912 Georgia Tech 5–3–1
1913 Georgia Tech 7–2
1914 Georgia Tech 6–2
1915 Georgia Tech 7–0–1
1916 Georgia Tech 8–0–1 1st
1917 Georgia Tech 9–0 1st
1918 Georgia Tech 6–1 1st
1919 Georgia Tech 7–3
Georgia Tech: 102–29–7
Penn Quakers (Independent) (1920–1922)
1920 Penn 6–4
1921 Penn 4–3–2
1922 Penn 6–3
Penn: 16–10–2
Washington & Jefferson Presidents (Independent) (1923)
1923 Washington & Jefferson 6–1–1
Washington & Jefferson: 6–1–1
Rice Owls (Southwest Conference) (1924–1927)
1924 Rice 4–4 2–2 T–3rd
1925 Rice 4–4–1 1–2–1 5th
1926 Rice 4–4–1 0–4 7th
1927 Rice 2–6–1 1–3 6th
Rice: 14–18–3 4–11–1
Total: 186–70–18
      National championship         Conference title         Conference division title


  1. 1.0 1.1 1.2 "John Heisman". Tech Traditions: Ramblin' Memories. Georgia Tech Alumni Association. Archived from the original on 2007-09-07. Retrieved 2007-05-21.
  2. "Heisman Trophy". Retrieved 2007-05-19.[dead link]
  3. 3.0 3.1 3.2 McMath, Robert C.; Ronald H. Bayor, James E. Brittain, Lawrence Foster, August W. Giebelhaus, and Germaine M. Reed. Engineering the New South: Georgia Tech 1885-1985. Athens, GA: University of Georgia Press.
  4. "Tech Timeline: 1910s". Tech Traditions. Georgia Tech Alumni Association. Archived from the original on 2007-10-16. Retrieved 2007-05-21.
  5. 5.0 5.1 "Heisman John William". Heisman's Bio. Retrieved 2007-09-23.
  6. "Gravesite Still Draws Visitors". Heisman's gravesite. Archived from the original on 2007-10-18. Retrieved 2007-09-23.
  7. "Your Hometown". Wisconsin Places to Visit. Milwaukee Journal Sentinel. Retrieved 2007-09-23.
  8. Britannica Online, John Heisman

External linksEdit

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