John Heisman

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As a talented coach, John W. Heisman is a significant impact on the Georgia Tech Athletic Department; leading them to many successful seasons. Serving as head football coach, Heisman taught the athletes how to truly excel at the sport once again.



John Heisman was born in Ohio on October 23, 1869 but soon moved to Pennsylvania, where he would live for the early years of his life. At the age of 18, Heisman was accepted into Brown University where he stayed for two years before transferring to the University of Pennsylvania. As a student there, Heisman was a prominent football player fulfilling multiple roles such as guard, center, tackle and even end. In 1892 Heisman earned his degree in law, but would never use it; instead he spent the next 36 years of his life coaching sports, football in particular. His coaching career started off at Oberlin College and continued to many other universities including: Auburn, Pennsylvania, and Clemson.[1]

Heisman and Tech


In 1903, Heisman ended his career with Clemson University and was accepted as the new football coach for Georgia Tech one year later. Tech offered Heisman just over $2000 dollars a month plus a percentage of the money made on ticket sales; making Heisman the first coach to receive a salary.[2] Tech students welcomed Heisman with open arms by hanging a banner that read "Tech Gets Heisman for 1904", even though he accepted a day late.[3] Regardless of his tardiness, Georgia Tech was in a terrible losing streak; not having won a single football game for three years in a row, 1897-1900, so Heisman was greatly sought after. His coaching technique was able to break this streak just with his first season with Georgia Tech at 8 wins 1 loss and 1 tie.


Heisman practiced football psychology during practice to motivate his players and would profess the importance of teamwork. He was also known for punishing fumbling by forcing any player who did to bounce and catch a football against a fence 100 times.[4] On the field, Heisman would use illegal hand signals to call plays and once called for the "hidden ball trick" play. This maneuver had the quarter back hide the football under his jersey while pretending to tie his shoes, at the same time the rest of the team would scatter to confuse the opponent; resulting in an almost guaranteed touchdown; however this play was banned from football after its use.[5] His three major calls were the Heisman shift, T formation, and I formation. He also required his players to avoid using huddles between plays; instead having them shout out to each other. Heisman has also been credited for the center snap's inception into football; a method wherein players toss the ball back on hike in comparison to clumsily rolling it behind them. His training and techniques had paid off for the Engineers as they started and maintained a 33 game win streak that lasted until 1918; when they would lose to the University of Pittsburgh.[4]

Notable Games and Seasons

Tech's continued victories, under Heisman's direction, had generated a large amount of fame for the university. Heisman's popularity added to this, bringing an enormous number of new fans to Tech's future football games; which returned extra revenue. By 1913, Georgia Tech had accrued enough money to afford a new expansion to their stadium, where they would play against Cumberland; one of their most notable matches. Heisman had paid the university 500 dollars to play against the Engineers in their new stadium; hoping to get revenge against Cumberland over an earlier baseball game.[1] The final score was 222-0, but Cumberland's football team had disbanded before this match; so Tech's opponents were a quickly made inexperienced group of seniors. Heisman's true purpose for this match was to express his distaste of counting point totals, especially those gained by 'running up scores'. Heisman had another incredible team known as the "Golden Tornado". Their season would total to 9 wins and 0 losses; one of Heisman's most accomplishing seasons. Heisman led the team all the way to Tech's first national championship win in 1917.[4] Because of his improvements to the football team, Heisman would be forever known by his players as J.W..[5]

Leaving Tech

After a divorce with his wife, Heisman agreed to leave Atlanta and returned to Philadelphia officially ending his 16 year old career at Tech.[1] Heisman's final record at Georgia Tech was 102 wins 29 losses and 7 ties, which no future Tech coach has been able to match.[4]

After Tech

Heisman affected not only Georgia Tech but football entirely. To ensure the safety of the players, Heisman improved the effectiveness of the shoulder and hip pads used. Heisman's influence also led to the implementation of the statistical score board, which shows the potential and accomplishments of various teams.[5] Three years after leaving Tech, Heisman wrote and published a new book called The Principles of Football. This book contains multiple football references for players to look up; Heisman also included empty pages for readers to use for note taking. After retiring, Heisman founded the Touchdown Club of New York. Heisman also established the American Football Coaches Association; where he was voted president of for two consecutive terms. His most prominent foundation, though, was the Downtown Athletic Club; which is known today for awarding The Heisman Memorial Trophy to the best college football player.[1] In 1936, Heisman died from a severe case of bronchial pneumonia and is buried currently in Wisconsin.[5]

External Links

John Heisman- A Tribute


  1. 1.0 1.1 1.2 1.3 DiMatteo, Adrienne. "John Heisman." The Pennsylvania Center for the Book. The Pennsylvania State University, 2007. Web. 25 Sept. 2010.
  2. Source Summary: John Heisman's first contract with Georgia Tech UA 300 Box 1: Folder 21
  3. Source Summary: Tech Gets Heisman for 1904 The Heisman: A Symbol of Excellence by John T. Brady p. 20-7
  4. 4.0 4.1 4.2 4.3 "John Heisman." Georgia Tech Official Athletic Site. Web. 27 Sept. 2010. <
  5. 5.0 5.1 5.2 5.3 "John Heisman (1869 - 1936), University of Pennsylvania Archives." University Archives and Records Center, University of Pennsylvania. Web. 27 Sept. 2010.

Malcolm Allen - I'll be working on this topic

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