The sports pages these days are full of items about Bear Bryant passing Amos Alonzo Stagg as the most successful college football coach in American history. Not to take anything away from the Bear of Alabama, but while folks might pass Mr. Stagg no one will surpass him.
Stagg's 314 victories on the football field were really secondary to his principal dedication - that of helping young men appreciate the values of being honest, decent, and caring. He never once wavered from that principle through an illustrious 64 years of coaching, working directly with the youngsters rather than through a large staff of assistants.
Stagg did not believe in football scholarships. He believed in making a team out of whatever kids came to his school because they liked the educational opportunities there. He demanded clean play and clean words - his own harshest phrase was to call a player a ''jackass'' on rare occasion, or a ''double jackass'' if action warranted. He supported and backed his players, yet would not hesitate to kick the star halfback off the team the night before the Big Game if the player were found violating team rules. He once refused a touchdown when the officials made an obvious mistake.
In one game against Illinois early in his career when he coached and played at the same time, Stagg was injured and could not start. The opposing coach asked Stagg to referee, knowing well he would get an honest, competent job. Which he did.
As an end at Yale, Stagg was picked on Walter Camp's first All American team in 1888. Stagg began his coaching career at Springfield College in Illinois, where he suggested to a fellow coach there (James Naismith) that the bottom should be cut out of that peach basket so this newly invented game called basketball would move more swiftly. (Stagg has been voted into both the basketball and football Halls of Fame.)
After Springfield came 40 years at the University of Chicago (1892-1932) before Stagg was forced to retire at age 70. He then moved to the College of the Pacific in Stockton, Calif., where 10,000 citizens greeted him as he stepped from the train. ''Double A'' coached at Pacific from 1933 until 1946, and then went to Susquehanna University in Pennsylvania to coach with his son, A. A. Jr., for seven more years.
Stagg got the most from his limited rosters - 25 to 35 players made up many of his teams. In 1939, his 50th year of coaching, Stagg's small Pacific team upset mighty University of California, 6-0. In 1943, his Pacific team was ranked sixth in the nation and he was voted Coach of the Year at age 80.
Stagg's contributions to football are legion and legend. He helped write many of the game's rules. He invented many of the offensive formations we see today. He was the first coach to make use of the tackling dummy, cleats, hip pads, flankers, flea-flickers, and much more. And he did it all with limited funds, love in his heart and a twinkle in his eye.
But these are different times, you say, and different ways. (Bear Bryant is driven in a chauffeured car to work - Stagg ran from home to office to practice.) But the human element is the same - young bodies and minds looking for leadership to help prepare them for the years to come. In this, nobody was a winner like A. A. Stagg.