Fritz Crisler: The Most Important Man In Michigan Football History?

Posted on Posted in Michigan Football

When you think of Fritz Crisler you look at the 71-16-3 record, his .805 winning percentage which ranks behind only Fielding H. Yost, the 1947 “Mag Magician” team that was dubbed the greatest Michigan team ever and outscoring their opponents 394-53. You also think of the addition of the winged helmets, something the team still uses to this day, and modern expansion of Michigan Stadium.

The Wolverine football squad of 1947 was one of the most important teams to ever take the field. Not only would they dismantle opponents with laterals and spinning fullback plays, they were the first team to embrace separate offensive and defensive squads.

Crisler was recruited to become head football coach of Michigan in 1938. During his first year as football coach, Crisler introduced the infamous winged helmet design that has become synonymous with Michigan football. He introduced a similar design during his time with Princeton. Crisler painted the helmets maize and blue to highlight the winged pattern, this was designed to help the quarterbacks find receivers downfield.

Crisler was also responsible in coaching the most memorable names in Michigan football history. With names such as Tom Harmon (Heisman winner), Bob Chappuis, Forest Evashevski, Bump Elliot, Pete Elliot, Albert Wistert and Julius Franks. Crisler had an incredible eye for talent, and it showed on the football field. His teams finished below second in the Big Ten Conference only twice.

After retiring from coaching in 1941, Crisler took over as athletic director when Fielding H. Yost retired. Crisler is credited for the majority of the current expansions of Michigan Stadium. In 1949, the first expansion included permanent steel seating around the concourse, which brought seating capacity to 97,239. 1956 saw renovations to the stadium which brought the seating capacity to 100,001. The expansion included a communications center and press box. The one seat is forever dedicated to Coach Crisler and its location is unknown.

“There was a tendency to use different colored helmets just for receivers in those days, but I always thought that would be as helpful for the defense as for the offense.” – Fritz Crisler

Do I feel Fritz Crisler is the most important man in Michigan history? Absolutely. He has left a tremendous mark on this University and has helped shape our current traditions that we still use to this day. Without him, there would be no winged helmets, no expansion of our stadium and our football team would be left many years behind without the creative playbook of Crisler. Would Tom Harmon be able to leave his Heisman mark on the University? Probably not. Next time you walk into the Big House, stop and take a moment to thank Crisler. Without his visionary mindset, we wouldn’t be able to enjoy the biggest stadium in the country.

Derek Devine
Institutional voice of Alma College during the day, Michigan fanatic at night. Taking TBHR to the next level one post at a time.