It’s been a few weeks since I’ve done a Forgotten Coaches post. For this edition, we have another one from way back when. This coach is a bit different. He’s one of the few that has had success with the Detroit Lions. Today’s Forgotten Coach is George Wilson.
Wilson, like many coaches, did have a playing career in the NFL. In fact, he played 10 seasons in the NFL, all for the Chicago Bears.
The Northwestern star was a three-time Pro Bowler and was named first-team All-Pro in 1942. Wilson was born in 1914 in Chicago.
During Wilson’s time playing pro football in Chicago, the Bears won four NFL titles. Wilson was done playing professional football after the 1946 season. He finished with 1,342 yards and 15 receiving touchdowns in his career.
Wilson began his coaching career as an assistant not long after. He would get that opportunity to coach at the start of the 1957 season when coach Buddy Parker resigned abruptly in August. Walker was reportedly frustrated with the team and announced his resignation at a team dinner. Wilson was put in place with a one-year deal, and according to the Associated Press, was promised he could have the job if he did “a good job.”
The 1957 Detroit Lions started out winning three of their first four games. However, after two straight losses, they were at 3-3. Detroit rallied and lost just one more game from there, making it all the way to the NFL Championship game and a showdown with the Cleveland Browns.
The game wasn’t even close as Detroit won 59-14 over Cleveland. It was in fact Cleveland’s first NFL title game with Jim Brown as running back. Brown was held to just 69 yards on 20 carries. He did have a 29-yard touchdown run though. Also noteworthy, that was the last NFL title the Lions have won. They haven’t come close since then. Only one team has a longer championship drought and that would be the St. Louis/Chicago/Arizona Cardinals.
For his efforts, Wilson was named Coach of the Year by the Associated Press. Sure enough, he would continue as head coach for the Lions.
The 1958 and 59 seasons didn’t go as well for Wilson and the Lions. They finished fifth in the division for both seasons.
Wilson was no doubt on the hot seat during the 1960 season. After early struggles, Detroit rallied to finish tied for second in the division with San Francisco. For his efforts, Wilson was given a contract extension.
Detroit would finish second in the division for the ’61 and ’62 seasons. Wilson’s best season as head coach in Detroit record-wise was the 1962 season. They were 11-3, just two games behind the Green Bay Packers, coached by Vince Lombardi.
Wilson joined Washington as an assistant for one season. He would get another opportunity to be head coach, this time for an AFL expansion team. Wilson was named head coach of the newly-formed Miami Dolphins in January 1966. He signed a three-year deal.
Expansion teams for the most part have their early season struggles. That’s just how it is sometimes. It was certainly no different for Miami when they started playing in the NFL. With Wilson as coach, the 1966 Dolphins finished 3-11 on the season.
There are two noteworthy names from that 1966 team. One was defensive player Wahoo McDaniel, who later went on to have a career in professional wrestling. The other name was Dick Wood, one of the quarterbacks of the team. Wood lasted just a season in Miami.
What? Did you expect me to laugh or make some kind of comment about Dick Wood? WELL!? (Needed to acknowledge)
The 1967 season didn’t go much better for Miami (never said I was good at transitions). Miami finished with a 4-10 record, tied for third with Buffalo.
For Wilson, his best season record-wise was in 1968 when the Dolphins finished 5-8-1. By that point, the Dolphins already had young talent, who would later be vital during their Super Bowl seasons, including quarterback Bob Griese and running backs Larry Csonka and Jim Kiick.
The Dolphins regressed in 1969 and finished 3-10-1. Miami fired Wilson after the season and replaced him with Coach Don Shula, who would go on to lead Miami to the Super Bowl on multiple occasions as part of the NFL.
Wilson died in 1978 from a heart attack at the age of 64.
If he’s remembered for anything, it will be the fact that he won a NFL title coaching the Detroit Lions. That alone deserves some kind of recognition among football fans.
As a side note, if anyone is interested, you can read George Plimpton’s article on trying out for the Detroit Lions at SI.com. Plimpton’s article led to the famous book, Paper Lion.
Stats via Pro Football Reference and news articles via Google News