Zuppke, Robert Carl ("Bob")

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ZUPPKE, Robert Carl ("Bob")

(b. 2 July 1879 in Berlin, Germany; d. 22 December 1957 in Champaign, Illinois), football coach at the University of Illinois known for his innovative strategies.

In 1881 Zuppke, his two siblings, and parents Franz Simon Zuppke, a jewelry designer, and Hermine Bocksbaum Zuppke, were among 210,485 emigrants who left Germany for a new life in the United States. The family settled in Milwaukee, Wisconsin, where his father was naturalized as a U.S. citizen. Zuppke walked to West Division High School, where he studied art and learned the newly popular game of football. At Milwaukee Normal School, Zuppke, known as "Contrary Rob," was the quarterback on a losing football team, a center fielder on the baseball team, and a yearbook illustrator. In 1900 he was a guard on a winning basketball team. After teaching in an elementary school, he went to the University of Wisconsin at Madison, where he played basketball and was a football substitute. He graduated in 1905.

In 1906, after a year in New York City, Zuppke moved to Muskegon, Michigan, where he taught and coached the state champion football team. He married Fanny T. Erwin on 27 June 1908; she died in 1936. From 1910 to 1912 he taught and coached football at Oak Park High School, located in a western suburb of Chicago. Oak Park had a strong sports tradition, and Zuppke developed a talented football team, which included future novelist Ernest Hemingwayas a substitute player. In 1911 and 1912 the team won national interscholastic championships by defeating St. John's High School and Everett High School in Boston.

On 12 December 1912 the Athletic Board of Control at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign offered Zuppke a three-year appointment as a full-time football coach at $2,700 a year. From 1913 to 1929 Zuppke's team won 70 percent of its games and claimed seven outright or shared Big Ten championships in 1914, 1915, 1918, 1919, 1923, 1927, and 1928. After a 4–2–1 season in 1913, Zuppke wrote that they did well, considering that they were slow and made "costly spiritless relaxations." He predicted that if the team members maintained their scholastic standing, increased their determination, and underwent "intelligent training and arduous preparation" throughout the year, they would be successful.

Zuppke was hailed as an energetic, dynamic, and conscientious coach who encouraged an open style, including forward and lateral passes that made good use of his faster and smaller players. Although others often credited Zuppke with the "invention" of the huddle, the center spiral snap, the screen pass, and trick plays like the "flea flicker" and "flying trapeze," he said, "A coach who thinks he has invented a new play generally forgets that a dozen others are crediting themselves the same way about the same play the same day." He was, however, adept and innovative in employing new formations to surprise the opposing teams.

Colleges realized the value of sports in attracting students and in promoting institutional recognition and alumni loyalty. Zuppke maintained that football taught sportsmanship to classes of 70,000 on autumn afternoons. In 1914 he began offering summer session football courses for high school and college teachers. During the next decade, 1,200 coaches from across the country came to Illinois for the course. In 1920 the College of Education approved a four-year athletic coaching and physical education course, which produced athletic directors and coaches until 1932. Zuppke's Football Techniques and Tactics (1922) consists of twenty-two of his lectures, in which he diagrammed plays and addressed the "moral obligation of the coach" to "further the principle of good sportsmanship" by respecting the rules.

Zuppke's coaching success caused him to be a "moving force behind the construction of the university's Memorial Stadium." The $1.7 million stadium was dedicated on 18 October 1924, when Illinois hosted Michigan, a team that had not lost a game since 1921. Illinois halfback Harold ("Red") Grange scored four touchdowns in the first twelve minutes, leading his team to a 39–14 victory. After a victory over Ohio State on 21 November 1925, Grange left for a tour with the Chicago Bears. A Seattle report described Grange as "collegiate to the soles of his gold-bringing feet." Zuppke failed to dissuade Grange from a professional career, but reflected public opinion when he confessed that he did not know when amateurism became professionalism.

The 1929 Carnegie Report on intercollegiate athletics, published at the request of the president of the Carnegie Foundation for the Advancement of Teaching with the cooperation of the National Collegiate Athletic Association (NCAA), was a direct challenge to athletic directors and coaches. The report alleged that sports had become an over-rated by-product of educational institutions. Although Illinois did not subsidize athletes, it could not evade being charged with commercializing college football. Zuppke questioned the attack, claiming that football educated players and spectators and that it combined popular entertainment with valuable public relations events. Athletes capitalizing on their fame by becoming professionals also made higher education attractive.

From 1930 to 1941 Zuppke's teams were less successful. They won 44 percent of their games but only 32 percent in the Big Ten. The Great Depression caused the average game attendance to drop from 39,568 in 1929 to 18,535 in 1933, thus causing a decline in profits. The 1934 team won seven games, but the overall record from 1935 to 1939 was 16–20–4. On 30 October 1937, the Athletic Association celebrated Zuppke's twenty-fifth anniversary season with a tribute to him, but in November 1938, newspaper criticism and alumni pressure caused Zuppke to consider retirement. His "forced" resignation was rejected by the university Board of Trustees, and Zuppke continued to coach until his resignation in 1941.

During retirement he vacationed in Muskegon and Phoenix, Arizona, and devoted more time to painting impressionist landscapes. He was "a lover of untampered nature" and used skills acquired in school, at the Chicago Art Institute, visits to art galleries, and his lifelong use of sketchbooks. His 29-year coaching record was 131—81—12, and he was inducted into the National Football Hall of Fame in 1951.

Zuppke married his housekeeper, Leona Ray, in 1956, but the couple had only been married for a year when Zuppke died at the age of seventy-eight from the effects of a stroke. He is buried in Rose Lawn cemetery in Champaign, opposite Memorial Stadium.

The Robert C. Zuppke Papers, RS 28/3/20 in the University of Illinois Archives, contain primary sources. Archival records of the Division of Intercollegiate Athletics and university offices are valuable for their coverage of the years before 1937. Harold E. Grange, Zuppke of Illinois (1937), is the only biography. Frequent references related to contacts are included in George Halas, Halas by Halas (1979), and John M. Carroll, Red Grange and the Rise of Modern Football (1999). An obituary is in the Champaign-Urbana Courier (23 Dec. 1957).

Maynard Brichford