Finding College Football Legends

by Amy Johnson Crow

Posted on September 27, 2013

Football season is in full gear! Already this season, we've seen stunning plays, incredible upsets, and some oh-so-close near-misses! There's only one thing that could make college football better - genealogy! (Does anyone else see an ancestral surname on a player's jersey and wonder if he's related to you?)

Some college football coaches have been raised to "legend" status. Their exploits in leading their teams have made them larger-than-life. It's almost easy to forget that they were "real" people. The census gives us a way to look at people and get a glimpse into their lives. In the case of these men, the 1940 census shows us their humble beginnings.

John McKay

As head coach at the University of Southern California, John McKay lead the team to four national championships. In 1940, he was a long way from palm trees and ocean breezes. Back then, he was an 18-year-old living with his widowed mother in Harrison County, West Virginia.


Bo Schembechler

Finding University of Michigan football coach Bo Schembechler in the 1940 census is a bit challenging. It helps to know that his real first name was Glenn. Here he is as an 11-year-old living with his parents in Barberton, Summit County, Ohio.


Woody Hayes

By 1940, Woodrow "Woody" Hayes was already coaching, though he was still at the high school level; that's what he was doing in Tuscarawas County, Ohio. His years at Ohio State are legendary, especially the 10-year-span of the Ohio State/Michigan rivalry while Schembechler was coaching UofM.


Bear Bryant

Paul "Bear" Bryant is considered by many to be the greatest college football coach of all time. He was a coach at several schools before becoming the head coach at Alabama in 1958. In 1940, he and his family were living in Nashville, Tennessee where he was an assistant coach at Vanderbilt.


Amy Johnson Crow is a Genealogical Content Manager for She is a Certified Genealogist and blogs regularly for Roots & Branches, the official blog. Amy has deep roots in the Midwest and Mid-Atlantic states and she has rarely been to a cemetery that she didn't like. 

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