George William Wilson, Sr. (February 3, 1914 – November 23, 1978) was a professional football end and later a coach for the National Football League (NFL)'s Detroit Lions and the American Football League (AFL)'s Miami Dolphins. Wilson attended and played football at Northwestern University. He went undrafted in 1937, before being signed by the Chicago Bears. Wilson played for 10 seasons with the Bears, compiling overall record of 111 pass receptions, 1,342 receiving yards, and 15 touchdowns. He was a member of the Bears during their five appearances in the National Football League Championship Game from 1940–1943 and 1946, playing in the 1943 championship. Additionally, he was selected for the NFL All-Star Game from 1940–1942. He also played one season of professional basketball for the Chicago Bruins in 1939–40.
His coaching career began with the Bears in 1947, when he became an assistant coach to George Halas. After just two seasons with Chicago, Wilson left in 1949 for another assistant coaching position with the Detroit Lions, a division rival of the Bears. Prior to the 1957 season, he succeeded Buddy Parker as head coach. In his first year as head coach, Wilson guided Detroit to an 8–4 season and victory in the 1957 NFL Championship Game, the most recent league championship for the Lions. For his efforts, Wilson was awarded the first Associated Press NFL Coach of the Year Award. He remained with the Lions until 1964, though they were unable to replicate their success of 1957. Wilson then served for one year as an assistant coach to the Washington Redskins in 1965. Shortly after the season ended, Miami Dolphins owner Joe Robbie hired Wilson as the first head coach of the new AFL franchise in 1966. His son, George Wilson Jr., was a starting quarterback during the team's first season. Wilson, Sr. was unable to obtain a winning record in his four seasons with Miami. He was fired in February 1970 and replaced by Don Shula.
After being fired as head coach of the Miami Dolphins, Wilson retired from football and entered the construction and real estate business in South Florida. By 1978, he moved back to Michigan, where he died of a heart attack in Detroit on November 23, 1978.
|Born:||February 3, 1914|
|Died:||November 23, 1978 (aged 64)|
|Height:||6 ft 1 in (1.85 m)|
|Weight:||190 lb (86 kg)|
|High school:||Chicago (IL) Austin|
Delafield (WI) St. John’s Northwestern Military Academy
|Career highlights and awards|
|Career NFL statistics|
|Head coaching record|
|Player stats at PFR|
|Coaching stats at PFR|
He attended and played football at Northwestern University. Wilson was a member of the 1936 Wildcats team, which won the Big Ten Conference championship. After going undrafted in 1937, he was signed by the Chicago Bears later that year. Although Wilson participated in all eleven games of his rookie season, he started only two games. He recorded just one reception for 20 yards in 1937. The following season, Wilson recorded his first career touchdown. From 1940 to 1942, he was selected for the NFL All-Star Game, today known as the Pro Bowl, and was First-Team in 1942. Wilson was a member of the Bears during their five appearances in the National Football League championship Game from 1940 to 1943 and in 1946, with the team winning in all but 1942. Although listed as a starting right end for the 1940 NFL Championship Game, Wilson threw a tremendous block which took out two Redskin defenders as Bill Osmanski broke away for the Bears first score during their historic 73–0 rout of the Washington Redskins.
During the 1943 season, Wilson recorded a career-high 293 yards receiving and 5 touchdowns. In the 1943 NFL Championship Game, the only championship game he participated in, Wilson caught three passes for 29 yards in the club's 41–21 defeat of the Redskins. He had similar regular season performances in 1944 and 1945. In the former, he caught 24 passes for 265 yards, including 4 touchdowns. In 1945, Wilson recorded a career-high 28 receptions, for 259 yards and 3 touchdowns. He retired as a player following the 1946 season, compiling an overall record of 111 pass receptions, 1,342 receiving yards, and 15 touchdowns.
Wilson began his coaching career with the Bears in 1947, when he became an assistant coach to George Halas. He spent just two seasons with Chicago, before taking an assistant coaching position in 1949 with the Detroit Lions, a division rival of the Bears. Before the 1957 season began, he succeeded Buddy Parker as head coach. In his first year as head coach, Wilson guided Detroit to an 8–4 season and a 59–14 victory over the Cleveland Browns in the 1957 NFL Championship Game, to date the most recent league championship for the Lions. For his efforts, Wilson received the Associated Press NFL Coach of the Year Award, being the first recipient of the award. During the post-1957 season, he also served as the Western Conference head coach for the first nationally televised Pro Bowl, while Parker, then head coach of the Pittsburgh Steelers, coached the Eastern Conference. The Western Conference defeated the Eastern Conference by a score of 26–7.
In 1960, he hired Don Shula as the defensive coordinator, who later succeeded him as head coach of the Miami Dolphins. The Lions went 7–5 in 1960 and advanced to the Playoff Bowl, where they defeated the Browns 17–16. Detroit finished with a slightly better record in 1961, going 8–5–1. The club advanced to the Playoff Bowl again, this time defeating the Philadelphia Eagles by a score of 38–10. Despite finishing the 1962 season with 11 victories and 3 defeats – the best win-loss record during Wilson's tenure – they failed for the third consecutive season to edge the Green Bay Packers in the NFL Western Conference, and instead played in the Playoff Bowl again, this time winning 17–10 against the Pittsburgh Steelers. Wilson remained with the Lions until 1964, though they were unable reach another NFL championship game after the 1957 season. He resigned in December 1964, shortly after five of his assistant coaches were fired, and was replaced by former Lions player Harry Gilmer. Upon his resignation from the Lions, Wilson had compiled a win-loss record of 53–45–6; only Wayne Fontes had more wins as head coach of Detroit. He then served for one year as an assistant coach of the Washington Redskins in 1965.
In January 1966, Joe Robbie named Wilson the first head coach of an American Football League expansion franchise, the Miami Dolphins. The Dolphins finished their first season with a record of 3–11, tying the 1961 Minnesota Vikings and the 1966 Atlanta Falcons for the then-best record for an expansion team. Of the four starting quarterbacks during the Dolphins' inaugural year, one was Wilson's son, George Wilson Jr., who led them to their first win, a 24–7 victory over the Denver Broncos. However, after a poor season performance, he was traded to the Broncos, who released him on July 15, 1967. Miami improved slightly in 1967 and 1968, going 4–10 and 5–8 1, respectively. After the 1968 season, Wilson's 3-year contract expired, leaving uncertainty if he would coach the team in 1969. Robbie stated "George has done a good job with players. That is his strong point. That doesn't mean he's weak in other aspects, but he handles players well." Wilson was signed to a new 1-year contract on December 18, 1968. In February 1969, Wilson promised "continued improvement" for the team at a luncheon honoring the new draftees, while Miami mayor Stephen P. Clark presented him a plaque for "untiring efforts to bring Miami a championship football team." However, the team regressed during the season, finishing 3–10–1. Wilson was fired on February 18, 1970, and was replaced by Baltimore Colts' head coach Shula.
Although Wilson's head coaching record with Miami was an unimpressive 15–39–2, several draft picks and trades during his tenure allowed the Dolphins to acquire players who were instrumental in the team's success in the early 1970s, including drafting Bob Griese and Larry Seiple in 1967, Larry Csonka and Jim Kiick in 1968, and Bill Stanfill and Mercury Morris in 1969, as well as trades for Nick Buoniconti and Larry Little in 1969 and Paul Warfield in 1970.
Wilson's career record was 68–84–8 as head coach, with 2–0 record in the postseason. He is 68th in all-time wins by an NFL coach.
Initially, Wilson was critical over his removal as head coach and replacement with Don Shula. Following the 1970 and 1971 seasons, he attempted to repudiate the public perception that Shula built a strong team, stating that "As far as I'm concerned, he took over a ready-made team.", before adding "I was fired when the team was ready to go." In criticism directly aimed at Shula, Wilson remarked, "I also helped him get the Baltimore Colts head coaching job. I practically wrote his contract for him. Carroll Rosenbloom wanted me to take the job and I had 12 meetings with him about it. But I got him to take Shula." However, any tension between them faded after Wilson congratulated Shula following the Dolphins victory in Super Bowl VII and after he invited Shula for a round of golf at his newly purchased golf course in July 1973.
|Team||Year||Regular season||Post season|
|Won||Lost||Ties||Win %||Finish||Won||Lost||Win %||Result|
|DET||1957||8||4||0||.667||1st in Western Conference||2||0||1.000||Won Western Conference Playoff over San Francisco 49ers|
Won NFL Championship over Cleveland Browns
|DET||1958||4||7||1||.364||5th in National Conference||–||–||–||–|
|DET||1959||3||8||1||.273||5th in National Conference||–||–||–||–|
|DET||1960||7||5||0||.583||Tied for 2nd in National Conference||–||–||–||–|
|DET||1961||8||5||1||.615||2nd in National Conference||–||–||–||–|
|DET||1962||11||3||0||.786||2nd in National Conference||–||–||–||–|
|DET||1963||5||8||1||.385||Tied for 4th in National Conference||–||–||–||–|
|DET||1964||7||5||2||.583||4th in National Conference||–||–||–||–|
|MIA||1966||3||11||0||.214||5th in Eastern Division||–||–||–||–|
|MIA||1967||4||10||0||.286||4th in Eastern Division||–||–||–||–|
|MIA||1968||5||8||1||.385||3rd in Eastern Division||–||–||–||–|
|MIA||1969||3||10||1||.231||5th in Eastern Division||–||–||–||–|
|Total||68||84||8||.450||2||0||1.000||1 NFL title in 12 seasons|
Wilson appeared as himself in Paper Lion, a 1968 sports comedy film starring Alan Alda as writer George Plimpton, based on Plimpton's 1966 nonfiction book of the same title, depicting his tryout with the Detroit Lions. The movie premiered in Detroit on October 2, 1968, and was released nationwide the week of October 14, 1968.
He and his wife, Claire, had four daughters and one son, George Wilson Jr.. After being fired from his coaching position at the Miami Dolphins, Wilson entered the construction and real estate industries and also operated a golf course near Miami. In 1978, Wilson moved back to Michigan and intended to eventually live in a house he built in Howell, but died before doing so. On November 23, 1978, Wilson Sr. suffered a heart attack and died at Sinai-Grace Hospital in Detroit at the age of 64.
# denotes interim head coach
# denotes interim head coach