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Football History - Bob Zuppke

Bob Zuppke led the Fighting Illinois to four National Championships during his 29-year tenure.

Zuppke will always be known for having one of football's greatest minds. He invented the huddle, the flea-flicker, the screen pass, the pass-block, the long snap and a new defensive position now known as the 'linebacker.'

His creative mind nearly led to a career as an artist, but he chose to give football coaching a shot at the high school level in the early 1900s. His first year of coaching he won the state championship in Michigan and eventually took a job at Oak Park High School in Illinois where he built a national power and earned $2,000 per year (a hefty salary in those days). It was at Oak Park where he first implemented his famous flea-flicker play.

In 1913, Illinois hired Zuppke as its head coach. Coming from his high school coaching background, Zuppke didn't believe in awarding scholarships to his football players. "The honor of playing for Illinois is payment enough," he said. During his 29 years with the Illini, he never once changed his stance on this belief.

Zuppke's teams were known for being small, but fast. His average player weighed less than 170 pounds. But, Zuppke's creative coaching and motivational tactics led to a very successful era on the gridiron.

Bob Zuppke found success quickly at Illinois. His second year there, in 1914, the Fighting Illini finished 7-0 and won a share of the national championship. Zuppke would win three more National Championships (1919, 1923 and 1927) during his reign at Illinois. His teams also won seven Western Conference (Big Ten) titles.

The Zuppke era was known for pulling off major upsets. The first came in 1916 with a 14-9 win over mighty Minnesota, a team that was favored to win by five touchdowns. In 1921, the Fighting Illini knocked off unbeaten Ohio State despite being winless in previous conference games. The 1939 win over heavily-favored Michigan is also considered to be one of the biggest upsets in the history of the Western Conference.

While the Zuppke years at Illinois are often noted for the time during the 1920s when Red Grange wore his famous No. 77 jersey for the Illini, it is easy to forget all that Zuppke himself contributed to the program to make it a successful era.

Zuppke retired in 1941 with a career record of 131-81-13.