Bo McMillin

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Bo McMillin
Bo McMillan.jpg
Sport(s) Football
Biographical details
Born (1895-01-12)January 12, 1895
Prairie Hill, Texas
Died March 31, 1952(1952-03-31) (aged 57)
Bloomington, Indiana
Playing career
1917 Centre
1919–1921 Centre
1922–1923 Milwaukee Badgers
1923 Cleveland Indians
Position(s) Quarterback
Coaching career (HC unless noted)
1922–1924 Centenary
1925–1927 Geneva
1928–1933 Kansas State
1934–1947 Indiana
1948–1950 Detroit Lions
1951 Philadelphia Eagles
Administrative career (AD unless noted)
1946–1947 Indiana
1948–1951 Detroit Lions (GM)
Head coaching record
Overall 140–77–13 (college)
14–24 (NFL)
Accomplishments and honors
2 Louisiana Intercollegiate Athletic Association (1922–1923)
1 Big Ten (1945)
All-American (1919, 1920, 1921)
All-time Centre team
AFCA Coach of the Year (1945)
Amos Alonzo Stagg Award (1952)
College Football Hall of Fame
Inducted in 1951 (profile)

Alvin Nugent "Bo" McMillin (January 12, 1895 – March 31, 1952) was an American football player and coach, who served at both the collegiate and professional levels. He played college football at Centre College in Danville, Kentucky, where he was a three-time All-American at quarterback, and led the Centre Praying Colonels to a historic upset victory over Harvard in 1921. After graduating from Centre, McMillin played professionally with the Milwaukee Badgers and Cleveland Indians, two early teams of the National Football League (NFL), in 1922 and 1923.

McMillin served as the head football coach at Centenary College of Louisiana (1922–1924), Geneva College (1925–1927), Kansas State University (1928–1933), and Indiana University (1934–1947), compiling a career college football coaching record of 140–77–13. He then returned to the NFL, coaching the Detroit Lions from 1948 to 1950 and the Philadelphia Eagles for the first two games of the 1951 season before he succumbed to a fatal illness. His career NFL coaching mark was 14–24. McMillin's legendary "poor mouthing", pronounced in his distinctive Texas drawl, was in sharp contrast to his teams' successes. He was inducted into the College Football Hall of Fame as a player in 1951.

Playing career[edit]

Early years[edit]

McMillin played high school football at North Side High School in Fort Worth, Texas and Somerset High School in Somerset, Kentucky, playing with future teammate Red Roberts at the latter.


He began his Hall-of-Fame collegiate career at Centre College in Kentucky, under coaches Charley Moran and Robert "Chief" Meyers. McMillin began playing football at Centre in 1917, making a major impact as a freshman when his 17-yard drop kick beat the University of Kentucky. During his freshman year McMillin was also on the track team. On April 27, 1917 he won the 220 yard dash at a Center Interscholastic track meet.

Bo depicted on a 1950s football card.

The following year, McMillin missed the season, serving instead in the United States Navy during the final year of World War I, then returned to Centre for the first of three consecutive All-American seasons. McMillin failed all his courses at Centre during his senior year. He eventually received his A.B. from Centre in 1937 after taking courses post-Centre and with credit given for his military service and training.[1] He was the quarterback on Centre's all-time football team chosen in 1935.[2] He was nominated though not selected for an Associated Press All-Time Southeast 1869-1919 era team.[3]

McMillin c. 1920

1919 and 1920 seasons[edit]

In 1919, McMillin was selected to the Walter Camp All-America first team at quarterback, after helping the Praying Colonels to a 9–0 record, including upsets over Indiana and West Virginia. The 1919 team was selected for a national championship by Sagarin.[4] In 1920, McMillin garnered second team honors as Centre posted another successful season, although it included a disappointing 31–14 loss to defending national champion Harvard.

1921 season[edit]

1921 was a most remarkable season for McMillin and Centre College. McMillin was a consensus All-American, and his extraordinary effort against Harvard on October 29 cemented his legend. After the loss the year before, McMillin had promised that Centre would beat Harvard in 1921, despite the fact that the Crimson had not lost since 1918. Then, in front of 43,000 fans, McMillin dashed 32 yards for the lone score of a 6–0 Centre victory, breaking Harvard's 25-game winning streak. MIT students who attended the game to cheer against Harvard tore down the goalposts and hoisted McMillin on their shoulders. For decades afterward, this was called "football's upset of the century." The week before Centre beat Transylvania 98 to 0 in a game which, according to Spalding's Football Guide, McMillin ran back a kickoff 95 yards for a touchdown.[5] The National Football Foundation selected McMillin as the retroactive Heisman Trophy winner for 1921.[6]

Coaching career[edit]

Centenary College[edit]

Building upon his success as a player, McMillin entered the coaching arena, where he spent the next quarter century compiling a mark of 146–77–13. Using a combination of eloquence and determination, the teetotaling McMillin enjoyed nothing but success at the college level. Preferring a small college,[7] he began at Centenary College of Louisiana in 1922. Over a three-year period, McMillin lost only three of 28 games.

Geneva College[edit]

McMillin's success in Louisiana allowed him to move on to Geneva College in Beaver Falls, Pennsylvania, where he was the 13th head college football coach. He held that position for three seasons, from 1925 until 1927. His coaching record at Geneva was 22 wins, 6 losses, and 1 tie.[8] Geneva College fans generally consider him among the best coaches in the history of the school.[9] McMillin's Geneva team was renowned for playing some of the best teams in college football and sought to set up a challenging schedule.[10] The team beat Harvard 16 to 7 in 1926.

McMillan coached Cal Hubbard at Geneva, the only person to be in both the Pro Football Hall of Fame and the Baseball Hall of Fame.

Kansas State University[edit]

McMillin in 1920.

In 1928, McMillin was hired by Kansas State University to replace Hall of Fame coach Charlie Bachman. McMillin coached at Kansas State for six successful years, including an 8–2 season in 1931[11] that vaulted Kansas State to the cusp of the Rose Bowl. Elden Auker, McMillin's all-conference quarterback at Kansas State, wrote in his book Sleeper Cars and Flannel Uniforms: "McMillin was a great psychologist. He really knew how to give us talks that fired us up... The normal routine for McMillin was to bring us out onto the field to loosen up and then take us back into the locker room for a pep talk. By the time he was through talking, we believed we could take on the world."

Indiana University[edit]

McMillin's success at Kansas State propelled him into his most noteworthy achievements at Indiana University. For 14 years, beginning in 1934, McMillin helped elevate the nondescript program to new heights, topped by an undefeated season in 1945.[12] That year marked the first time ever that the Hoosiers had captured the Big Nine Conference, as well as the school's only outright conference title. He even enjoyed success at the annual College All-Star game, winning the 1938 and 1946 clashes against the defending NFL champions.

Detroit Lions[edit]

Despite having become the school's athletic director and seemingly earning lifetime security with seven years remaining on his most recent contract, the 53-year-old McMillin sought new challenges following the 1947 campaign. He accepted a five-year contract to coach the National Football League's Detroit Lions on February 19, 1948.

However, the coaching success he had always enjoyed disappeared with the Lions, as the team dropped its first five games in 1948 and finished with a 2–10 mark. In addition to the many on-field changes he had implemented, McMillin also briefly changed the team's colors from the now-familiar Hawaiian blue to maroon, similar to the color of his teams at Indiana.

The team also struggled in 1949 at 4–8, but picked up the rights to future star Doak Walker. The team then brought in quarterback Bobby Layne and Heisman Trophy winner Leon Hart the following year. Continued conflict with players, though, led to McMillin's departure after the end of the 1950 NFL season,[13] which saw the Lions finish with a 6–6 record.

Philadelphia Eagles[edit]

McMillin then took on the challenge of returning the Philadelphia Eagles to their previous glory when he was hired on February 8, 1951. However, after just two games (both wins), McMillin underwent surgery for what was believed to be ulcer troubles. The verdict was far worse: stomach cancer, which ended his coaching career.

On the final day of March 1952, McMillin suffered a fatal heart attack and was buried days later with many fellow coaches and former players in attendance.

Awards and accolades[edit]

In November 1951, in the final months of his life, McMillin was selected for induction in the College Football Hall of Fame for his noteworthy successes as a player. Two months later, McMillin was also awarded the Amos Alonzo Stagg Award for his contributions to the sport by the American Football Coaches Association.

In 1923 a horse named Bo McMillin (owned by J. Pendergast) ran in America’s most famous horse race; the Kentucky Derby. Out of a field of 21 starters the horse finished 12th. The odds were 11.95 to $1. The jockey was D. Connelly. [14]

Head coaching record[edit]


Year Team Overall Conference Standing Bowl/playoffs AP#
Centenary Gentlemen (Louisiana Intercollegiate Athletic Association) (1922–1924)
1922 Centenary 8–1 1st
1923 Centenary 10–1 1st
1924 Centenary 8–1
Centenary: 26–3
Geneva Golden Tornadoes (Independent) (1925–1927)
1925 Geneva 6–3
1926 Geneva 8–2
1927 Geneva 8–0–1
Geneva: 22–5–1
Kansas State Wildcats (Big Six Conference) (1928–1933)
1928 Kansas State 3–5 0–5 6th
1929 Kansas State 3–5 3–2 3rd
1930 Kansas State 5–3 3–2 3rd
1931 Kansas State 8–2 3–2 3rd
1932 Kansas State 4–4 2–3 4th
1933 Kansas State 6–2–1 4–1 2nd
Kansas State: 29–21–1 15–15
Indiana Hoosiers (Big Ten Conference) (1934–1947)
1934 Indiana 3–3–2 1–3–1 T–8th
1935 Indiana 4–3–1 2–2–1 T–3rd
1936 Indiana 5–2–1 3–1–1 T–4th
1937 Indiana 5–3 3–2 3rd
1938 Indiana 1–6–1 1–4 9th
1939 Indiana 2–4–2 2–3 8th
1940 Indiana 3–5 2–3 T–6th
1941 Indiana 2–6 1–3 T–7th
1942 Indiana 7–3 2–2 T–5th
1943 Indiana 4–4–2 2–3–1 4th
1944 Indiana 7–3 4–3 5th
1945 Indiana 9–0–1 5–0–1 1st 4
1946 Indiana 6–3 4–2 3rd 20
1947 Indiana 5–3–1 2–3–1 T–6th
Indiana: 63–48–11 34–34–6
Total: 140–77–13
      National championship         Conference title         Conference division title
#Rankings from final AP Poll.


  1. ^ Charles W. Akers. Dictionary of American Biography. 5th Suppl. New York, 1977
  2. ^ George Trevor (November 25, 1935). "1921 Team Produces Most Stars For Centre's All-Time Eleven". Pittsburgh Press. Retrieved March 24, 2015 – via Google news.  open access publication - free to read
  3. ^ "U-T Greats On All-Time Southeast Team". Kingsport Post. July 31, 1969. 
  4. ^ John Y. Brown, The Legend of the Praying Colonels, J. Marvin Gray & Associates, Inc., Louisville, Kentucky
  5. ^ Camp, Walter, ed. National Collegiate Athletic Association Football Rules: Official Intercollegiate Football Guide. 45 Rose St, New York: American Sports, 1922. Print. Spalding's Athletic Library.
  6. ^
  7. ^ "M'Millin Tells Why He Coaches Centenary Team". Alton Evening Telegraph. November 16, 1922. p. 9. Retrieved December 1, 2015 – via  open access publication - free to read
  8. ^ "404 - Geneva College, a Christian College in Pennsylvania (PA)". 
  9. ^ Pittsburgh Post-Gazette "The Geneva Story: A Winning Fairy Tale" by MARINO PARASCENZO November 3, 1971
  10. ^ The Evening Independent "Geneva College, Conqueror of Harvard, Plans Busy Grid Menu for 1927" October 14, 1926
  11. ^ College Football Data Warehouse Kansas State University 1931 season results
  12. ^ "Indiana Hoosiers - Indiana Honors 70th Anniversary of 1945 Hoosier Football Team". Indiana University. 
  14. ^ "1923 - 2016 Kentucky Derby & Oaks - May 6 and 7, 2016 - Tickets, Events, News". 

Additional sources[edit]

External links[edit]