George Wilson (American football coach)

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George Wilson
Position: End
Personal information
Date of birth: February 3, 1914
Place of birth: Chicago, Illinois
Date of death: November 23, 1978(1978-11-23) (aged 64)
Place of death: Detroit, Michigan
Height: 6 ft 1 in (1.85 m)
Weight: 190 lb (86 kg)
Career information
High school: Austin (Chicago, Illinois)
SJNMA (Delafield, Wisconsin)
College: Northwestern
Undrafted: 1937
Career history
As player:
As coach:
Career highlights and awards
Career NFL statistics
Player stats at
Head coaching record
Career: 68–84–8 (.450)
Player stats at PFR
Coaching stats at PFR

George William Wilson (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.[1]

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 a 8–4 season and victory in the 1957 NFL Championship Game, to date 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 in 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. He was unable to obtain a winning record in his four seasons with Miami. He was fired in February 1970 and replaced with Don Shula.

After being fired as head coach of the Miami Dolphins, Wilson retired from football altogether 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.


Playing career[edit]

He attended and played football at Northwestern University. 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 1940-1942, he was selected for the NFL All-Star Game, today known as the Pro Bowl, and was picked for First-Team in 1942. Wilson was a member of the Bears during their five appearances in the National Football League championship Game from 1940–1943 and 1946, with the team winning in all but 1942.[2] Although listed as a starting right end for the 1940 NFL Championship Game, Wilson remained on the sidelines during their historic 73–0 rout of the Washington Redskins.[3]

During the 1943 season, Wilson recorded a career-high 293 yards of reception and 5 touchdowns.[2] 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.[4] 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.[2]

Coaching career[edit]

In 1957, he became the head coach of the Detroit Lions and, in that same season, won the NFL Championship over the Cleveland Browns, 59–14. Wilson was the first recipient of the NFL Coach of the Year Award. As of 2015, it is the last NFL championship won by the Lions. He was replaced following the 1964 season and spent one year as an assistant coach for the Washington Redskins.

In January 1966, Joe Robbie named Wilson the first head coach of an American Football League expansion franchise, the Miami Dolphins.[5] After four losing seasons in Miami, he was fired on February 18, 1970, and replaced by former Baltimore Colts head coach Don Shula after the 1969 season. Although Wilson's head coaching record with Miami was an unimpressive 15–39–2,[6] 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.[7]

Wilson's career record was 68–84–8 as head coach, with 2–0 record in the postseason. He is 65th in all-time wins by an NFL coach.

In 1980, Wilson was inducted into the Michigan Sports Hall of Fame.[8]

Head coaching record[edit]

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 to 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 - - - -
DET Total 53 45 6 .541 2 0 1.000 -
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 - - - -
MIA Total 15 39 2 .278 - - - -
Total 68 84 8 .450 2 0 1.000 1 NFL title in 12 seasons


Playing career[edit]

A 6'1" forward, Wilson played in the National Basketball League (a forerunner to the NBA) during the 1939–40 season. He averaged 1.1 points per game in 16 games for the Chicago Bruins.[1]

Film career[edit]

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.

Personal life[edit]

He was married to a woman named Claire. They had five children – four daughters and a 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.[9]


  1. ^ a b "George Wilson NBL stats". Sports Reference LLC. Retrieved October 26, 2015. 
  2. ^ a b c "George Wilson". Retrieved March 22, 2017. 
  3. ^ "Championship – Chicago Bears at Washington Redskins – December 8th, 1940". Retrieved March 22, 2017. 
  4. ^ "Championship – Washington Redskins at Chicago Bears – December 26th, 1943". Retrieved March 22, 2017. 
  5. ^ "Historical Highlights (1965-69)". Miami Dolphins. Archived from the original on 2010-04-04. Retrieved 2010-05-19. 
  6. ^ "Wilson Gets Ax". The Palm Beach Post. Miami, Florida. United Press International. February 19, 1970. p. 37. Retrieved March 22, 2017 – via  open access publication – free to read
  7. ^ Kevin Nogle (May 21, 2013). "Miami Dolphins Historical Perspective Part 2 – 1967 to 1969". SB Nation. Retrieved March 22, 2017. 
  8. ^ MICHIGAN SPORTS HALL OF FAME Archived July 20, 2008, at the Wayback Machine.
  9. ^ "Former Miami Coach Wilson Dead at 64". The Palm Beach Post. November 25, 1978. p. 59. Retrieved March 22, 2017 – via  open access publication – free to read