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David M. Nelson: Wikis


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David Moir Nelson (April 29, 1920 - November 30, 1991) was an innovative and successful college football coach, an authority on college football playing rules, and a member of the College Football Hall of Fame.

Nelson was the head football coach at the University of Delaware from 1951-1965, compiling a record of 84 wins, 42 losses and 2 ties and gaining fame as the father of the Wing T offensive formation.[1] He also served as athletic director from 1951-1984.[2]

In 1957 he was named to the National Collegiate Athletic Association Football Rules Committee and in 1962 became its first permanent Secretary-Editor, a position he held for 29 years until his death.[3] In this role, he edited the official college football rulebook and provided interpretations on how the playing rules were to be applied to game situations.


Early years and college

David M. Nelson was born and raised in Detroit, Michigan; upon graduation from Northwestern High School in 1938, Nelson enrolled at the University of Michigan. As a 5-7/155-pound halfback, Nelson played football (for Coach Fritz Crisler) in the same backfield with (fellow Northwestern alumni) Forest Evashevski, and 1940 Heisman Trophy winner Tom Harmon. In 1941, Nelson led the Wolverines in rushing, averaging 6.3 yards per carry.

Nelson earned a Bachelor of Science degree in 1942 before serving as a lieutenant in the U. S. Naval Air Corps during World War II. He was awarded three battle stars for his service. After the war, Nelson returned to Michigan as assistant baseball coach, earning a Master of Science degree in 1946.[4]

Coaching career

He was head football coach at Hillsdale College in Michigan in 1946-1947, assistant football coach at Harvard University in 1948, and head football coach at the University of Maine in 1949-50. While at Maine, Nelson began to develop the Wing-T formation.[5]

When he took over at Delaware in 1951, Nelson continued to develop the Wing-T along with his assistant coach Mike Lude and eventual successor, Harold "Tubby" Raymond who joined the Delaware staff the fourth year of the Wing-T Offense. Delaware's success included winning the Lambert Cup, awarded to the top small-college team in the East, in 1959, 1962 and 1963. The 1963 team also finished the season as the top small college team in the nation in the United Press International poll. When Nelson retired from coaching after the 1965 season, his career record was 105-48-6.[2]

Nelson's Wing-T formation was adopted by a number of other teams, including the University of Iowa, which won the Rose Bowl Game in 1957 and 1959 using the formation. Iowa’s coach was Evashevski, Nelson's former Michigan teammate. Others who used the Wing-T with success include Paul Dietzel at LSU, Frank Broyles at the University of Arkansas, Ara Parseghian at the University of Notre Dame, Jim Owens at the University of Washington, and Eddie Robinson of Grambling State University.

Nelson also brought a unique football helmet design to Delaware. In the 1930s, Nelson’s future college coach, Crisler, was the coach at Princeton University and was looking for a way to allow his quarterback to easily locate pass receivers running downfield. At the time, there were no rules requiring schools to wear jerseys of contrasting colors, and helmets were dark leather, so distinguishing teammates from opponents at a glance was difficult. Crisler hit upon the idea of a helmet with a winged pattern on it and had the leather dyed in Princeton's black and orange colors. When Crisler moved to Michigan in 1938—the same year Nelson arrived—he used the same design with Michigan's school colors. Nelson brought the same design, in the appropriate school colors, to Hillsdale, Maine and Delaware. Delaware continues to use the “Michigan” helmet design to this day. [1] [2] [3]

Books and awards

Nelson authored a number of books on football, including "Scoring Power with the Winged-T Offense" (co-authored with Evashevski, 1957), "The Modern Winged-T Playbook" (with Evashevski, 1961), "Football: Principles and Plays" (1962), "Championship Football by 12 Great Coaches" (1962), "Dave Nelson Selects 99 Best Plays for High School Football" (1966), "Dave Nelson Selects the Best of Defensive Football for High Schools" (1967), and "Illustrated Football Rules" (1976).

Nelson's final book, "The Anatomy of a Game: Football, the Rules, and the Men Who Made the Game," was a year-by-year chronicle of how the collegiate football playing rules evolved from 1876 to 1991. It was published posthumously in 1994.[4]

Nelson’s awards include the National Football Foundation and Hall of Fame Distinguished American Award (1984) and the American Football Coaches Association Amos Alonzo Stagg Award (1988). He was inducted into the Delaware Sports Museum and Hall of Fame in 1978 and the College Football Hall of Fame in 1987 for his coaching achievements.[5][6]





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