Here’s a story: The most successful football coach in EMU history later became governor

Here’s a bit of Michigan history you probably didn’t know: The most successful football coach in Eastern Michigan University history later became Michigan’s governor.

Wait, what? One of Michigan’s governors was once a college football head coach? And a wildly successful one, at that?


It’s true – and here’s the story.

The man’s name was Fred W. Green, and he served as the 31st governor of Michigan, from 1927 to 1931.

Way back in 1896, though, he was the head football coach at Michigan State Normal School in Ypsilanti, which later became Eastern Michigan University. Green had been a student and athlete at Michigan Normal, and popped up in this newspaper article in 1892 for his literary skills.

Green played on the Michigan Normal football team in 1895, earning his varsity letter. The following year, they asked him to stick around and serve as the team’s head coach, which was a common practice in those days. He was all of 25 years old when he served as the head football coach at Michigan State Normal School.

Gov. Fred W. Green

And during his one season as head coach of Michigan Normal, Fred W. Green’s football team kicked butt and took names.

The Normalites lost to Michigan, 18-0, but as you’ll see here, they shut out the other four teams on their schedule. They finished with a 4-1 record and won the Michigan Intercollegiate Athletic Association championship.

If you look at the all-time list of Michigan State Normal School/Eastern Michigan University head football coaches, you’ll see that Fred W. Green retired from coaching with a winning percentage of .800. By that metric, that makes him the most successful football coach in school history.

Elton Rynearson had a slightly more impressive overall record (114-58-15, compared to Green’s 4-1 mark), but no coach had a better winning percentage than Fred W. Green.

After hanging up the whistle, Green went on to law school, after which time he served as the Ypsilanti city attorney and then bought a furniture company. He eventually moved to Ionia, was elected mayor, and then in 1926, he was elected Michigan’s 31st governor as a Republican.

He served four years, and according to his Wikipedia bio, the most impressive thing he did while in Lansing was pioneer the no-passing lane on highways. Nobody had thought of no-passing lanes before Fred W. Green came along, and that innovation ended up saving countless lives on highways across the country.

He left office on Jan. 1, 1931, and died in 1936 at the age of 65.

Gov. Fred W. Green, left, with a group of Eagle Scouts on Mackinac Island in 1929. That’s future President Gerald Ford in the back row with the light-colored shirt.

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