Frederick Douglass “Fritz” Pollard was the first African American coach in the National Football League.
“Fritz” Pollard grew up in Chicago. By the time he graduated from high school, he was a talented baseball player, running back and a three-time Cook County track champion. He briefly played football for Northwestern, Harvard and Dartmouth before receiving a scholarship from the Rockefeller family to attend Brown University in 1915.
It was here where Pollard led his squad to the 1915 Rose Bowl game. He was the first African American to play in the Rose Bowl, and the second to be named an All-American in college football. After leaving Brown, Pollard briefly pursued a degree in dentistry, worked as director of an army YMCA, and coached football at Lincoln University.
Pollard signed to play for the Akron Pros in the American Professional Football Association (APFA) and led Akron to a championship in 1920. He was named head coach in 1921 and continued to play for the Pros as well. The APFA was renamed the National Football League (NFL) in 1922, making Pollard the first African American coach in NFL history.
Pollard went on to coach NFL teams in Indiana and Milwaukee until 1926 when the National Football League ousted all black players and coaches in a fateful decision to segregate. Pollard created a black football team and challenged NFL teams to exhibition games, but was rebuffed. He spent many years urging the NFL to open its doors to African Americans. He retired from football in 1937 to pursue a career in business. The NFL ban on players of color started to lift in 1946 after World War II ended, but not all teams were integrated until Bobby Mitchell joined the Washington Redskins in 1962.
Mr. Pollard passed away in 1986, three years before the Oakland Raiders named Art Shell, the first African-American head coach in the NFL’s modern era, as their head football coach in 1989.
On February 5, 2005, Mr. Pollard was selected for induction into the NFL Hall of Fame.