Army Football: Charles Daly's Imprint

Before Red Blaik, Charles Daly became the first legendary coach in Army football history. Yet, as with many great men, the championships and the victories on the field formed just a small part of a larger legacy of service and excellence. Charles Daly left many positive marks on the world, not just in football.

Charles Daly (photo at left) presided over three different unbeaten football seasons at West Point. He lost just 13 games in eight seasons. His participation in the Army in the latter years of World War I interrupted his coaching tenure, but his 8-0-2 season in 1922 (team photo above), his final year as a head coach, showed that he could still master the craft of getting football players to be at their best. Daly developed the Army program to the point where it could compete with Notre Dame’s famed “Four Horsemen” in the years after he stepped down. As much as Red Blaik’s run in the 1940s and ‘50s is regarded as the zenith of Army’s football history (and it is), Daly laid the foundation with a career that – while shorter – still sparkled beyond the wildest imaginations and hopes of Army fans at the time. West Point football produced a number of one-loss seasons in the first 22 seasons of the program’s history (1891-1912), but Daly was the first man to give Army a taste of dominance at the highest level. He first gave West Pointers the vision – and the reality – of what elite football looked like.

All these accolades, all these achievements, all these “first in his field” feats as an Army head coach – Charles Daly’s career couldn’t look any better, based on the facts and glowing descriptions presented in the long paragraph above...


Yet, improbably, the football-specific achievements are just a part of Daly’s complete legacy, offering a testament to imprint he left on West Point and, by extension, the world.


The honor and privilege of coaching at a service academy – even now, in a college football era far different from what Daly faced, 100 years ago – is that one gets to shape the young men who will, in time, acquire positions of great responsibility in serving and protecting the United States of America. Being in position to provide a word of wisdom here, and a timely challenge there, to people who will go on to do very meaningful work in life has to represent an immensely satisfying part of the service-academy coaching experience.

Of any man who has coached service-academy football – including Red Blaik – it can safely be said that none have matched the impact of Daly in terms of the athletes he helped mold into leaders and performers. This short list of the men Daly coached at West Point reshaped the world in countless ways, profoundly for the better:

Dwight David Eisenhower. Omar Bradley. George Patton. Matthew Ridgway. James Van Fleet. Joseph Stilwell. One man coached all those men and gave them a football journey so rewarding that it gave them the clarity and confidence to accomplish far greater things when their playing days were over. If ever one can point to sports as a teaching ground, a safe space in which consequential lessons can be learned without life-and-death pressure, BEFORE stepping into the real (adult) world of life-and-death urgency, Daly’s influence on his players is a representative example. Today, coaches coach for championships, but Daly’s greatest wins flowed from the successes his players forged in the theaters of military and public service.

It should come as no surprise, then, that Daly’s influence on the times in which he lived went far beyond the football field. He didn’t just coach players at West Point who would become better; he did things other than coaching football, making time for other ventures before his coaching career and later setting aside that career for larger pursuits.

Just before becoming Army’s coach in 1913, Daly served for two years as Fire Commissioner for the City of Boston. Leadership in a context of pressure served as a gateway for Daly to become the kind of coach he was. Yet, having spent eight immensely successful seasons on the sidelines, Daly did not consider football coaching something to be clung to; he became a professor of military science and tactics at West Point, taking his skill at teaching into an entirely different realm.

Daly didn’t leave football entirely, though; in 1921, a year before his final season at Army, Daly founded the American Football Coaches Association, an organization which still exists today as a resource for coaches and a bastion of stability in terms of ensuring that the sport is coached well, with shared expertise from the people who know college football best.

Serving a city by ensuring public safety. Forming an organization for brother coaches and the sport that gave him so many opportunities and satisfactions. Giving back to West Point as a professor. Guiding a future United States president and other generals on the gridiron.

Yes, the three unbeaten seasons Charles Daly produced at the United States Military Academy will always remain very special. That they’re just a small part of a larger life and career speaks volumes about the kind of man, teacher and leader Daly was. His impact on the world is hard to fully comprehend, even now, more than a century after his head coaching career began in 1913. Top Stories