Frederick Douglass “Fritz” Pollard (January 27, 1894 – May 11, 1986) was the first African American head coach in the National Football League (NFL). Pollard along with Bobby Marshall were the first two African American players in the NFL in 1920. Sportswriter Walter Camp ranked Pollard as “one of the greatest runners these eyes have ever seen.”
Pollard was born in Chicago on January 27, 1894. He attended Lane Tech High School where he played football, baseball, and ran track. Pollard attended Brown University, majoring in chemistry. Pollard played half-back on the Brown football team, which went to the 1916 Rose Bowl. He became the first black to be named to the Walter Camp All-America team.
He later played pro football with the Akron Pros, the team he would lead to the NFL (APFA) championship in 1920. In 1921, he became the co-head coach of the Akron Pros, while still maintaining his roster position as running back. He also played for the Milwaukee Badgers, Hammond Pros, Gilberton Cadamounts, Union Club of Phoenixville and Providence Steam Roller. Some sources indicate that Pollard also served as co-coach of the Milwaukee Badgers with Budge Garrett for part of the 1922 season. He also coached the Gilberton Cadamounts, a non-NFL team. In 1923 and 1924, he served as head coach for the Hammond Pros.
Pollard, along with all nine of the black players in the NFL at the time, were removed from the league at the end of the 1926 season, never to return again. He spent some time organizing all-black barnstorming teams, including the Chicago Black Hawks in 1928 and the Harlem Brown Bombers in the 1930s.
Pollard coached Lincoln University (Pennsylvania)’s football team during the 1918 to 1920 seasons and served as athletic director of the school’s World War I era Students’ Army Training Corps. During 1918-1919, he led the team to a victorious season defeating Howard University’s Bisons 13-0 in the annual Thanksgiving classic as well as Hampton (7-0) on November 9, 1918 and teams of military recruits at Camp Dix (19-0) on November 2, 1918 and Camp Upton (41-0). By the fall of 1920, however, he had begun to play for Akron and missed key contests with Hampton and Howard. Much to Lincoln’s alumni and administration’s consternation, Lincoln’s team was defeated 14-0 against Hampton and 42-0 against Howard. Paul Robeson was enlisted by Lincoln’s alumni to coach the Thanksgiving 1920 game against Howard.
Pollard later criticized Lincoln’s administration, saying they had hampered his ability to coach and had refused to provide adequate travel accommodations for the team. “Prior to the Hampton game, the team was compelled to go to Hampton by boat, sleeping on the decks and under portholes,” he told a reporter. “No cabins were provided, nor were they given a place to sleep after reaching Hampton. They lost the game through lack of rest.” He also blamed the school for not providing the proper equipment. “I, myself, bought and paid $200 out of my pocket for football shoes for the team.” He missed the 1920 Howard game, he said, because his Lincoln salary was so low that he was compelled to augment it with pay from Akron.
- In 2005, Fritz Pollard was inducted to the Pro Football Hall of Fame. He appears as a free agent in Madden NFL 09 and Madden NFL 10 and is also a part of the game’s Hall of Fame feature.
- Pollard’s son Fritz Pollard, Jr. won the bronze medal for 110 m hurdles at the 1936 Summer Olympics in Berlin.
- The Fritz Pollard Alliance, a group promoting minority hiring throughout the NFL, is named for Pollard.
- Brown University and the Black Coaches & Administrators co-sponsor the annual Fritz Pollard Award, which is presented to the college or professional coach chosen by the BCA as coach of the year.