Gus Dorais
Gus Dorais.jpg
C. 1940
Biographical details
Born(1891-07-02)July 2, 1891
Chippewa Falls, Wisconsin, U.S.
DiedJanuary 3, 1954(1954-01-03) (aged 62)
Southfield, Michigan, U.S.
Playing career
1910–1913Notre Dame
1915Massillon Tigers
1916Fort Wayne Friars
1918–1919Massillon Tigers
Coaching career (HC unless noted)
1919Notre Dame (assistant)
1943–1947Detroit Lions
1952Pittsburgh Steelers (backfield)
1918–1920Notre Dame
1919–1920Notre Dame
Administrative career (AD unless noted)
Head coaching record
Overall150–70–12 (college football)
20–31–2 (NFL)
93–113 (college basketball)
41–31–1 (college baseball)
Accomplishments and honors
All-American, 1913
College Football Hall of Fame
Inducted in 1954 (profile)

Charles Emile "Gus" Dorais (July 2, 1891 – January 3, 1954) was an American football player, coach, and athletic administrator.[1][2][3]

Dorais played college football at the University of Notre Dame, where he was an All-American in 1913 at quarterback, and then played professionally with the Fort Wayne Friars and Massillon Tigers. He was the head coach at Dubuque College (1914–1917) in Dubuque, Iowa, Gonzaga University (1920–1924) in Spokane, Washington, and the University of Detroit (1925–1942), compiling a career college football coaching record of 150–70–12 (.672). He was also the head coach of the National Football League (NFL)'s Detroit Lions from 1943 to 1947, tallying a mark of 20–31–2 (.396). In addition, Dorais was the head basketball coach at Notre Dame, Gonzaga, and Detroit and the head baseball coach at Notre Dame and Gonzaga. He was inducted into the College Football Hall of Fame as a coach in 1954.

Early years

Dorais was born in Chippewa Falls, Wisconsin, in 1891. He was the son of David Dorais, a native of Quebec, and Malvina (Murphy) Dorais, a Wisconsin native sometimes referred to as Mary. When Dorais was a child, his parents separated. According to one account, the father abandoned the family.[4] According to another, the mother left the father.[5] Dorais remained with his mother, who took in laundry, worked as a midwife, and did odd jobs to support her children.[4] Dorais' father moved to Montana where he worked in the mines and died of acute alcoholism in a Butte boarding house in November 1911 (one month before his son was elected captain of the Notre Dame football team).[5][6]

Dorais attended Chippewa Falls High School and was captain of the school's 1909 football team that won the state championship.[7]

Football player

Notre Dame

Dorais enrolled at the University of Notre Dame in the summer of 1910 at 5 ft 7 in (1.70 m) and 145 lb (66 kg).[2] As a freshman, he was the quarterback on the Fighting Irish second team and became "the star performer, dodging in a way that showed up many of the first team men."[8]

As a sophomore, Dorais was the starting quarterback on the 1911 Notre Dame football team that compiled a 6–0–2 record. He was rated as "the star" of the 1911 team, winning praise for his tackling on defense.[9] At the team banquet following the 1911 season, Dorais was elected by his teammates as the captain of the 1912 team.[10]

As captain and starting quarterback, Dorais led the 1912 team to a 7–0 record, the first perfect season in Notre Dame history. The team outscored opponents, 389 to 27, including a 116–7 victory over St. Viator College and a 69–0 victory over Marquette. At the end of the 1912 season, The Notre Dame Scholastic wrote: "Captain Dorais is the type of young man Notre Dame feels proud of. He is a great player,—resourceful, vigilant, always calm,—and what is vastly more important, he is a fine type of gentleman. Much of the 'helping' spirit among the players was the result of his ever present tact."[11]

During the summer before his senior season, Dorais and his teammate Knute Rockne worked as lifeguards and busboys at Cedar Point Resort on Lake Erie in Sandusky, Ohio. During their free time there, they practiced passing on the beach with Dorais throwing to Rockne, an end.[12] Rockne later wrote, "We mastered the technique of losing the football with hands relaxed and tried to master the more difficult feat of catching it with one hand," Rockne later wrote.[citation needed] From that point forward, no longer was the forward pass an obscure weapon, or a little-used gimmick to be used when trailing late in games. "The press and the football public hailed this new game, and Notre Dame received credit as the originator of a style of play that we simply systematized," Rockne said.[citation needed]

Dorais and Rockne, along with fullback Ray Eichenlaub, led the 1913 Notre Dame team to a 7–0, the team's third consecutive undefeated season with Dorais at quarterback. The 1913 outscored opponents by a margin of 169 to 7. Dorais shone for Notre Dame in multiple roles in 1913, as a dual threat quarterback on offense and as a defender, punter, placekicker, and punt returner. The Chicago Examiner wrote: "Dorais is a great general, a sure catcher of punts, a fast and elusive runner, a great punter and a field goal kicker."[13] His greatest acclaim came for his passing performance (14 of 17 for 243 yards and three touchdowns) in a 35–13 victory over undefeated Army at West Point, New York on November 1. Dorais' performance against Army has been credited with popularizing the modern passing game.

At the end of the season, Dorais was selected as a first-team All-American by Frank G. Menke of the International News Service,[14] the Milwaukee Free Press,[15] Tom Thorp,[16][17] and the Trenton Evening-Times.[18] He was the first consensus All-American in Notre Dame history.[19]

Vanity Fair in 1913 praised Dorais' versatility: "Dorais is not only a sure catcher of punts, but he is also a master of the forward pass, a sure tackler, a good punter, an open-field runner with few equals, and altogether able to meet any emergencies of his position."[20] Notre Dame's "Dome" yearbook for 1914 declared Dorais to be "the 'Little Napoleon' of our great football teams" and Notre Dame's "greatest all time football player."[21]

Professional football

Dorais later played professional football for the Massillon Tigers (1915, 1918–1919) and Fort Wayne Friars (1916). Despite weighing only 138 pounds, he was one of the early stars of professional football in the years before the formation of the National Football League.[22] In 1915, Dorais and Rockne played for Massillon in a season highlighted by two games with Jim Thorpe's Canton Bulldogs. In the first game, a 16–0 victory for Massillon, Dorais completed 7 of 19 passes for 119 yards and kicked three field goals. Canton won the rematch on November 28, 1915, billed as the championship of the Ohio League, when an apparent touchdown pass from Dorais to Briggs was disallowed after a lengthy post-game conference among officials.[23][24] In 1916, Dorais was the star of the Fort Wayne Friars.[25][26]

Coaching career


In June 1914, Dorais was hired by Dubuque College (later renamed Loras College), a Catholic college in Dubuque, Iowa. He served as the school's football, basketball, and track coach, athletic director, teacher, and chairman of commercial law.[27][28][29] He remained at Dubuque for approximately four years. He compiled a 17–9–2 record as Dubuque's head football coach from 1914 to 1917, including an undefeated 1916 season.[30][31] His basketball teams won Hawkeye Conference championships all three seasons he was in charge.[32]

In December 1917, Dorais was inducted into the Army during World War I.[32] He was assigned to the officer training corps at Camp Dodge in central Iowa.[33]

Notre Dame

In September 1919, Knute Rockne hired Dorais as his assistant at Notre Dame.[34] Together, they led the 1919 Notre Dame football team to a perfect 9–0 record.[35] Dorais also served as the head coach of Notre Dame's basketball and baseball teams during the 1918–19 and 1919–20 academic year.[36][37]


In May 1920, Dorais was hired as the athletic director at Gonzaga University, a Jesuit school located in Spokane, Washington. He also served as the head coach of the Gonzaga football, basketball, baseball, and track teams for the next five years.[2][38]

Dorais earned $4,000 per year at Gonzaga and was kept for a fifth season in 1924 when boosters helped raise his salary to $7,000 to prevent him from leaving for Detroit.[2] The Bulldogs were undefeated in 1924, led on the field by Houston Stockton,[39] grandfather of basketball hall of famer John Stockton.

University of Detroit

In February 1925, Dorais reached an agreement with the University of Detroit, giving him complete control of the school's athletic program as both athletic director and coach of various teams, including the football team.[40]

Dorais remained the University of Detroit's athletic director and head football coach for 18 seasons from 1925 to 1942. His record with the Detroit Titans football was 113–48–7 (.693). Dorais was also the head coach of the basketball team for his first four years at the school from 1925 to 1929.[41]

Dorais led the Titans to the top tier of college football programs, scheduling games against Army, Notre Dame, Michigan State, Oklahoma A&M, and Arkansas, as well as regular series with other major Catholic colleges and universities, including Fordham, Boston College, DePaul, Georgetown, Marquette, Villanova, Duquesne, Manhattan College, and Catholic University. From October 1927 to November 1929, his teams did not lose a game, an unbeaten streak that lasted 22 games and included a perfect 9–0 record during the 1928 season. He recruited and coached elite athletes to the school, including Lloyd Brazil (All-American halfback in 1928 and 1929 and NCAA passing leader in 1928), fullback Andy Farkas (a two-time All-Pro fullback with the Redskins), halfback Doug Nott (NCAA passing leader in 1933), Al Ghesquiere (NCAA rushing leader in 1940), and Vince Banonis (All-American center in 1940, later inducted into the College Football Hall of Fame).

Dorais was the college team coach for the fourth College All-Star Game in 1937 in Chicago, in which college seniors from the previous season (pro rookies) played against the defending NFL champions in a pre-season game on September 1.[42] With Sammy Baugh at quarterback and over 84,500 in attendance on a Wednesday night at Soldier Field, the college stars won 6–0 over Curly Lambeau's Green Bay Packers.[43] This was the first All-Star team to beat the pros.

Detroit Lions

In January 1943, Dorais left the University of Detroit at age 51 to become the head coach, general manager, and part owner of the Detroit Lions of the National Football League (NFL).[44] Prior to Dorais' arrival, the Lions had compiled a 0–11 record in 1942. In their first year under Dorais, the 1943 Lions improved modestly to 3–6–1.[45]

In 1944 and 1945, Dorais turned the Lions around, leading them to second-place finishes both years with records of 6–3–1 and 7–3.[45][46] During his time with the Lions, Dorais was credited with having "the best pass patterns in the NFL."[47] After two strong seasons, the Lions slipped to 1–10 in 1946 and 3–9 in 1947.[45] One week after the end of the 1947 season, Lions owner Fred L. Mandel Jr. announced that, despite the five-year contract signed with Dorais prior to the 1947 season, Dorais had been removed as the club's head coach.[48] The parties reached a settlement which included a payoff for the final four years of Dorais' contract.[49]

Legacy and honors

Although the forward pass was legalized four years before Dorais enrolled at Notre Dame, his overhand spiral throwing technique and successful passing game were considered "revolutionary" and led to Dorais being called the "father of the forward pass".[50][51][52] Dorais found the title flattering, but said he felt the honor was misplaced and should instead be applied to Eddie Cochems who used the forward pass extensively as head coach of the Saint Louis Billikens in 1906.[53]

Dorais received numerous posthumous honors for his contributions to the sport. His honors include the following:

Family, politics, and later years

In April 1918, Dorais married Viola Fettgather at a ceremony in Des Moines, Iowa.[63] They had five children: Thomas (born c. 1921); William (born c. 1923); Dorothy Jean (Mulcrone, born c. 1925); Joan Mayree (Robinson, born c. 1928); and David (born c. 1934).[64]

In 1939, Dorais became a candidate for the Detroit Common Council (as the city council was then known). He received the second highest vote count among all the candidates,[65] served four terms, and was an advocate for the expansion of the city's recreation and play facilities. However, his job as head coach of the Detroit Lions resulted in frequent absences from meetings and criticism of his lack of attendance.[64][66] He resigned from the Common Council in May 1947.[67]

In July 1947, Dorais' youngest son, David, drowned while swimming in Tecon Lake while at the family's summer home in Otsego County, Michigan.[68]

In 1949, Dorais moved to Wabash, Indiana, where he purchased an automobile dealership with his son, William.[69] In September 1950, Dorais underwent exploratory surgery for cancer at the Mayo Clinic.[70]

In June 1952, Dorais agreed to return to coaching as the backfield coach for the Pittsburgh Steelers.[47] After one season with the Steelers, Dorais announced in January 1953 that he would likely retire.[71]

He became ill with a circulatory disorder and moved to Southfield, Michigan, a suburb of Detroit, in 1953. In January 1954, he died at age 62 at his home at 19050 Middlesex Avenue in Southfield.[64][72] The cause of his death was arteriosclerosis.[73] Anorexia, with a duration of two years, was also listed on the death certificate as an antecedent cause;[73] Dorais weighed only 67 pounds at the time of his death.[74] His funeral, held at Gesu Church, in Detroit, and he was interred at the Holy Sepulchre Cemetery in Southfield.[72][75]

Head coaching record

College football

Year Team Overall Conference Standing Bowl/playoffs
Dubuque (Independent) (1914–1917)
1914 Dubuque
1915 Dubuque
1916 Dubuque
1917 Dubuque
Dubuque: 17–9–2
Gonzaga Blue and White / Bulldogs (Independent) (1920–1924)
1920 Gonzaga 4–3
1921 Gonzaga 3–4–1
1922 Gonzaga 5–3 L San Diego East-West Christmas Classic
1923 Gonzaga 4–3
1924 Gonzaga 5–0–2
Gonzaga: 21–13–3
Detroit Titans (Independent) (1925–1942)
1925 Detroit 5–4
1926 Detroit 3–6–1
1927 Detroit 7–2
1928 Detroit 9–0
1929 Detroit 7–1–1
1930 Detroit 5–3–2
1931 Detroit 7–2–1
1932 Detroit 8–2
1933 Detroit 7–1
1934 Detroit 5–3–1
1935 Detroit 6–3
1936 Detroit 7–3
1937 Detroit 7–3
1938 Detroit 6–4
1939 Detroit 5–3–1
1940 Detroit 7–2
1941 Detroit 7–2
1942 Detroit 5–4
Detroit: 113–48–7
Total: 150–70–12

Professional football

Team Year Regular Season Post Season
Won Lost Ties Win % Finish Won Lost Win % Result
DET 1943 3 6 1 .350 3rd in NFL Western
DET 1944 6 3 1 .650 2nd in NFL Western
DET 1945 7 3 0 .700 2nd in NFL Western
DET 1946 1 10 0 .091 5th in NFL Western
DET 1947 3 9 0 .250 5th in NFL Western
DET Total 20 31 2 .396
NFL Total[76] 20 31 2 .396
Total 20 31 2 .396


  1. ^ "Dorais dies; ace football player, coach". Chicago Daily Tribune. Associated Press. January 4, 1954. p. 1, sec. 4.
  2. ^ a b c d "Gus Dorais, father of forward pass, dies". Spokesman-Review. (Spokane, Washington). Associated Press. January 4, 1954. p. 9.
  3. ^ "Former Gonzaga football coach taken by death". Spokane Daily Chronicle. (Washington). Associated Press. January 4, 1954. p. 16.
  4. ^ a b Jim Lefebvre (2013). Coach For A Nation: The Life and Times of Knute Rockne. Cardinal Publishing Group. p. 118. ISBN 978-0981884127.
  5. ^ a b "Dying Man Taken About the City". The Butte Miner. November 24, 1911. p. 6 – via to this account, the mother left the father in approximately 1896, but the 1900 U.S. Census shows the family living together in Butte.)
  6. ^ "Dorais Refused a Room at Hospital and Dies". The Anaconda Standard. November 24, 1911. p. 7.
  7. ^ "Chippewa Honors Former Player". Eau Claire (WI) Leader. October 29, 1946. p. 8 – via
  8. ^ "Chippewa In Brief". Eau Claire (WI) Leader. October 1, 1910. p. 4 – via
  9. ^ "Third Successive Tie for Two Teams". The Decatur Daily Herald. December 1, 1911. p. 4 – via
  10. ^ "Dorais Gains Honor". The Indianapolis News. December 18, 1911. p. 12 – via
  11. ^ "The Year and The Men" (PDF). The Notre Dame Scholastic. December 7, 1912. p. 190. Retrieved December 27, 2017.
  12. ^ "This Day In History: The Forward Pass (1913 vs. Army)". University of Notre Dame Athletics. Retrieved March 26, 2017.
  13. ^ "Football season in review" (PDF). The Notre Dame Scholastic. December 13, 1913. p. 380.
  14. ^ "Menke Picks His All-American Team: Harvard Champion Team Gets Only Three Places". Naugatuck Daily News. December 3, 1913.
  15. ^ "Badger Tackle Among Stars: Butler, Wisconsin's Great Lineman, Placed on All-American Team". Wisconsin State Journal. December 2, 1913.
  16. ^ Spalding's Official Football Guide. 1914. p. 21.
  17. ^ "Tom Thorp Picks Team From Cream of Football World". The Lima Daily News. December 3, 1913.
  18. ^ "Times' All-American Eleven". Trenton Evening Times. December 4, 1913.
  19. ^ "Football Award Winners" (PDF). National Collegiate Athletic Association (NCAA). 2016. p. 6. Retrieved October 21, 2017.
  20. ^ Dome yearbook for 1914, p. 153.
  21. ^ 1914 "Dome" yearbook, p. 32.
  22. ^ "Dorais One of Pro's Early Football Stars". The Binghamton Press. September 14, 1937. p. 17 – via
  23. ^ Jerry Roberts (2016). Pass Receiving in Early Pro Football: A History to the 1960s. McFarland. pp. 39–40. ISBN 978-1476622286.
  24. ^ Robert W. Peterson (1997). Pigskin: The Early Years of Pro Football. Oxford University Press. ISBN 0190283696.
  25. ^ "Fort Wayne, 24; Elyria, 13". The Times (IN). October 30, 1916. p. 10 – via
  26. ^ "Fort Wayne Friars Beat Wabash, 13 to 7". The Davenport Democrat and Leader. November 20, 1916. p. 8 – via
  27. ^ "Dubuque College Gets a New Coach". The Mansfield (OH) News. June 26, 1914. p. 13 – via
  28. ^ "Dorais Reaches Dubuque". The Des Moines Register. September 14, 1914. p. 6 – via
  29. ^ "Dorais Says He Will Remain at Dubuque". The Des Moines Register. December 2, 1914. p. 8 – via and track coach)
  30. ^ "Charles "Gus" Dorais". Loras College. Retrieved December 27, 2017.
  31. ^ "No Defeats For Dubuque College". The Daily Times. December 8, 1916. p. 19 – via
  32. ^ a b "Dubuque To Lose Dorais: Head Coach Answers Call for Service in Great War". Evening Times-Republican. December 15, 1917. p. 3 – via
  33. ^ "Dubs To Open Season Friday". The Davenport Democrat and Leader. January 17, 1917. p. 7 – via
  34. ^ Archie Ward (September 28, 1919). "Line Material Bothers Coach at Notre Dame: Dorais Is Engaged to Assist Rockne in Putting Team in Shape". The Indianapolis Star. p. 36 – via
  35. ^ "Army Is Next on Catholics' Grid Program: Coaches Rockne and Dorais Are Turning Out One of the Best Teams Notre Dame Has Ever Had". The Indianapolis Star. November 2, 1919. p. 36 – via
  36. ^ "Notre Dame Fighting Irish School History". SR CBB. Sports Reference LLC. Retrieved December 27, 2017.
  37. ^ "Notre Dame Team Bids for Baseball Honors; Coach Dorais on the Job". The Fort Wayne News and Sentinel. March 24, 1919. p. 12 – via
  38. ^ Smith, Floyd L. (January 20, 1924). "Gus Dorais spurns fat offers and signs contract to coach Gonzaga teams another year". Spokesman-Review. (Spokane, Washington). p. 1.
  39. ^ "Friends shocked; laud ex-Gonzagan". Spokesman-Review. (Spokane, Washington). January 4, 1954. p. 9.
  40. ^ L. H. Northard (February 8, 1925). "Dorais Takes Full Control of U. of D. Teams". Detroit Free Press. p. 20 – via
  41. ^ "All-time coaching records" (PDF). Detroit Titans basketball. media guide. 2013–14.
  42. ^ Smith, Wilfrid (September 1, 1937). "All-Americans play Packers before 85,000". Chicago Daily Tribune. p. 21.
  43. ^ Smith, Wilfrid (September 2, 1937). "84,560 see All-Americans win, 6-0". Chicago Daily Tribune. p. 1.
  44. ^ Dale Stafford (January 10, 1943). "Dorais Ends 18-Year Stay at U-D to Take Position with Lions". Detroit Free Press. pp. Sports 1, 4 – via
  45. ^ a b c "Detroit Lions Franchise Encyclopedia". Sports Reference LLC. Retrieved December 25, 2017.
  46. ^ John N. Sabo (December 4, 1945). "Dorais Beams as Lions Set Records in Big Year". Detroit Free Press. p. 14 – via
  47. ^ a b Bob Latshaw (June 22, 1952). "Dorais Returns to Football as Steeler Aide". Detroit Free Press. p. C1 – via
  48. ^ Bob Latshaw (December 17, 1947). "Dorais Out As Lion Coach". Detroit Free Press. p. 1 – via
  49. ^ Bob Latshaw (January 9, 1948). "Lions and Dorais Agree on Payoff". Detroit Free Press. p. 20 – via
  50. ^ "Dorais To Coach Steeler Backfield: Pittsburgh To Emphasize Air Attack; Father of Forward Pass Coached at Detroit Until 1949". The Honolulu Advertiser. June 22, 1954. p. 24 – via
  51. ^ "Father of Forward Pass, Dorais, Dies". Asheville Citizen (AP story). January 4, 1954. p. 14 – via
  52. ^ "Complete Plans for Banquet". The Ludington Daily News. March 16, 1942. p. 1 – via "who more than any other one person can be termed the 'father of the forward pass'")
  53. ^ "'Father of Forward Pass' Says Honor Misplaced; Dorais Credits Cochems". The News-Herald (PA). September 10, 1952. p. 7 – via
  54. ^ Gus Dorais at the College Football Hall of Fame
  55. ^ "Carideo, Dorais Rate Grid Hall of Fame". The Times (IN). August 11, 1954. p. 22 – via
  56. ^ "Name Dorais To Wisconsin Hall of Fame". The Sheboygan (Wis.) Press. December 19, 1955. p. 31 – via
  57. ^ "Gus, Bennie, Eddie in 'Hall'". Detroit Free Press. May 8, 1958. p. 29 – via
  58. ^ "Helms Hall of Fame Adds 20 Former Football Stars". The Daily Sun (San Bernardino, CA). December 23, 1960. p. B10 – via
  59. ^ "Gus Dorais To Be Honored". York Daily Record. September 17, 1976. p. 15 – via
  60. ^ "Hall of Fame". Loras College. Retrieved December 27, 2017.
  61. ^ "Gus Dorais". University of Detroit-Mercy. Retrieved December 27, 2017.
  62. ^ "Gonzaga Athletic Hall of Fame". Gonzaga University. Retrieved December 27, 2017.
  63. ^ "Coach Dorais Is Married at Capital". The Davenport Democrat and Leader. April 30, 1918. p. 14 – via
  64. ^ a b c Frank Beckman (January 4, 1954). "Gus Dorais Dies at 62". Detroit Free Press. pp. 1, 6 – via
  65. ^ "Jeffries Beats Reading by 2 to 1: Smith, Gus Dorais and Dingeman Pacing the Field in Council Race". Detroit Free Press. November 8, 1938. p. 1 – via
  66. ^ "Dorais 'Graces' Council with His Rare Presence". Detroit Free Press. September 18, 1946. p. 15 – via
  67. ^ "Resignation of Dorais OK'd". Detroit Free Press. May 27, 1947. p. 8 – via
  68. ^ "Youngest Son of Dorais Drowns in Lake". Detroit Free Press. July 11, 1947. p. 1 – via
  69. ^ Bob Latshaw (March 14, 1949). "Pioneer Quits Detroit and Gridiron: Dorais Seeks 'Firsts' in New Field". Detroit Free Press. p. 23 – via
  70. ^ "Operation Successful for Dorais". Detroit Free Press. September 14, 1950. p. 31 – via
  71. ^ "NFL Teams Hunt for Coaching Aides". The Pittsburgh Press. January 25, 1953. p. 40 – via
  72. ^ a b "'Gus' Dorais Dies in Southfield Home". The Birmingham Eccentric. January 1954 – via
  73. ^ a b "Certificate of Death, Michigan Department of Health, for Charles E. (Gus) Dorais". January 7, 1954 – via
  74. ^ "Grid World Mourns Death of Dorais". Eau Claire (WI) Leader. January 5, 1954. p. 11 – via
  75. ^ Lyall Smith (January 7, 1954). "The Dorais Saga Ends". Detroit Free Press. p. 25 – via
  76. ^ "Gus Dorais Record, Statistics, and Category Ranks –".