George Munger Dies; Coached In Glory Days Of Penn Football He Was 28 When He Took Over. He Stepped Down 16 Years Later, After The School Decided To De-emphasize The Sport.

Posted: July 22, 1994

George Munger, 84, who coached football at the University of Pennsylvania when Penn football was the biggest game in town - and one of the biggest in the nation - died yesterday.

A prep-school star at Episcopal Academy who once scored eight touchdowns in a game, Mr. Munger also was an all-round star in track and field who won the decathlon at the Penn Relays.

But it was as Penn's head football coach, a position he held from 1938 through 1953, that Mr. Munger achieved his greatest success and, ultimately, a place in the College Football Hall of Fame.

Only 28 when he got the Penn appointment, Mr. Munger told Thomas S. Gates, the university president: "I'm much too young to be the head coach at Pennsylvania."

"Don't worry, George," Gates said, reassuring him, "the leaves on the calendar will take care of that."

Indeed, Mr. Munger enjoyed a long, winning career at his alma mater, compiling a record of 82-42-10 while the Quakers were going against some of the nation's top college football powers.

His only losing season was his last, and he said jokingly at the luncheon before last season's Penn-Cornell game that that season didn't count because he had resigned the year before, agreeing to stay on until a successor could be found.

He turned out more than 60 first-team all-Americans, 20 national Hall of Famers and dozens of pros in an era when Penn was considered to have one of the best big-time football programs.

One of the first things that Mr. Munger did when he took over at Penn, when he was not that much older than some of his players, was to hire three outstanding assistants: Rae Crowther, line coach; Howard Odell, backfield, and Paul Riblett, ends. Their expertise helped him guide the Quakers to national prominence.

Mr. Munger's 1947 team went unbeaten, winning seven games and tying Army, 7-7. His 1940 and '41 teams each lost just one game.

His last Penn team went 3-5-1 but played competitively against some of the country's top teams. The Quakers opened against Vanderbilt that season, then played Penn State, California, Ohio State, Navy, Michigan, Notre Dame, Army and a lone Ivy League opponent, Cornell. One week after sustaining its only lopsided defeat - a 40-0 loss to Cal - Penn rebounded to battle top-rated Ohio State to the wire before losing, 12-6, at Franklin Field.

Only 44 at the time, Mr. Munger stepped down when the university changed its philosophy on football, choosing the Ivy League over the big time. In the heyday of Mr. Munger, only Ohio State attracted more spectators to its home games than Penn, which drew 60,000 to 80,000 fans for games at Franklin Field.

If Mr. Munger was bitter over Penn's decision to leave the big-time arena - and he surely wasn't happy about it - he remained loyal to the university, staying there as head of its department of recreation until his retirement.

He was loved by his players, who saw him more as a big-brother figure than a father figure in his early years as head coach. Among those who played under him were Hall of Famers Chuck Bednarik, George Savitsky, Tony "Skip" Minisi and Reds Bagnell. Bernie Lemonick, an all-America lineman late in the Munger era, is a current Hall of Fame candidate.

"The thing I'll always remember about him," Bednarik said of Mr. Munger yesterday, "is that he's a man who seldom raised his voice. He could get angry, but it would never go into fanaticism.

"He was just a different breed of man. Success seemed to come natural to him. He could pick an athlete and figure out the best position for him, even if it meant switching him around a few times, and it would still turn out well.

"He taught me a secret - the secret of how to approach life. (He) was a jovial man who liked to laugh and would always act young. When I saw him a few years ago, it was like he had never changed, like he was still in his 40s."

Mr. Munger's late son, Greville - who died when he was electrocuted in an accident after graduating from Penn - played football at the university. An end, he caught a pass from George Koval for a school-record 90-yard touchdown against Columbia.

Funeral services for Mr. Munger will be private. A memorial service will be held early this fall. Mr. Munger is survived by his wife, Viola; a daughter, Carol M. Ober; a brother, Peter; sisters Margaret Madsen and Katherine Steele, and four grandchildren.

Mr. Munger will be cremated, family members said.

In lieu of flowers, the family requests that donations be made to the Greville L. Munger Scholarship Fund at Episcopal Academy or to the same fund at Penn or to the Camp Tecumseh Scholarship Fund.

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