(This post on Guy Chamberlin, which originally appeared on DukeSlater.com, is the last in a four-part series on the men who coached Duke Slater during his career.)
Duke Slater spent five years with the Rock Island Independents before the franchise folded. He then moved on to the Chicago Cardinals, playing his first full season with them in 1927. The Cards’ coach was Guy Chamberlin, one of the most successful coaches in NFL history, and an unheralded part of Duke Slater’s success in the NFL.
Guy’s father was a farmer who shortened the family’s surname from Chamberlain to Chamberlin to fit it on a grain sack. Guy Chamberlin soon grew up to be one of the first great football players from the state of Nebraska, playing both end and halfback. He played football first for Nebraska Wesleyan and later the University of Nebraska. He was named an All-American as a senior in 1915 and later spent 18 months in the Army during World War I.
Chamberlin played two years with the Chicago Bears from 1920-21. 1921 was the first year of an incredible string of success for Guy. As a starting end with the Chicago Bears, Chamberlin claimed his first NFL championship. He then moved on to the Canton Bulldogs in 1922, serving as the team’s player-coach. He notched seven touchdowns for the Bulldogs in 1922 while coaching the team to its first NFL championship.
Chamberlin led Canton to another NFL title in 1923 before the franchise relocated to Cleveland. Now as the coach of the Cleveland Bulldogs, Guy pulled off a three-peat, winning his third straight title with the Bulldogs and his fourth straight as a player. Despite the three straight NFL titles, the Bulldogs’ franchise disbanded, so Chamberlin took a job as the player-coach of the Frankford Yellow Jackets. It took a year for Guy to get that franchise up and running, but by 1926, the Jackets captured the NFL championship. It was Chamberlin’s fifth NFL title in six years.
Guy Chamberlin and Duke Slater
The Cardinals brought Guy Chamberlin to Chicago in 1927, hoping that he would continue his incredible string of success. Duke Slater spent his first full season with the Cardinals under Chamberlin’s tutelage, but unfortunately, Guy could not replicate the success he had elsewhere with Chicago. The Cards slumped to a 3-7-1 record, and Chamberlin retired from playing and coaching in the NFL after the 1927 season.
Although the team wasn’t successful on the field in terms of wins and losses, it was during this season that Slater became a fixture on the line for the Chicago Cardinals. Chamberlin inserted Slater into the Cardinals’ starting lineup in 1927 and gave him every chance to prove himself. This would be easy to overlook, but bear in mind that in 1927, Duke Slater was the only African-American in the entire NFL! Chamberlin certainly had the opportunity to relegate Slater to the bench or try to limit his time on the field, but Chamberlin was a competitor accustomed to winning championships. He plugged Slater into the starting lineup and kept him on the field for the entire season, and Duke rewarded his coach by performing at an all-pro level all year.
Chamberlin didn’t have the impact on Slater’s teams that Osborne, Jones, and Conzelman did, but he goes down as maybe the first great coach in NFL history. When he finished his time in football, Guy Chamberlin followed his father into farming. He was inducted into the College Football Hall of Fame in 1962 and the Pro Football Hall of Fame three years later.
Chamberlin’s time with Slater lasted just one season, but by the time that season ended, Duke Slater was a mainstay with the Cardinals franchise. The Cardinals would experience greater success a few years later when Ernie Nevers joined the club, and Slater had some tremendous moments with Nevers on the Cardinals at the end of his career. But without Chamberlin, he may have never had that opportunity. Maybe that’s not as noticeable as his five NFL championships, but that’s an admirable part of Guy Chamberlin’s legacy in pro football.
Filed under: Duke Slater
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