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The untimely death of CSU's first football coach William Forbes

Ram Alumni Athletes Association

By John Hirn
CSU Athletics Historian

There have been 22 head football coaches at Colorado State University since 1899 and we know a lot about most of them. Prior to 1995, the first coach in school history, W. J. Forbes, had been completely lost in time along with Matt Rothwell and George Cassidy. Research for the bookAggies to Ramsuncovered these three men who school records had never recorded.

Through continued historical research, information has been uncovered to tell us a very interesting and sad story about the first man to coach football, or any other sport, at CSU. Research from 1995 only gave us his name and the school he graduated from, but recently his story has been uncovered to show why William J. Forbes only coached one season of football at Colorado Agricultural College in 1899.

When the students decided to bring athletics back to the campus after a five-year hiatus, they felt it was important to hire a football coach rather than assume students could guide themselves.

In September of 1899, William James Forbes, a 25-year-old graduate from the class of 1898 at Vermont University stepped into the role as the school's first head football coach.

Forbes, born Aug. 24, 1874 in Shoreham, Vermont had arrived in Colorado in April of 1899 partly because he suffered from tuberculosis. Forbes had been an athlete at Vermont and learned of the new opening at the State Agricultural College of Colorado and took the position for the sum of $25. (The equivalent of $715 today.)

Forbes is said to have been a very likeable coach who made many friends in his short time in Fort Collins. His team went 0-2-1 in the 1899 season and he was at the helm in the infamous Thanksgiving Day Wyoming game that ended in a forfeit and bad blood between the two border school's first meeting.

After the football season, Forbes took a job at the Carl Murray Clothing Company in Fort Collins to help get him through the off-season. All signs indicated that Forbes would return to coach the Aggies team for the 1900 football season.

On the afternoon of June 18, 1900, Forbes and his friend Enoch Millls took a trip to Loveland to watch the fire hose team drill for the upcoming tournament July 4th tournament in Cripple Creek. A hose team is a group of men who pull the hose cart for the local fire department to the fire in the town. Annual contests were held to see which team could pull their 900lb hose cart, without flaw to a fire and get the hose out to fight a fire the fastest. Today fire departments still compete in similar events nationwide. Rather than horses pulling the two-wheeled cart, it was a group of about six to eight men that would run and pull the cart into position so they could hook up to a fire hydrant.

On this June day, Forbes had intended to be a spectator, but when the team was short by one man he decided to volunteer and stand in for the missing man. Forbes took off his jacket and vest, but without proper running shoes still wanted to run.

The men ran down 4th street for 50 yards twice with no problems, but on the third run Forbes slipped and fell to the ground in front of Galligan's Grocery Store at the corner of 4th and Cleveland. When Forbes fell, one of the large wheels of the 900-lb cart struck him on the small of the back and he was severely injured. He was taken to Dr. Sutherland's hospital and died 30 minutes after the accident.

At the age of 25, William Forbes had been killed in a freak accident and his brilliant future as coach of the Colorado Aggies football team died with him.

Since both of his parents had already passed away, Forbes' sister and uncle requested that his remains be sent back to Vermont for burial with his family.

Since 1900, no other CSU football coach has died while still employed with the school, however, gymnastics coach Joe Tobiska passed away in 1956 while still at the helm of the Colorado A&M tumbling team.

In the fall of 1900, George Toomey took over as head coach of Aggies football, but no Collegian from 1900 or 1901 explains why. It is interesting to note that Forbes' name had been seemingly erased from existence until it was rediscovered in 1995, but today we now know why William Forbes only lasted one year as our first football coach.

The Fort Collins Museum Archives staff helped contribute research for this story.

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