|Date of birth||April 21, 1898|
|Place of birth||Cleo Springs, Oklahoma|
|Date of death||May 17, 1964(aged 66)|
|— No. N/A|
|Coaching stats||Pro Football Reference|
|Career player statistics (if any)|
|More stats at:|
|Playing stats||Pro Football Reference|
|Team(s) as a player (if any)|
|Team(s) as a coach/administrator (if any)|
| New York Giants|
Toronto Argonauts (CFL)
Calgary Stampeders (CFL)
Saskatchewan Roughriders (CFL)
Syracuse Stormers (UFL)
|Pro Football Hall of Fame, 1966|
Stephen Joseph Owen (April 21, 1898 – May 17, 1964) was an American football player and coach who earned a place in the Pro Football Hall of Fame as head coach of the National Football League's New York Giants from 1930 to 1953. Owen's skill at designing defenses, his fundamental approach to the game, and his innovative "A Formation," a variation on the single-wing, also helped his offenses thrive and served as the keys to his success. His tenure is remembered today by the odd congruence of his gravelly voice and easy disposition, as well as his perpetual tobacco chewing.
Owen was born and raised in a Native American area of the Oklahoma Territory, where his original goal was to become a jockey, a dream denied by his 5-11, 230 pound frame that earned him the nickname, "Stout Steve." In addition to working on a cattle ranch, Owen attended Phillips University in Enid, Oklahoma where he was an all-around athlete for two years beginning in 1917. Adding to his income during this period, he wrestled professionally under the name "Jack O'Brien," a ruse that allowed him to preserve his amateur status.
Owen served in the U.S. Army training corps, then returned to coach one year at Phillips before accepting a position in the oil fields of the southwestern United States. In 1924, he began playing football professionally, earning $50 a game for the NFL's Kansas City Cowboys, who played all their games on the road, and after splitting time the following year between the Cowboys and the Cleveland Bulldogs, he was sold in 1926 to the Giants for $500, joining his brother Bill in New York. After initially trying to get a cut of the purchase price from Cowboys coach Leroy Andrews, he later said of the sale:
I had seen a lot of fat hogs go for more than they paid for me. But in those
days a fat hog was a lot more valuable than a fat tackle. I was going to New
York even if I had to walk there.
By 1930, Owen had become a player-coach, splitting the duties for the final two games of the season with another future Hall of Famer Benny Friedman. The 2-0 finish was a hint that Owen would enjoy success when he became sole head coach the following season, accepting the position under a unique arrangement—he never signed a contract, but had a handshake agreement with the Mara family. He retired as a player following the 1931 NFL season, but briefly came back in 1933, helping the team to an 11-3 record and a berth in the title game, the first of eight appearances the Giants would make during his tenure.
The team slipped to 8-5 during the 1934 campaign, but managed to garner a spot in the NFL Championship game. Facing the 13-0 Chicago Bears, the Giants entered the game as huge underdogs and trailed 13-3 at halftime. The icy conditions and nine-degree weather then forced an adjustment that became a memorable part of National Football League lore as New York's players donned sneakers and proceeded to run off 27 unanswered points for a 30-13 victory and the team's first title. More than seven decades later, the contest is still remembered as, "The Sneakers Game."
Despite the institution of the NFL Draft due to the continued dominance of the Bears and Giants, the Giants returned to the championship game in 1935, then went on to win their final title under Owen in 1938. In the latter contest, the Giants defeated the Green Bay Packers 23-17, despite being outgained in yardage, 379-208, using two blocked punts to collect nine points. New York made four more appearances in the title clash, but never again would be champion under Owen.
In 1950, the Giants faced a powerful new foe with the arrival of the All-America Football Conference champion Cleveland Browns. Despite finishing runnerup in each of the next three seasons, Owen's "Umbrella Defense" that shut down passing attacks made life miserable for the Browns as New York won four of their six regular season meetings, while dropping an 8-3 defensive playoff struggle during the first year.
After the Giants slipped to 3-9 in 1953, Owen announced his retirement as head coach of the Giants and put in charge of the team's scouting department, ending his 23+ seasons with a record of 150-99-17. After one year away from the sidelines, Owen helped both the University of South Carolina and Baylor University during the spring practice, then accepted an assistant's role with the latter school on July 18, 1955.
Just weeks after the end of the 1955 NFL season, the Philadelphia Eagles hired Hugh Devore as head coach, then added Owen as an assistant soon after. Two seasons of struggling in Philadelphia resulted in the entire coaching staff's dismissal, with Owen eventually returning to the coaching ranks as interim head coach of the Canadian Football League's Toronto Argonauts on September 21, 1959.
The Argonauts declined Owen's application to be full-time coach for the 1960 season, but retained him as a scout and advisor. He was hired by the league's Calgary Stampeders on August 23, 1960 to be interim head coach, again finishing up the year before being replaced. On December 29 of that year, he was named head coach of the Saskatchewan Roughriders, a team that had won just once during the previous campaign. Owen's 1961 team nearly reached the playoffs, then competed in them the following year and earned CFL Coach of the Year accolades. However, after suffering a heart attack that year, Owen announced his resignation on January 6, 1963.
Not able to stay away from the sport, Owen was hired as head coach of the United Football League's Syracuse Stormers on March 20, 1963, but then was again named a scout for the Giants that November. Unfortunately, the latter position would last only a short while when he suffered a cerebral hemorrhage. After eight days of lying in critical condition, he died on May 17, 1964.
- Gottehrer, Barry. The Giants of New York, the history of professional football's most fabulous dynasty. New York, G. P. Putnam's Sons, 1963 OCLC 1356301
- Pro Football Hall of Fame: Member profile
- Hogrogian, John (1982). "The Hartford Blues Part I". Coffin Corner (Professional Football Researchers Association) 4 (8): 1–5. http://www.profootballresearchers.org/Coffin_Corner/04-08-107.pdf.