John Whelchel

John Esten "Billick" Whelchel (April 1, 1898 – November 5, 1973) was a decorated officer in the United States Navy with the rank of Vice Admiral, American football player, coach, and college athletics administrator. He served as the head football coach at the United States Naval Academy from 1942 to 1943, compiling a record of 13–5. In 1949, he was the head coach for the National Football League's Washington Redskins, tallying a mark of 3–3–1.

John Esten Whelchel
John Esten Whelchel.jpg
Born(1898-04-01)April 1, 1898
Hogansville, Georgia
DiedNovember 5, 1973(1973-11-05) (aged 75)
Portsmouth, Virginia
Allegiance United States of America
Service/branchUnited States Department of the Navy Seal.svg United States Navy
Years of service1916–1949
RankUS-O9 insignia.svg Vice Admiral
Commands heldSan Francisco (CA-38)
McCall (DD-400)
Battles/warsWorld War I
World War II
AwardsLegion of Merit (2)
Bronze Star Medal

Early lifeEdit

Whelchel was born on April 1, 1898 in Hogansville, Georgia, but he spent his childhood in Washington, D.C., where he was interested in athletics. Whelchel attended the United States Naval Academy in Annapolis, Maryland and graduated in 1919. During his studies at Academy, he also served in European water during World War I as a midshipman.

Navy coaching careerEdit

Upon his return to the United States and graduation, Whelchel was assigned to the football coaching staff. He served there until 1927, when he was transferred to the battleship USS Florida. He also coached their football squad. In 1930, his next service assignment was Norfolk Naval Shipyard, where he became coach of the local Navy football team. Subsequently, coached football team on the board of USS Idaho.

On June 22, 1938, now Lieutenant Commander Whelchel was appointed a Commanding Officer of newly commissioned Destroyer McCall (DD-400). McCall was assigned to the patrol duty in the Pacific and Whelchel spent next two years at sea with Destroyer Squadron Six, Battle Force, under the command of Freeland A. Daubin. He was finally succeeded by Lieutenant Commander Edwin G. Fullinwider on June 15, 1940.

Whelchel returned to the Naval Academy in 1941, where he became backfield coach of local football team. Next year he succeeded main coach Swede Larson. Whelchel led the Navy team to a 5–4 record in season 1942 and an 8–1 record. He also won the Lambert Trophy in season 1943.

Sea duties during World War IIEdit

Commissioning ceremony of destroyer USS McCall at Mare Island Navy Yard in June 1938. Captain James L. Kauffman, Captain of the Yard (left) with Rear Admiral David W. Bagley (center), Commandant of the Yard and Whelchel, new commanding officer of McCall.

Whelchel was transferred to the Pacific Theater in 1944 and subsequently took command of heavy cruiser USS San Francisco on March 10, 1945, where he succeeded another American football player Harvey Overesch. Whelchel commanded that ship during the Battle of Okinawa and was subsequently awarded with Legion of Merit with "V" Device and Bronze Star Medal for his leadership of the ship.[1]

Whelchel continued in command of the USS San Francisco and sailed toward the Philippines to prepare for an invasion of the Japanese home islands. The cessation of hostilities in mid-August, ceased any combat operations, and Whelchel began to prepare San Francisco for occupation duty.

During August 1945, Whelchel commanded the ship during the show of force in the Yellow Sea and Gulf of Pohai areas and subsequently covered minesweeping operations.

On 27 November 1945, USS San Francisco was ordered back to the United States, arriving at San Francisco in the middle of December. Then Whelchel commanded the ship to the East coast, where she arrived at Philadelphia for inactivation on 19 January 1946. Whelchel was subsequently assigned to the Naval Station Pearl Harbor and promoted to the rank of Rear admiral in 1947. He also received his second Legion of Merit during this assignment.[2]

Washington RedskinsEdit

In 1948 the owner and president of the Washington Redskins of the National Football League, George Preston Marshall became unhappy with the work of Redskins head coach Turk Edwards. He offered the positions of head coach to Whelchel, who was still on active duty with the Navy.

Upon permission to retire from the Navy Secretary of the Navy, John L. Sullivan, Whelchel finally retired from the active service in 1949. Upon his retirement from the Navy, Whelchel was advanced to the rank of Vice admiral on the basis of combat citations.

Sammy Baugh, Redskins quarterback, described Whelchel in Myron Cope's book, The Game that was:

Marshall thought the admiral would put a lot of discipline in the ball club. Well he showed up, and he looked like anything but an admiral. He was just a kind of average-looking guy, not very impressive. And the funny thing was, he turned out to be a real nice fellow. All the player liked him, although he wasn't as up on his football as he should have been.[3]

Another Washington Redskins player, John Koniszewski, described his experiences with Whelchel at training camp:

He's using psychology on us, and I like it. Take that first day of camp, for example, when he let us play tough football and left us completely alone. We did more work than we would have done with routine stuff.[4]

Whelchel's Redskins opened the 1949 season with a 38–7 loss to the Chicago Cardinals. Spending only seven games with the Redskins, Whelchel was dismissed by Marshall after a game against the Pittsburgh Steelers. Before his final game, Whelchel told his players:

Gentlemen, this is my last game as coach of the Redskins. You are a fine group of men and a good football team. I wish you all success in the world in your future games. Washington will be proud of you." After a pause, he added: "I'd like to win this last game."[5]

The Redskins beat the Steelers, 27–14. Whelchel's record with the Redskins was 3–3–1. He was replaced by his assistant, Herman Ball. The Redskins finished the 1949 season with a record of 4–7–1.[6]

Later lifeEdit

After his dismissal from Redskins Whelchel worked in real estate and then in farming. Vice admiral John Esten Whelchel died on November 5, 1973 in Portsmouth, Virginia at the age of 75. He was buried together with his both wives Virginia D. Hoover Whelchel (1897 - 1941) and Marion Payne Whelchel (1900 - 1980) at Arlington National Cemetery. He also had a son from his first marriage with Virginia D. Hoover, John Esten Whelchel, Jr. (1935 - 2008).[7]

Wartime decorationsEdit

Here is the ribbon bar of Vice admiral John E. Whelchel:

1st Row Legion of Merit with Gold Star and "V" Device
2nd Row Bronze Star Medal World War I Victory Medal with Atlantic Fleet Clasp China Service Medal
3rd Row American Defense Service Medal with Base Clasp American Campaign Medal Asiatic Pacific Campaign Medal with two service stars
4th Row World War II Victory Medal Navy Occupation Service Medal Philippine Liberation Medal

Head coaching recordEdit


Year Team Overall Conference Standing Bowl/playoffs AP#
Navy Midshipmen (Independent) (1942–1943)
1942 Navy 5–4
1943 Navy 8–1 4
Navy: 13–5
Total: 13–5


  1. ^ Maxymuk, John (2012). NFL Head Coaches: A Biographical Dictionary, 1920–2011. Jefferson, North Carolina: McFarland & Company. p. 337. ISBN 978-0-7864-6557-6. Retrieved April 2, 2010.
  2. ^ "Valor Awards for John Esten Whelchel". July 4, 2010. Retrieved December 27, 2015.
  3. ^ Maxymuk, John (2012). NFL Head Coaches: A Biographical Dictionary, 1920–2011. Jefferson, North Carolina: McFarland & Company. p. 337. ISBN 978-0-7864-6557-6. Retrieved April 2, 2010.
  4. ^ Richman, Michael (2008). The Redskins Encyclopedia. Philadelphia, Pennsylvania: Temple University Press. p. 35. ISBN 978-1-59213-542-4. Retrieved April 2, 2010.
  5. ^ Maxymuk, John (2012). NFL Head Coaches: A Biographical Dictionary, 1920–2011. Jefferson, North Carolina: McFarland & Company. p. 338. ISBN 978-0-7864-6557-6. Retrieved April 2, 2010.
  6. ^ Elfin, David (2011). Washington Redskines, The Complete illustrated history. Minneapolis, Minnesota: Quarto Group. p. 45. ISBN 978-0-7603-4072-1. Retrieved April 2, 2010.
  7. ^ "John Esten "Billick" Whelchel, Sr (1898 - 1973) - Find a Grave Memorial". July 4, 2010. Retrieved December 27, 2015.

External linksEdit