Nelson Norgren (September 10, 1891, in Chicago – December 31, 1974, in Mill Valley, CA) was one of basketball’s first star players in the 1900s and a long-time coach of the college game. He led the University of Utah to a national AAU championship in 1916, and coached at the University of Chicago from 1921 to 1957.
Norgren was a four-sports star at North Division High School in Chicago, graduating in 1910. He also competed in a basketball church league for the New England Congregational Church. He went to the University of Chicago, where he excelled in football, basketball, track, and baseball, winning 12 letters and making all-American in football. He captained the Big Ten conference football champions in 1913. Nelson retroactively was made 1914 All American by the Helms Foundation for his basketball achievements that year.
Upon graduation in 1914, Nelson served as athletic director and basketball coach at the University of Utah, in Salt Lake City, and led that team to the AAU national championship in Chicago, in 1916, barely beating the Illinois Athletic Club, 28-27. The following year, his team was beaten by Brigham Young University, but he took a leave of absence from Utah to coach Brigham Young in the 1917 AAU tournament. He led the team to second place, losing to the Illinois Athletic Club team, 27-14.
Norgren left the University of Utah when the United States entered World War I, and fought as an Army flier.
In 1921, Norgren was named by Amos Alonzo Stagg as his assistant football coach and the school’s basketball coach. His best season was in 1924, when he won eight of 12 Big Ten games and shared the league title with University of Illinois and University of Wisconsin.
Norgren was also given responsibility of managing the Chicago-sponsored National Interscholastic Basketball Tournament. In that position, he incurred the wrath of the black community, when in 1930 he barred the Phillips High champions of the Chicago Public High School League from the tournament. He did this to appease the teams from South, whose participation the tournament was needed for survival. With a rising tide of opposition to university-sponsored national tournaments, however, the University of Chicago cancelled the national tournament after 1930. Norgren then managed a university-sponsored Chicago area tournament for the next decade.
In 1942, Norgren was elected president of the National Association of Basketball Coaches. He stepped down from coaching the University of Chicago in 1942, to enter World War II as an Army captain. Fifteen months later he returned to the school as a major and resumed his position as coach. Norgren retired as coach in 1957.
As a football player, Norgren was named to Walter Camp’s All-American teams in 1912 and 1913. As a basketball player, Norgren was enshrined in the Helms Athletic Foundation Hall of Fame. He is also a member of the University of Chicago Hall of Fame.