Robert H. Odell

March 5, 1922December 15, 2012

Robert H Odell All American Football player, Award winning coach, Mentor, Father and Inspiration

Robert H Odell, 90, All American football player for the University of Pennsylvania in the 1940s, and head football coach at Bucknell University, University of Pennsylvania and Williams College (Massachusetts), died Saturday, December 15. Coach Odell graduated from East High School in Sioux City, Iowa, where he was All-State in Football and Track. He then traveled to the University of Pennsylvania on a freight train in 1939 to begin a stellar career at Penn, culminating in All American honors, the 1943 Maxwell Award for best all round college football player, and being named first runner-up for the Heisman Trophy in 1943. After a tour in the Navy, Coach Odell was drafted by the Pittsburg Steelers. However, an injured knee set him on the path of coaching and it proved to be his destiny for 40 years. He began his coaching career at Yale University, and was recruited as Backfield Coach for the University of Wisconsin in the late 1940’s. In 1957, he was hired to be Head Football Coach at Bucknell University, gaining the nod over 167 other candidates that included Joe Paterno and Chuck Knox. Establishing his signature quick passing offense and ferocious defenses, Odell led the Bison to become an eastern powerhouse, and Bucknell was twice awarded the Lambert Cup, symbolic of eastern small college supremacy. His success led to a call from his alma mater and, in 1965, he accepted the position as Head Football Coach at Penn. After turning that program around, Coach Odell settled in at Williams College, where he coached for 17 years. Williams became a perennial Division III leader, and he led the Ephs to numerous “Little Three” titles. He was named New England Small College Coach of the Year and was inducted into the College Football Hall of Fame in 1995. Even more impressive than his resume, however, was the magnetism of Bob Odell's character and charisma that touched and helped transform so many young men's lives over the course of the 20th Century. In a sport that too often glorifies ego-driven, win-at- any-cost attitudes, Bob Odell stood apart and above, embodying the word "sportsmanship." He was a humble and gracious man who did not swear, would never cheat, but believed in clean, hard, fair play, so that his players always ran off the Gridiron with their heads held high. Bob Odell made every player believe he was better than he'd ever known, and every team believed it had the potential for greatness. By the time his players completed their collegiate experience, they had the confidence that, in life, as in their games, they could prevail and "win the tough ones in the 4th quarter." Odell's amazing life was a statement of his values -- his courage, optimism, integrity, generosity and his unbreakable will. On the occasion of his 90th birthday last March, he received hundreds of letters from fellow coaches, players, and colleagues, all of whom reflected upon his truly remarkable, honorable and meaningful life. Mr. Odell is survived by his wife of 67 years, Jane Davis Odell, of West Chester, PA and three children: his son Dr. Robert Harper Odell, Jr. and his wife Suzanne, of Las Vegas, NV; and two daughters, Nancy Odell McMullen, and her husband Jim, of Berwyn, PA; and Cynthia Odell McEtchin, and her husband Douglas, of Pleasanton, CA. He is also survived by three beloved grandchildren, Lindsey Kristine McMullen and her fiancé Travis Myernick of Lawrenceville, NJ; Kelly Anne McEtchin of San Diego, CA; and Scott Joseph McEtchin of Santa Barbara, CA. Also surviving is his sister Helen Odell Fleming of Richmond, VA and numerous nieces and nephews. A memorial service will be held at Alleva Funeral Home, 1724 E Lancaster Avenue, Paoli, PA at 11:00 am with visitation from 10:00 to 11:00 am and a reception following at Landmark Americana Restaurant located at 629 Lancaster Avenue, Wayne, PA on Saturday January 12th at 12:30 pm. We will love him and miss him forever!


  • Visitation Saturday, January 12, 2013
  • Memorial Service Saturday, January 12, 2013

Robert H. Odell

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Rick Gleeson

January 5, 2013

Coach Odell was a gentleman amongst gentlemen. He receives the highest compliment that I am able to give anyone,that of being a "top one percenter".