Elmer Francis Layden (May 4, 1903 – June 30, 1973) was an American football player, coach, college athletics administrator, and professional sports executive. He played college football at the University of Notre Dame where he starred at fullback as a member of the legendary "Four Horsemen" backfield. Layden played in the National Football League (NFL) in 1925 and 1926 with three different clubs, the Hartford Blues, theBrooklyn Horsemen, and the Rock Island Independents. He began his coaching career during the same two seasons at Columbia College in Dubuque, Iowa, now known as Loras College. Layden then served as the head coach at Duquesne University from 1927 to 1933 and at his alma mater, Notre Dame, from 1934 to 1940, where he also held the position of athletic director. From 1941 to 1946, Layden was the commissioner of the NFL. He was inducted into the College Football Hall of Fame as a player in 1951.
Layden was born in Davenport, Iowa, where he attended Davenport High School (now Davenport Central High School.) At Notre Dame, he played fullback alongside quarterback Harry Stuhldreher, left halfback Jim Crowley, and right halfback Don Miller; the four collectively earned the nickname of "The Four Horsemen of Notre Dame" from legendary sportswriter Grantland Rice, and are still considered one of the best backfields in college footballhistory. Named an All-American during his senior year, Layden culminated his collegiate career in the 1925 Rose Bowl against Stanford, returning two interceptions for touchdowns in Notre Dame's 27-10 victory. The Four Horsemen were reunited for a professional football game in 1925 by theWaterbury Blues as they played the Cleveland Bulldogs. The game though resulted in a 13-6 Hartford loss, with the Blues reportedly spending $5,000 on the Horsemen for just one game.
After his playing days, Layden was head football coach at Columbia College (Dubuque, Iowa) in 1925-26, where he compiled an 8-5-2 record. From 1927 to 1933 he was head coach at Duquesne University in Pittsburgh, going 48-16-6 and winning the 1933 season's Festival of Palms Bowl (a precursor to the Orange Bowl) on New Year's Day, 1934.
Also in 1934, he became head coach and athletic director at Notre Dame, a few years after his legendary mentor Knute Rockne was killed in aairplane crash. Layden led the Irish for seven years and posted an overall 47-13-3 docket. His 1935 squad posted one of the greatest wins in school history by rallying to defeat Ohio State 18-13. His 1938 team finished 8-1, losing only to USC in the season finale. This loss cost them a possible consensus national championship, but the team was named national champion by the Dickinson System.
Like Rockne before him, Layden was a goodwill ambassador for Notre Dame. He was able to schedule a home-and-home series with Michigan after meeting with Fielding H. Yost, healing a rift between the two schools. The two teams had not met since 1909, when, after eight straight losses to the Wolverines, the Irish posted their first win. They were scheduled to meet again in 1910, but Michigan canceled the game and refused to play the Irish again. By the time they met again in 1942-43, Layden had left Notre Dame and Frank Leahy had taken his place. Unlike the easygoing Layden, Leahy was intense, and after the Irish had thrashed Michigan by a score of 35-12 in 1943, Wolverine coach and athletic director Fritz Crisler never scheduled the Irish again.
While Layden was a solid, competent coach, he was subjected to criticism during his later years at Notre Dame. Critics felt that his teams played too conservatively and lacked scoring punch. Consequently it was felt that they lost games they should have won.
Arch Ward, a journalist for the Chicago Tribune, was offered the position of commissioner of the NFL in 1940 and 1941, but he turned it down both times. After his second refusal, Ward suggested Layden for the position and Layden was given the job by some of the owners. To some it seemed as Ward had dictated the hiring of Layden and Mara, Bell, and Marshall were resentful. Nevertheless, Layden left Notre Dame in February 1941 to become Commissioner of the NFL, a post that was renamed upon his taking the job - previous heads of the league were called "presidents". He was the first commissioner/president to have not been a founding member of the league. In five years as Commissioner, Layden saw the NFL through the World War IIyears, in which teams had to use many men of inferior abilities as replacements while most of the regulars were fighting in the war (as did Major League Baseball). During this period a few teams temporarily merged due to lack of manpower, most notably the Pittsburgh Steelers with the Philadelphia Eagles (who were nicknamed the Steagles). The Cleveland Rams ceased operations for the 1943 season.
As NFL commissioner, Layden had once conducted an investigation into a betting scam, without advising the owners, which did not reveal any conspiracy.
Layden's tenure as NFL commissioner came to an end in January 1946. After Brooklyn owner Dan Topping withdrew his team from the league to join the new All-America Football Conference, the remaining owners agreed not to renew Layden's contract, feeling that he was too much of a gentleman and not forceful enough. Layden was succeeded by Bert Bell.