Football was first played on the Cal Poly campus in 1916. At that time, Cal Poly was a vocational school as it did not become a four year college until 1941.
1915 Through the 1940s
The California Polytechnic School played mostly high school teams and college freshmen teams for its first 16 seasons. In 1933, Mustangs enjoyed their first undefeated season under coach Howie O'Daniels. During the 1933 campaign, The Mustangs did not allow a single point during that season. Cal Poly officially became a four-year school in 1941 and posted a 5-3-1 record under Coach O'Daniels. Football was put to a halt during World War II ('43 and '44) and resumed in 1945.
Under coach Roy Hughes, Cal Poly experienced its second undefeated season in 1953. In the decade of the 1950s, the Mustangs posted a record of 67-29-1. During this decade, future NFL Hall of Fame inductee, John Madden play for the Green and Gold and was known as a bruising tackle. Upon graduation, Madden was drafted by the Philadelphia Eagles. Joining Madden on the Cal Poly squad was quarterback and defensive back, Bobby Beathard, who would later gain NFL fame as the architect and general manager responsible for building the Washington Redskins and San Diego Chargers respectively into Super Bowl winning and contending teams.
Tragedy struck in 1960 following a game at Bowling Green State University on Saturday, October 29, 1960 when a plane leaving Toledo Airport crashed killing 22 people. This included 16 Mustang football players and the team manager. The next seven seasons produced a 22-45 record. Then Joe Harper was hired in 1968 and produced a 7-3 and 6-4 season to end the decade.
1980 would be one of the most memorable seasons for the Cal Poly Mustangs as they went on to win the NCAA Division II National Football Championship under coach Joe Harper. Cal Poly defeated Eastern Illinois in the championship game and would finish the season with a 10-3 record that included a win over D-IAA national champion, Boise State. Never before or since has a D-II team defeated the eventual D-IAA national champion and won a D-II national title in the same year.
The winning continued in the 90s and in 1990, coach Lyle Setencich would lead the Mustangs to another playoff appearance before losing in the second round to North Dakota State. In 1994, Cal Poly would make the jump to Division I-AA (now FCS) football with coach Andre Patterson at the helm. The Mustangs would see instant success posting a 7-4 record. In 1997, Larry Welsh took over the program and led the Mustangs to a 10-1 record and a national ranking of 16. However, the team was not extended an invitation to the national playoffs. Larry Welsh would follow that season with 3 3-8 seasons.