Born 1898, in Harrisburg, Pennsylvania, William Glenn Killinger was the youngest of three children (brother Earl and sister Elizabeth) to hardware store owners William and Florence Killinger. His childhood was relatively secure while growing up in the family’s S. 13th Street home. He first attended Harrisburg Technical School on Walnut Street before enrolling at The Pennsylvania State College to major in metallurgical engineering.
Today, "Killy" is known most for his contributions in the sports world. However, there was no sign that young Killinger was destined to become a Walter Camp First Team All-American football player, and one of the country’s most successful baseball and football coaches. Nicknamed “Shrimp” and “Glenny” in high school, Killinger, 5' 6", 130-pounds, spent more time on "scrub teams" (today version of junior varsity), rarely able to experience the excitement of the varsity level on Harrisburg Tech's football and basketball teams. Killinger's doggedness is the only reason why his high school coach allowed him on his 1915 football team. Killinger started only one game at quarterback as a senior at Tech. The remaining games he played behind a sophomore.
Too young for the draft and not allowed by his parents to enlist in the American Expeditionary Force during World War I, he enrolled as a metallurgical engineer major at The Pennsylvania State College in September 1917. He considered himself too small to play football, but made the freshman basketball team that winter and was a reserve on the baseball team that spring. His first two years at Penn State were beset by classmates being shipped off to fight in the Great War. The Spanish Influenza pandemic also caused great fear among the community at State College. Nevertheless, he returned to Penn State in September 1918 and enrolled in the Student Army Training Corps. Since every football player from the 1917 team had either graduated or was serving the country in some capacity, Killinger became a contributor on the varsity football team. Penn State played just four games in 1918. They earned a 1-2-1 record. In 1919, Killinger's role on the football team was reduced to that of a substitute.
By 1920, however, he had grown to 5' 10", 173-pounds, and was excelling in the three major sports. His coach at Penn State was legend Hugo Bezdek, who was able to bring out the best in the undersized and usually overlooked athlete. Killinger quarterbacked the Nittany Lions to two consecutive undefeated seasons in 1920 and 1921. The 1921 Nittany Lions finished the season ranked 3rd in the nation behind Notre Dame and Iowa, and was picked by sportswriters as the best team in the East. Killy also played infield on Penn State’s best baseball team of the era. "He is not a husky person, but can hit the line hard and is a great open-field runner," said the Philadelphia Evening Public Ledger about Killinger on November 14, 1921. "He is an ideal combination man, and it was he who brought victory to Penn State."
A lot happened to Killinger in the month after his senior football season. In December 1921, Killinger played professional football for the Canton Bulldogs and the Philadelphia Quakers. He was selected to twelve national press writers' All-American teams, most important of which was Walter Camp's team. He signed a contract with the Eastern Basketball League's Coatesville Coates. Killinger found time to coach Penn State's freshmen basketball team while finishing classes (he graduated from Penn State on January 31, 1922). With help from Coach Bezdek, Killy also began discussions with a dozen Major League Baseball teams.
On Christmas Day in 1921, Killinger accepted a respectable one-year contract with the New York Yankees, where he tried out along side Babe Ruth. In March 1922, he traveled with the club to spring training in New Orleans, but quickly proved to be a bust in the majors. Killinger only spent one month with the Yankees before he was sent to play for the organization’s farm team in Jersey City, and later Atlanta. "The greatest weakness of Killinger is at the bat," reported the Chicago Eagle on June 3, 1922. "It doesn't seem as if he would ever be able to hit major league pitching."
Killinger resigned himself to the realization that he may not make it in the big league. As early as March 4, 1922, he admitted to a Washington Times reporter that he preferred football over baseball. "I like to play baseball and will try my best to succeed in this business, but I must admit that I can't get as much thrill out of baseball as football," he said. Preferring the physical contact that football offers and intrigued by the complexity of figuring out gridiron plays, he said, "If I find out after a year or so that I am not a big leaguer I will get into some other business." He left baseball in August 1922 to accept a head football coaching job at Dickinson College in Carlisle, Pennsylvania.
In 1923, Killinger met a dietitian named Wilda Holtzworth, an employee at Carlisle General Hospital. They married at St. James' Lutheran Church in Gettysburg, Pennsylvania on August 25, 1923. A year later he returned to Penn State to be the athletic director, and serve as the head baseball coach and assist Bezdek as a member of the football staff. He remained at Penn State until 1926.
During and after his tenure at Penn State, he spent the summer months playing minor league baseball in the New York-Pennsylvania League. In 1924, he served as player-manager of the Harrisburg Senators. In 1925, he carried the same duties with the Williamsport Grays. In 1926, Killinger worked as player-manager of the Allentown Indians. He returned to Harrisburg in the summer of 1927 to play second base for the Senators. His ball club won the Nypen league pennant that year. He stayed with the Senators in 1928, serving the role as player-manager again. The Senators repeated as Nypen pennant winners. He relocated one last time back to Williamsport for the 1929-1931 seasons. His final summer playing minor league baseball was 1931.
After he resigned as Penn State's athletic director, Killinger then spent time as the head football coach at Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute, Moravian College, and West Chester State Teachers College.
America’s entry into World War II prompted Killinger to enlist in the U. S. Naval Department’s pilot program. He was first stationed at the North Carolina Naval Pre-Flight School in Chapel Hill with orders to supervise the construction of new naval facilities on the University of North Carolina's campus. He was also assigned to coach football and baseball. His assistant coach on his 1944 team that upset the nation's top ranked team Navy was Paul “Bear” Bryant. When deployed for a short time in 1943, he was assigned to be a deck officer aboard the U.S.S. Essex.
Killinger immediately returned to West Chester after the war. He coached football there until 1959. He never had a losing season at West Chester, winning 146, losing 39, and tying 12. He coached four undefeated and untied teams (1945, 1947, 1952, and 1957), took four teams to bowl games, and won six PSAC titles. He also coached baseball there until 1970, winning 340 games and losing 167. Throughout his 32 years as manager of the baseball team, Killy only had one losing season. He also coached basketball four seasons at West Chester (1935-38, and 1945). By 1965, people on campus started to call his disciplined and consistently overachieving athletes "Killingermen," which is perhaps the perfect tribute to the kind of respect people felt for him.
Killinger became an institution at West Chester. Before his retirement, Killinger wrote a book about the fundamentals of football, worked as Dean of Men, Athletic Director, Health and Physical Education professor, and advisor to organizations like the Veterans Association and resident life. In 1968, a dormitory was named after him. He has been inducted into the College Football Hall of Fame, the Penn State Athletic Hall of Fame, and the Pennsylvania Sports Hall of Fame. The W. Glenn Killinger Foundation was formed in his honor at West Chester in 1979. Killinger is buried with his wife, Wilda, at Evergreen Cemetery, Gettysburg, Pennsylvania.