Lambeau attended Whitney Grammar School and Green Bay East High School, from which he graduated in 1918. Lambeau received a football scholarship to Notre Dame University in 1918.
Football was Lambeau's consuming passion since his youth. In 1916 he led Green Bay's East High School to a 7-0 victory over its arch rival, West High. The next year he became the unofficial coach of East's team after the regular coach entered the armed forces. While at the university, he played for legendary coach Knute Rockne, making the Irish's varsity squad. After the end of the season he came down with tonsillitis. He went home to Green Bay and began to work for the Indian Packing Company.
In 1919, Lambeau and several men with whom he had played football in high school, plus a few former college players from the Green Bay area, organized a semiprofessional team. The team was named the Packers after the Indian Packing Company, which contributed $500 for uniforms and allowed the team to use its grounds for practice.
Lambeau served as the coach, general manager, personnel director, ticket manager, captain, and runner and passer. "We just wanted to play for the love of football, " he later recalled. "We agreed to split any money we got and each man was to pay for his own doctor bills. " Lambeau made $16. 75 that first year. The team won ten of eleven games against other semiprofessional teams in the Wisconsin area.
In 1921 the Packers entered the American Professional Football Association, the forerunner of the National Football League (NFL). During the early 1920's Lambeau was also coach of Green Bay's East High football team. One of his players, Jim Crowley, later became one of the fabled "Four Horsemen" of Notre Dame. From 1922 through 1928 the Packers won forty-six games, lost twenty-three, and tied eleven.
The team's success was due in large part to Lambeau's imaginative and demanding coaching. He was the first professional coach to hold practice daily. He was also one of the first to show game films at practice. At a time when other teams passed sparingly or not at all, Lambeau made passing an integral part of the Packers' offense. Because of this emphasis the Packers were generally the most interesting and exciting team to watch in the NFL. Lambeau was a shrewd judge of talent during a period when professional teams did not have extensive scouting systems. He frequently signed future stars who had been passed over by other teams for being too short or too light. Ruthless, temperamental, and a perfectionist, Lambeau drove his players unmercifully. But he also stressed the importance of "enthusiasm, " and the Packers came to be known as "the pro team with the college spirit. " In 1929 the Packers won the first of three consecutive league championships, a feat not duplicated until 1965, 1966, and 1967 under Vince Lombardi's coaching.
Although the Packers continued to have winning seasons after 1931, they did not win another league championship until 1936. In 1938 they lost the title game to the New York Giants. The next year the Packers thrashed the Giants 27-0 for Lambeau's fifth league championship. In 1944 the Packers again defeated the Giants in the title game.
The fortunes of the Packers declined precipitously after World War II. The 1948 team won only three games; the 1949 team, only two--the worst record in Packers history. Not being a wealthy franchise, the Packers were unable to compete for players with the All-America Conference. Lambeau was no longer willing to devote all his time to coaching.
He spent long periods on a ranch he had purchased in southern California and began to associate with movie personalities. Critics back in Green Bay began calling him "the Earl of Hollywood. " His lack of success on the field exacerbated Lambeau's relations with the Packers' executive committee. During the 1920's and 1930's he had had complete power to determine club policies, hire and fire personnel, and negotiate salaries.
After the war, though, the executive committee became increasingly disturbed by Lambeau's high operating expenses, his long absences from Green Bay, the decline in home attendance, and the team's poor record. Lambeau wanted very much to be named the Packers' president, but the executive committee, instead of expanding his authority, stripped him in 1947 of much of his power. Differences over policy soon led to bitter clashes between Lambeau and key members of the committee.
He resigned briefly during the 1949 season, returned to coaching, and then was given a new two-year contract in December 1949. But the new contract did not restore any of his former powers and contained a clause requiring him to spend more time in Green Bay. In February 1950 Lambeau resigned from the Packers to become coach and vice-president of the Chicago Cardinals. Thus ended the longest uninterrupted coaching tenure in professional football history.
During Lambeau's two seasons in Chicago, the Cardinals won only eight games and lost sixteen. Under fire from management, he resigned in December 1951. He accused the Cardinals' front office of second-guessing him and undermining his authority, while management charged he had lost control over his players and assistants.
The next season Lambeau became head coach of the Washington Redskins. The team won only four games while losing eight. In 1953, however, the Redskins won six games, lost five, and tied one. Lambeau seemingly was building a title contender. The season had been marred by serious quarrels between Lambeau and several players, resulting in the defection to Canadian football of defensive end Gene Brito and quarterback Eddie Le Baron.
The loss of Le Baron, "the Little General, " was a factor in the decisive losses suffered by the Redskins during the 1954 exhibition season to the Los Angeles Rams. George Preston Marshall, the owner of the Redskins, was incensed by these two defeats, and concluded that there had been a complete breakdown of team discipline. Confronting each other in the lobby of the Senator Hotel in Sacramento, California, Marshall and Lambeau engaged in a shouting, pushing, and shoving match. Marshall fired Lambeau on the spot. Lambeau never coached another professional football team, but he did coach the College All-Stars in their 1955, 1956, and 1957 games with the professional champions.
By now wealthy because of prudent real estate investments, Lambeau spent his remaining years in comfort on his California ranch. He remained an avid Packers fan, and passed much of his free time fishing and playing golf. He died at Sturgeon Bay, Wisconsin.
Lambeau was married three times: first to Marguerite Van Kessel from 1919 to 1934, ending in divorce with one son. His second wife, Susan Johnson, was a former Miss California, and they were married from 1935 to 1940. He married Grace Garland in 1945 and was divorced in 1955.