After graduating from the University of Chicago, where he played football, George Varnell pursued a career in journalism. He was a sports writer with The Daily Chronicle in Spokane, Washington and later became the paper’s sports editor. Varnell fulfilled the same role at the Seattle Times after joining the paper in the 1920s. He was active on the gridiron, helping to re-establish a football team at Gonzaga University and he became one of the leading officials on the Pacific coast, refereeing important college games and still holds the record for having officiated the most Rose Bowl games. Varnell was basketball coach at Gonzaga in 1908-09, leading the team to a 10-2 season and also played a few seasons of semi-professional baseball in the Spokane City League.