Jerry List (82) and Red Beran (62) carry Bob Devaney off the Orange Bowl field.
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By Randy York
In my office hangs a large piece of composition art, showing Nebraska Hall-of-Fame Coach Bob Devaney, wearing his red Nebraska jacket with a white N and his red Nebraska cap with another white N. Devaney’s countenance emerges among the clouds over Memorial Stadium. In bold capital letters popping out from the bottom of this piece of art is BOB DEVANEY and this tagline: He built it … and they came. Devaney, who died in 1997, signed the limited edition series, and I feel lucky to have it. I do, however, often wonder how fate took Devaney from Michigan State assistant to his first head coaching job at Wyoming when he was 43 years old and then on to Nebraska when there were still 56 months left on his second 60-month contract in Laramie.
I finally decided that fate drives every man to his own destiny, and Devaney is proof that the only imperative is to follow that fate and accept it no matter where it leads him. Consider, if you will, that Devaney never thought much about taking the job at Wyoming, Nebraska’s Saturday night non-conference opponent in Laramie. In fact, one night in his Lincoln home, Devaney told three Lincoln Journal-Star sportswriters (Mike Babcock, the late Virgil Parker and me), plus NU SID Don Bryant, that he was going to get the head job at Missouri when Don Faurot retired as MU’s coach after the 1956 season. “They promised me the job at Missouri,” Devaney said, adding that Faurot, the athletic director whose name still graces Mizzou’s home field, told him: ‘The job’s yours. Just go home, get your staff organized, and we’ll call you.’ I started asking people about going down to Columbia with me, and I never heard from Faurot again, so I called him. He said, ‘Oh, there’s nothing to worry about; just get your staff together.’” The next time Devaney called, Faurot told him he didn’t have much say in the matter, and Mizzou was hiring Frank Broyles, who lasted one year in Columbia, then left for Arkansas.
A year later, Devaney chose the Wyoming job over another offer from Colgate, then spent five years in Laramie and led the Cowboys to a 35-10-5 record, including a 1958 Sun Bowl win and a 9-1 record in 1959 (a team that was not bowl eligible). Devaney, perhaps rationalizing, thinks fate paved a smoother road from East Lansing to Laramie and finally, to Lincoln. “I knew the Wyoming job probably wasn’t quite as good a job as the one at Missouri,” Devaney said. “I mean, I didn’t like the town at all. I didn’t like anything about it. To me, it was just such a contrast to where I came from and where I had lived all my life. People were stilted in Columbia. They didn’t seem like the kind of people I wanted to be around. I learned to love Wyoming. They wanted to win at Wyoming.” Nebraska, of course, beckoned next when Bill Jennings was fired, and Devaney followed his heart here, too, even though the Huskers had experienced only three winning seasons in the previous 21 years before he arrived.
Bryant, a.k.a. “The Fox” and Nebraska’s Sports Information Director Emeritus, will explain Wyoming’s reluctance to release Devaney from a new contract and the mystery surrounding Devaney’s arrival in Lincoln in Friday’s N-Sider Blog. Just remember that Devaney’s 11 years in Lincoln produced a record of 101-20-2 with seven outright Big Eight Conference championships, one shared title, a 32-game unbeaten streak, and back-to-back national championships in 1970 and ‘71. Makes you wonder how life might be different today in both Lincoln and Columbia if Don Faurot had been allowed to hire the man he really wanted to hire in the first place. Here’s the real kicker. Missouri not only selected Broyles over Devaney in 1956, but passed on him again when Broyles bolted in ‘57. The second time around, the Tigers hired fellow Michigan State assistant Dan Devine instead of Devaney.Letting history be the judge, you would have to score that decision as Wyoming’s gain and Nebraska’s eventual double gain … nothing against Devine, but definitely, Missouri’s loss.
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