The Magazine of the University of Minnesota Duluth

Volume 21, No.1, Winter 2004


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Dan Devine

a tribute by Ben Korgen

A MAN FOR ALL SEASONS, ESPECIALLY THE FALL

 

Fans of American football love it when an exceptional quarterback emerges to guide the destiny of their favorite team. This is the kind of guy who rises from the nether regions of the depth chart to surprise his coaches and provide enough fireworks on the field to entertain and even thrill thousands of people. When World War II ended and veterans spilled into colleges to bulge football rosters already full of younger players, UMD had a quarterback that fit this description. His name was Dan Devine (1924-2002). Before the war, Dan had been a versatile, multi-sport athlete at Proctor High School near Duluth. He served in the Air Force during the war. When he was discharged, Dan was recruited to play basketball at the Duluth State Teachers College (DSTC). Dan played basketball well and became captain of the team. He also tried out for football as a quarterback.

Lloyd Peterson was the head football coach. Lloyd focused on fundamentals, loyalty, discipline, and courage. He was willing to give almost anyone a chance to play football, even someone without previous athletic credentials.

Lloyd sized up Dan in the earliest workouts. Dan was older and more experienced than many other players. He had married fellow student JoAnne Brookhart and seemed to know what he wanted. Dan was good-natured, focused, and respectful. He radiated personal depth, including the impression that he had moral resources he could either use or transfer to others. Noticeably possessing the taste and talent for leadership, Dan had ready followers among the other players. Dan’s moves, ball-handling, and passing were perfectly adequate, but his strong points were more philosophical than physical.

Lloyd recognized Dan’s special character, but was concerned about his physical dimensions. Dan was only five feet, nine inches tall. Lloyd wondered if Dan could take a physical pounding or see over the bigger linemen on pass patterns. Lloyd did some soul-searching and penciled Dan in as the fourth-team quarterback.

Before the first game, Dan was quarterbacking the second team. During this first game, the team fell behind, the offense faltered, and Lloyd put Dan in at quarterback. The team came alive. Dan directed a brilliant and desperate drive that led to an unexpected victory. From that point on, Dan was the starting quarterback.

By the fall of 1947, Dan was captain of the football team. His wife JoAnne was homecoming queen. Lloyd gave Dan more and more responsibility and freedom. Lloyd treated Dan as a coach playing on the field. Dan called his own plays, modified plays in the huddle, and called for key substitutions. He became a highly proactive idea generator and

master of concealing his intentions.

Dan majored in history and graduated in 1948. His was the first class to receive a University of Minnesota degree. In his first position after graduating from college, Dan became the head football coach at East Jordan High School in Michigan. With 200 students, East Jordan was the smallest school in its conference. In the two years before Dan arrived, East Jordan had lost every game in football. At the start of his first season as a coach, Dan installed new “wrinkles” he had dreamed up. He began to devise the first offensive play of the first game.

In the first game, East Jordan won the coin toss and elected to receive. An East Jordan halfback fielded the kickoff deep in his own territory and was stopped in his tracks. On the first play from scrimmage, the East Jordan quarterback faked the ball to the fullback off right guard, withdrew the ball and handed it behind his back to the right halfback who bolted off left guard and raced to a quick touchdown.

This was more than a touchdown on the first play. It was a sign of what was to come. At season’s end, East Jordan was undefeated. At the end of Dan’s second season, East Jordan was still undefeated. The news media reveled in the “miracle turnaround” at East Jordan.

During these events, Michigan State University (MSU) had developed one of the most formidable football teams in the nation. The head coach at MSU was Clarence “Biggie” Munn, a master delegator who set standards worth emulating for organization, discipline, and assembling a great staff of assistants.

Hugh “Duffy” Daugherty was Biggie’s leading assistant and primary recruiter. Duffy was friendly and outgoing. He liked almost everyone he met. Duffy was full of fun and the players loved him. In the locker room, he liked to sing and harmonize.

Duffy marveled at the East Jordan turnaround and arranged to meet Dan. They liked each other almost immediately. Duffy suggested that Dan might work on a master’s degree at MSU while helping out in football as a graduate assistant.

Dan and JoAnne moved to East Lansing where Dan enrolled as a graduate student in guidance and counseling. At his first MSU football practice, he was one of fifteen graduate assistants.

Biggie observed that Dan did everything asked of him exceptionally well. He appointed Dan to the regular coaching staff, then to the position of head junior varsity coach. When Biggie retired, Duffy became head football coach, with Dan as backfield coach, lead assistant, and primary recruiter.

Meanwhile, the president of Arizona State University (ASU) recognized that his football program was crumbling. He needed new leadership, but could not afford a “big name” coach. The ASU president contacted Duffy for advice, Duffy recommended Dan, and Dan became the head football coach at ASU. Dan felt unprepared, but drew upon the influences of Peterson, Munn, and Daugherty, fused them in his mind, then garnished and overwrote them with his own ideas. The result was unique and impressive. Dan quickly rebuilt the ASU football team into a contender for the national title.

Don Faurot, the athletic director at the University of Missouri, had been monitoring Dan’s progress for years. When Dan had proven himself at ASU, Faurot offered him the head football position at Missouri. Dan accepted it primarily because it would ensure the financial security of his family.

When Dan arrived, Missouri possessed another crumbling football program. Dan quickly rebuilt it into another contender for the national title. Dan’s successes at ASU and Missouri led the Green Bay Packers to offer Dan the positions of head football coach and general manager. Dan was tempted by the opportunity to prove himself as a professional head football coach and accepted both positions. At the time, Green Bay had slipped from past glory and had become one of the worst teams in professional football. Dan quickly built Green Bay into a conference champion, but soon decided that he belonged in college football.

Before long, Notre Dame offered Dan their position of head football coach. For years, Dan had thought of this position as the ultimate pinnacle he could reach. He also knew that this position would be difficult. Wealthy alumni would have wanted someone else. The fans would have high expectations. They would be upset if Dan seemed inferior to Ara Parseghian, the departing head coach.

Dan weathered many psychological storms at Notre Dame, but had the moral resources needed to survive and excel. He soon was the head football coach of a national champion. The steps he had taken to move upward in his journey seemed miraculous. Could any other coach start so modestly, then soar upward so quickly or so far?

Dan’s overall college coaching record was breathtaking. In 22 seasons at Arizona State, Missouri, and Notre Dame, Dan’s teams won 172 games, an average of almost 8 wins per year. Against 13 of his era’s best teams, including Alabama, Nebraska, and Michigan, his record was 53 wins, 9 losses, and 1 tie. In coaching duels against Alabama’s Paul “Bear” Bryant, the winningest major university football coach of all time, Dan’s record was 3 wins and 0 losses. Since Bryant coached for 38 years and Devine for 22, it is clear that Dan was likely to have eclipsed Bryant’s record if he had continued in coaching.

But Dan’s record is not the whole story. Dan thought of football as a game, not “showbiz” or a format for advertising. His players were college students who liked to play football, not commodities to be used up, spit out into society and ignored on graduation. He built his record with a 94 percent player graduation rate without bending the rules or allowing outsiders to corrupt his players.

Why did Dan give up coaching so early? He sacrificed his position to help take care of JoAnne, who had contracted multiple sclerosis. A discussion of Dan’s many awards, honors, honorary degrees, and roles as a humanitarian leader and fundraiser could fill the pages of a book. He lectured on motivation and team-building throughout America and in several foreign countries, and was forced by time considerations to turn down hundreds of projects and positions.

Any reasonable analysis of Dan’s three duels with Bear Bryant would conclude that Dan must have had one of the best football minds ever. Anyone who can grasp the full complexity of modern American football also must recognize that a wonderful football mind also must be a wonderful mind admirably suited to excel in virtually any field. This means that Dan’s story should be enlightening and inspiring to anyone wishing to move upward in a competitive environment.

Dan Devine’s life was a life well lived, full of human connections and spiritual bonds many seek but stumble in their efforts to find. We in the extended UMD family can go beyond the simple satisfaction that Dan Devine was once one of us. We can recognize that his performance reflects on us, because people like us

provided the love, support, encouragement, and competition he needed to become a college graduate and take the next step upward. In return, Dan demonstrated that one of us could step up and contribute at any level of performance.

— Ben Korgen, Class of 1956

 
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