Oct. 6, 2011
“Time is the wisest counselor.” — Pericles
By Lou Somogyi
In due time, one’s legacy of achievement or prosperity usually is celebrated.
This weekend it’s Dan Devine’s turn.
Notre Dame’s head coach from 1975-80 and a 1985 inductee into the College Football Hall of Fame, Devine died on May 9, 2002 at age 77 in his Tempe, Ariz., home.
Yet a rebirth of sorts occurred this weekend when on Friday, Oct. 7, 2011, Devine was further immortalized in Notre Dame football lore with the unveiling of his sculpture at Gate A — Dan Devine Gate — outside Notre Dame Stadium.
His sculpture now joins the revered pantheon of Notre Dame coaches Knute Rockne (1918-30), Frank Leahy (1941-43, 1946-53), Ara Parseghian (1964-74), and Lou Holtz (1986-96) as the five former Irish football coaches who have won one or more national titles at Notre Dame.
Notre Dame graduate Jerry McKenna created the sculpture that was funded by donations from Devine’s former players, coaches, and staff members, and longtime University benefactors Joe and Barbara Mendelson of Santa Barbara, Calif. The Mendelsons also funded the Rockne sculpture in 2009, shortly after the dedications were made for Holtz (2008), Parseghian (2007) and Leahy (1997).
In 22 years as a college head coach, Devine posted a 172-57-9 mark for a .742 winning percentage, ranking in the top 35 in Division I-A annals among coaches with a minimum of 10 seasons.
In six seasons at Notre Dame, Devine compiled a 53-16-1 (.764) ledger, highlighted by the 1977 national championship. However, it’s the inscription in Devine’s sculpture that makes his seven children most proud: “Leave the field a better player. Leave Notre Dame a better person.”
“I think my dad’s best coaching legacy was the consistency of his teams,” Dan Devine Jr., 57, said. “He encouraged his players to give their best in all parts of their student-athlete lives. My dad also valued educating his players.”
An example includes the famous 1977 “Green Jersey Game” in which Notre Dame trounced USC, 49-19, to propel it toward a national title. Devine surprised the nation with a ruse that included wearing green jerseys for the contest, but added another touch during that week.
“He did not hand out the green jerseys just to try to win a game,” Devine Jr. noted. “He had educated his players the week prior to the game about the importance of the shamrock and `wearing of the green’ to the Irish Rebellion of 1798.”
“He was totally tied up with the school, loved the University, loved what it stood for, and so he was able to get us to believe in that as well,” said 1978 Notre Dame All-American free safety/punter Joe Restic, who was a member of Devine’s first Notre Dame recruiting class in 1975 and the president of Notre Dame’s Monogram Club from 2009-11.
“I’m honored and indebted to the school and to him for having the opportunity to go there. I’m a better person and was a better player for it. It was always about what went on in the locker room, bonding together as a team, and you have to give him a lot of credit for being able to mold us into a championship contender.”
A Devine Coaching Era
The late Joe Yonto — the defensive line coach for both Parseghian and Devine — had an immense appreciation for Devine’s more reserved yet effective leadership skills. Yonto was born during the Rockne era, played for Leahy, and even was an assistant for Holtz in 1986-87.
“I always considered Dan Devine to be right up there among the elite coaches at Notre Dame,” Yonto said.
Long-time Notre Dame administrator Brian Boulac, who also coached for Parseghian and Devine, echoed similar sentiments.
“You got a good idea what people in the coaching profession thought of Dan Devine by the number of coaches who came to his funeral from afar,” Boulac said. “There is no doubt he was very well respected by those who coached with him and those who coached against him. I think he not only got respect as a coach, but earned respect as a man and a person.”
Born on Dec, 23, 1924 in Augusta, Wis., Devine trained as a combat bombardier for World War II before graduating in 1948 from the University of Minnesota-Duluth, where he served as the football captain and was the recipient of the Outstanding Athlete Award by the alumni. Devine’s penchant as a winner was further established thereafter.
Taking over at East Jordan (Mich.) High School in 1948, Devine revived a program that failed to win a game in 1946 and 1947 to one that finished unbeaten under his direction in 1948 and ’49.
Hired in 1950 by Michigan State head coach Biggie Munn, Devine was on a staff that was 35-2 from 1950-53, and won or shared national titles in 1951 and 1952.
As the head coach at Arizona State (1955-57), Devine was Arizona State’s version of Rockne. His 27-3 record put ASU on the map, leading to the opening of the newly built Sun Devil Stadium (Fiesta Bowl) in 1958.
At Missouri’s (1958-70), he became an icon again while making the Tigers a perennial national power, including final AP rankings of No. 5 (1960), No. 6 (1965 and 1969) and No. 9 (1968).
After propelling golden eras at both schools, Devine was hired by the NFL’s Green Bay Packers in 1971.
His four-year NFL stint was the least memorable, although he did lead the Packers to a division title in 1972 with a 10-4 record.
“My dad had great respect for the history of college and professional football,” Devine Jr. said. “Coaching at both Green Bay and Notre Dame helped him fulfill his dreams of coaching his lifelong, favorite teams.
“Coaching Notre Dame was a perfect fit because his Irish-Catholic heritage made him feel that he was already part of the school’s long and rich tradition.”
Better Late Than Never
In 1963, Hugh Devore was named Notre Dame’s interim coach after Joe Kuharich suddenly resigned during the spring. Notre Dame football was in the midst of a eight-year free fall from 1956-1963 when the Irish were 34-45. The University’s executive vice president, Rev. Edmund P. Joyce, C.S.C., met with Devine in the spring of 1963 and viewed him as a potential elixir.
At the time, the 38-year-old Devine was a venerated rising star in college football — maybe even more so than the charismatic 39-year-old at Northwestern named Ara Parseghian. While building previous moribund programs such as Arizona State and Missouri into national powers, Devine fashioned a sparkling eight-year record of 64-15-5 (.792).
“As that summer went on, I received a number of phone calls and letters from Hugh (Devore), encouraging me to take the head coaching job,” wrote Devine in “Simply Devine,” his autobiography published in 2000. “He said he would happily agree to become my assistant coach, and would be loyal and work hard for me.”
Contractual commitments to Missouri and Devine’s demigod status in the state didn’t make the timing quite right. Approximately 11-and-a-half years later, it was.
Parseghian resigned on Dec. 16, 1974, and Devine was announced as his successor within hours. The 1963 meeting with Devine had left an indelible impression on Joyce.
Unlike in 1963, though, Notre Dame football wasn’t in a malaise, and Devine faced the daunting task of living in Parseghian’s immense shadow — similar to Gene Bartow replacing UCLA’s John Wooden in basketball that same year.
In fact, after a Notre Dame-UCLA basketball game on the Irish campus in 1976, Devine reportedly approached Bartow afterwards and jokingly said, “We should write a book.”
Closer inspection reveals that Devine left behind an amazing legacy of his own as a college head coach. Here’s a top 10 countdown:
10 Loaded For Bear
Devine and Texas’ Darrell Royal (1957-76) were the only two coaches who never lost to Alabama and college football icon Bear Bryant when facing him at least three times.
Devine was 3-0, the first victory coming at Missouri, 35-10 in the 1968 Gator Bowl. The other two meetings occurred while he was at Notre Dame: 21-18 in 1976, and 7-0 in 1980.
Royal was 3-0-1 against Bryant.
9 Running To Glory
In Devine’s second season at Notre Dame (1976), Al Hunter became the first 1,000-yard rusher in school history with 1,058.
The following year, Jerome Heavens also reached 1,000, but he was tackled for lost yardage on his final regular-season carry to finish with 994. Heavens added 101 yards in the Cotton Bowl victory over No. 1 Texas that year – however, bowl statistics back then were not added to individual data as they are today.
Vagas Ferguson was next to join the 1,000-yard club with 1,192 yards in 1978 and 1,437 in 1979. The latter figure remains the single-season standard at Notre Dame.
In Devine’s final season (1980), Jim Stone amassed 908 yards rushing while Phil Carter, who missed several games with an injury, added 822.
8 Defense Never Rests
Devine’s final Irish squad in 1980 didn’t yield a touchdown in 23 consecutive quarters, a school record that still stands – and likely will never be eclipsed. The 23 quarters spanned seven games, and during that time Notre Dame allowed only three field goals.
That streak broke the previous standard of 21 set by Devine’s 1976 squad.
7 Rally Sons of Notre Dame
In Devine’s 70-game career at Notre Dame, the Irish rallied to victory nine times while facing a deficit in the fourth quarter.
Six of them were directed by quarterback Joe Montana, most notably the 1979 Cotton Bowl in which the Irish trailed 34-12 with 7:37 left before emerging victorious, 35-34. The comeback from a 22-point hole remains the highest in school history.
Overall, six of those nine fourth-quarter comebacks came against double-digit margins.
6 Big Ten Excellence
Devine’s 14-3 (.824) record versus the Big Ten is the best among Irish coaches since Frank Leahy’s departure in 1953.
During Devine’s era, the Irish were 5-1 versus both Michigan State and Purdue, 2-0 against Northwestern, and 2-1 in the renewal of the Michigan series.
Including his 1958-70 stint at Missouri, Devine was 6-0 in games played in the state of Michigan — 3-0 against both the Wolverines and Spartans.
5 Green Machine
In his first season at Notre Dame, Devine broached the topic with university administrators about possibly changing the jersey color from blue to green.
As an assistant at Michigan State in the early 1950s, Devine’s memory of Notre Dame and Frank Leahy’s teams were the green uniforms they wore, but under Joe Kuharich (1959-62) and Parseghian, the Irish donned blue. Notre Dame did wear green against Syracuse in a 1963 Thanksgiving Day season-ending contest under interim coach Hugh Devore.
“Whenever a coach comes into a new program, he usually likes to change the uniforms a little bit to establish his own identity,” Devine noted after his Notre Dame career. “When I arrived in 1975, I wanted to go to the green jerseys, but the idea didn’t go over too well.”
In the summer of 1977, though, Devine placed an order for green jerseys versus USC at home. Following the stunning 49-19 victory over the No. 5 Trojans, the jerseys were supposed to be retired as a souvenir.
This time, though, there was an outcry by the players, among others, to keep the green during their national title march. The Irish didn’t return to blue again until Gerry Faust’s hiring in 1981.
“I was completely surprised because my dad had not told me about the new jerseys,” said Devine Jr. “The color change typified my dad’s coaching style because he knew the game was about more than Xs and Os: it is about playing with desire and heart.
“Later in 1977, when some of the players weren’t able to go home to their families, my dad invited them to our mom and dad’s house for Thanksgiving dinner. I noticed how comfortable the players were with my parents and how they made the guys feel they were part of our already large family that day.”
4 Rank & File
In his six seasons at Notre Dame, Devine played an average of 4.5 ranked teams per year and compiled a 17-10 record (.630) against them.
To put into perspective how impressive that is, consider that the mark surpasses Holtz’s .618 percentage (33-20-2), and Parseghian’s .554 (14-11-3).
Two-thirds of Devine’s 27 games versus ranked foes came against teams rated in the Associated Press Top 10 at the time of the game.
3 Bowled Over
In 10 bowl games, Devine was 7-3 – 4-2 at Missouri and 3-1 at Notre Dame. His postseason winning percentage of .750 with the Irish remains the best among Notre Dame coaches who participated in at least four bowls.
How unique is it for a head coach to play in at least 10 bowl games and have a winning percentage of .700? Only four in college football have achieved the feat.
Along with Devine, they are Auburn’s Pat Dye (1981-92) who was 7-2-1 (.750), Wisconsin’s Barry Alvarez (1990-2005) at 8-3 (.727), and Nebraska’s Bob Devaney (1962-72), who had the same 7-3 mark as Devine.
The top 2 in NCAA history with a minimum of 11 bowls played are Georgia Tech’s Bobby Dodd at .692 (9-4) and Penn State’s Joe Paterno next with a .662 figure (24-12-1).
2 Bowled Over II…
Notre Dame’s 38-10 victory over No. 1 Texas in the 1978 Cotton Bowl to capture the national title remains the largest margin of victory by Notre Dame in a bowl game. It was tied in 2008 with a 49-21 drubbing of Hawaii in the Hawaii Bowl, where the stakes weren’t as high.
Noteworthy about the 28-point drubbing of the Longhorns on Jan. 2, 1978 is Devine’s No. 5-ranked Irish had some added pressure on them to win by at least two touchdowns if they were to climb all the way from No. 5 to No. 1. Had they won by a score of 17-10, it might not have been enough to vault to the top spot, and No. 3 Alabama could have received the vote instead after winning the Sugar Bowl 35-6 against Ohio State.
At the time, it was the worst beating ever administered on a No. 1 team in a bowl game. It wasn’t topped until Jan. 1, 1997, when No. 3 Florida routed No. 1 Florida State by 32 points (52-20) in the Sugar Bowl.
1 Three Is A Magic Number
There was never a better third-year head coach in football history than Devine. In his three collegiate stops at Arizona State (1955-57), Missouri (1958-70) and Notre Dame (1975-80), his record in three third seasons was 33-1 (.971).
At Arizona State, he inherited a program that not only hadn’t won more than six games in six years, but also lost to arch rival Arizona 35-0 and 54-14 the two seasons prior to his arrival. In Year 3 under Devine, the Sun Devils finished 11-0, crushed Arizona 47-0, and placed in the final AP ranking (No. 12) for the first time in school history.
At Missouri, Devine took over at a program that was only 32-44-4 (.425) the previous eight years, losing by scores of 67-14 and 39-14 to Bud Wilkinson’s juggernaut Oklahoma Sooners (and would lose 39-0 and 23-0 to the Sooners in Devine’s first two seasons). In Year 3, Devine led the Tigers to an 11-0 record (including a victory forfeited by Kansas), crushed Oklahoma 41-19 in Norman, and finished with their highest AP ranking ever (No. 5).
At Notre Dame, Devine didn’t take over a struggling program, but Year 3 was still magical with an 11-1 finish, highlighted by a 38-10 rout of No. 1 Texas in the Cotton Bowl to capture the national title. He joined Rockne, Leahy, and Parseghian as Irish coaches who either won a national title in his third season or was unbeaten, if not both. Holtz would become the fifth in 1988.
Luther Bradley, an All-America defensive back for the 1977 national champs, summarized his coach’s legacy shortly after Devine’s death in 2002.
“I have a much greater appreciation for Dan Devine and the job he did,” Bradley said. “When I was in school, I sort of took it for granted that we were going to win football games and compete for the national championship. But the farther I get away from it, I realize how difficult it is to win championships.
“You look back on college football history and put Dan Devine’s accomplishments in that context … he had a pretty darn good run.” Even by Notre Dame’s immense standards.