Switching gears in this edition of eBay Watch, this time we’ve got a hand signed letter from from former Packers and Notre Dame coach Dan Devine. The short missive, addressed to a longtime writer for the Des Moines Register and Tribune named Maury White, was written in 1970 while Devine was both AD and football coach at Missouri. It reads:
Thanks for the letter. Glad to hear that the visit was enjoyable.
I know the feeling. When I’m coaching I, too, can get a little “waspish.”
Coach Devine has strong ties to the state of Michigan, coaching at East Jordan (big in manhole covers) High School way up in northern Michigan before joining former Fritz Crisler player and assistant Biggie Munn at Michigan State.
Devine moved on from East Lansing for a brief stint at Arizona State which led to the Missouri gig which he held for 13 seasons starting in 1958. One of Devine’s players at Missouri was Lloyd Carr, who talked about his experience in Columbia in this excellent interview back in 2007:
CARR: I was one of those guys who loved baseball and wanted to play two sports. One of the reasons that I went to Missouri is that they told me I could play both. I would categorize myself as the kind of guy who wasn’t as great of an athlete as I thought I was. I think that is the realization that a lot of guys have to come to. We had 66 guys on my freshman football team at Missouri. It was a different era in college football back then. There certainly weren’t many schools playing major college football as there is today. The squads were much bigger. At least in the Big 8 Conference, which it was called at that time. I learned a lot from being at Missouri. Coach Dan Devine was a great organizer. We had some very good teams.
Carr finished his career at Northern Michigan, following Rollie Dotsch, the man who recruited him to Missouri.
|After an unsuccessful stint with the Packers, Devine took the job in South Bend, replacing legendary coach Ara Parseghian. The coaching transition was immortalized in the movie Rudy.
If you recall, coach Parseghian was the bighearted coach who promised Rudy he could suit up for a game at some point in his career but then resigned. Enter Devine, who was portrayed wonderfully as a complete a-hole by actor Chelcie Ross (right)–a guy who’s made a career out of playing a-holes.
As the story goes, Devine wouldn’t honor the deal prompting a team protest, with players laying their Irish jerseys on his desk, willing to sacrifice their slot for the scout team hero until the coach caved. According to an ESPN page 2 piece, it’s not true:
In Real Life: According to the Houston Chronicle, Devine was furious about the scene. “The jersey scene is unforgivable. It’s a lie and untrue. Coming on the heels of ‘Under the Tarnished Dome’ (a book critical of the university’s football program), I don’t think it’s a very good thing for Notre Dame.”
And Ruettiger knew he would dress for the final home game. “Dan made the announcement that I’d be playing at practice and everybody cheered,” he told the New York Times. Linebackers coach George Kelly added, “There’s no question he was on the dress list. It was posted on Thursday.”
The whole a-hole movie portrayal got Devine feeling really waspish. Scriptwriter Angelo Pizzo claims that Devine ok’d the concept that he’d be a guy who was “an obstacle to Rudy playing,” although Devine later told him, “’I didn’t think I’d be the worst guy in the movie.”
I don’t know how Irish fans truly felt about Devine. In his 2002 obituary, the New York Times summarized the sentiment towards the coach this way:
At Notre Dame, he was frequently compared unfavorably to his immediate predecessor, Ara Parseghian.
As The Washington Post said in 1980: ”Parseghian was emotional and easy to identify with. Devine is low-key and distant. Parseghian was colorful and glib. Devine is colorless and often fumbles for words.”
I asked John Kryk, author of the wonderful Natural Enemies, to summarize how Devine was viewed in South Bend:
Devine was not popular at all among ND fans. After the glorious revival years of the Ara era (like Bo five years later, he’d led Notre Dame out of a similar swoon like UM endured in ’50s and early ’60s), Irish fans missed the charisma and success of Parseghian.
Strange that even the ’77 national title in Devine’s third year did not give him a free pass. Especially after ’78 team started 0-2 and ’79 team went 7-4 and didn’t play in a bowl game.
Before ’80 season Devine announced that one would be his last. He sure wasn’t known as an anti-players coach, as far as I know. The portrayal in Rudy movie was curious to me at best, unfair probably. But I have no info one way or the other.
Kryk added one other note, back to the movie:
I have been told second hand that a journalist who covered that game swears Rudy was not carried off the field, and that the end of the game did not happen as portrayed in movie.
I know one player who WAS carried off the field at Notre Dame Stadium after a big win there — Albert “Ox” Wistert of the 1942 Michigan Wolverines!
I love it.
Getting back to Devine, regardless of how he was viewed on campus, he and Joe Montana will always have that 1977 national championship and for the M fans, he was also on the sideline when Michigan-Notre Dame rivalry was renewed after a 35-year layoff on September 23, 1978. Bo, Ricky Leach and the Wolverines prevailed 28-14.
|Before coach Devine died in 2002 at age 77 at his home in Phoenix, he authored his autobiography titled, Simply Devine.
The letter has an opening bid of $19.99. The auction closes May 14th.