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Coaching in Shadows
Tim Layden
May 20, 2002
A quiet winner who carved out a career by following legends
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May 20, 2002

Coaching In Shadows

A quiet winner who carved out a career by following legends

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Numbers never tell the whole story of a coach's life. Dan Devine, who died on May 9 at the age of 77 after struggling with complications following heart surgery, won 172 games as a football coach at Arizona State, Missouri and Notre Dame. During his tumultuous four-year term with the Packers from 1971 to '74, he led Green Bay to its only title of any kind (a divisional championship in '72) in the long, dark period between Vince Lombardi and Mike Holmgren. Few coaches have been more successful. Yet Devine's legacy is forever obscured by the shadows in which he walked.

In 1971, after winning 93 games in 13 seasons at Missouri, and earning the enduring devotion of Tigers fans, Devine went to the Packers. There he replaced Phil Bengston, who had coached the team to three mediocre post-Lombardi years. Devine's Packers went far in '72, but two years later, when Green Bay finished 6-8, irate fans killed Devine's dog and dumped the corpse on his lawn.

The animosity drove Devine out of Green Bay, and in 1975 he took over another football institution at Notre Dame. This time he replaced Ara Parseghian, who had not only won two national titles in 11 years but also had infused the program with the type of dashing personality to which it had once been accustomed. Devine did nearly as well on the field as Parseghian, winning 76% of his games in six seasons and a national championship with Joe Montana at quarterback in '77. Devine even conceived one of the great motivational masterstrokes in school history, outfitting that '77 team in green jerseys just before kickoff against USC and creating an emotional springboard to a 49-19 victory.

That was a rare moment of flamboyance. Devine was more commonly a soft-spoken technician who delegated responsibility to assistant coaches and revealed little of himself to the public. "He was a low-key man of great dignity and talent, but he lacked Ara's charisma, and for that reason he was never fully accepted by the Subway Alumni," says Rev. Edmund Joyce, Executive Vice President Emeritus at Notre Dame, the man who hired Devine. Indeed, despite averaging nearly nine victories per season at Notre Dame, Devine rarely comes up when the Irish faithful discuss their most revered coaches. "You would have to put Rockne first," says Joyce. "Then of course Frank Leahy second. Ara, with his personality, would be third, and probably Lou Holtz, with all his flamboyance, fourth. Dan would be an easy fifth."

Devine never coached again after resigning from Notre Dame for personal reasons. (His wife, Joanne, had multiple sclerosis.) He spent 11 years at Arizona State, raising funds and directing a program to fight substance abuse. In 1992 he returned to Missouri as athletic director and helped restore faith in the school's struggling sports programs. "He was private and introverted, and maybe that hurt him," says former NFL safety Dave Duerson, who played for Devine at Notre Dame. "But you have to know that Coach was a man who touched many lives. He always said, 'Be a better player every day when you leave the field than when you stepped onto it.' I still live my life by those words."