All week, Rock M Nation will be celebrating the induction of its inaugural class to the Rock M Nation Wall of Excellence. Today, we welcome the winner of our Tier V category, honoring contributions from administrators and coaches.
Sir Split T himself earns the inaugural administrator/coach's induction to the Rock M Nation Wall of Excellence not solely for his contribution to Mizzou athletics, but for his contribution to college athletics as a whole.
In retrospect, his 101-79-10 record in 19 seasons at Mizzou may not stand alone with the game's greats, but Faurot, a College Football Hall of Famer, nearly single-handedly changed the face of college football with the development of the option. Think of college football history from Bud Wilkinson to Bear Bryant to Barry Switzer to Tom Osborne to Urban Meyer. Then think Don Faurot. Faurot was not one of the game's great winners, but he was one of the game's great innovators.
A Missouri grad, Faurot was actually a three-sport letter winner in his time as a student-athlete. As a coach, he won three league titles. And, as if that service wasn't enough, Faurot twice served as Missouri's AD.
Faurot elevated Missouri to new heights, a debt Missouri continues to repay to him by bearing the Memorial Stadium playing surface with his name and letting him stand guard over the Rock M.
Don Faurot is one of the most integral characters in college football history, and he comes with one of the most unique stories.
First things first: Faurot was Mizzou through and through. He lettered in three sports, coached the football team, won more games than any other Mizzou coach, ran the athletic department, and continued to man an office within the athletic department's walls for almost 30 years after he "retired" in 1967. Well into the 1990s (and his 80s and 90s), he would show up at practice and give advice to assistant coaches. If anybody in the world ever bled black and gold, it was Mr. Faurot.
More uniquely, though, was his relationship with the history of college football.
In adjusting to the departure of "Pitchin'" Paul Christman, Faurot had created a new offensive strategy. From Bob Broeg's incomparable Ol' Mizzou: A Story of Missouri Football:
Looking back at the results of his other formations, Faurot had found that his most consistent ground-gainer was a play he had put into the short punt to offset Paul Christman's lack of quickness. To get big Dooz into motion, the coach had devised a play in which the direct snap went not to either of the deep men, the tailback or fullback, but to the closest back. Jim Starmer, the halfback, would reverse into the direction Christman had started. Starmer would either flip a lateral (or pitchout, as it would be called now) to the tailback coming around or fake and go inside end himself. Both plays had averaged well, especially Starmer's fake and keep.
"So I wanted to pressure the defensive end with what amounted to a 2-on-1 break in basketball," said Faurot.
And just like that, the Split-T, which has impacted just about every offensive innovation for the last 60+ years, was invented.
In the 1941 regular season, Mizzou lost only at Ohio State to start the season (they also lost the Sugar Bowl, 2-0, to Fordham in monsoon conditions), and the reason they lost that game was because they didn't use the Split-T enough. While breaking it in, they beat teams early in the season, and they pounded them late in the season. Missouri 26, NYU 0. Missouri 28, Oklahoma 0. Missouri 45, Kansas 6. Recruiting had improved with Christman's success, and Mizzou's talent was high, but Faurot's philosophical adjustment had caught teams off-guard, to say the least.
In 1942, Mizzou went 8-3-1 in an injury-plagued campaign. Mizzou had taken a small step backwards, but nobody was figuring out the Split-T just yet. And since this was the 1940s, and film study was at a minimum, Mizzou's competitive advantage could have lasted for years.
Don Faurot's is the ultimate "What If..." story. Most notably, what if Mr. Faurot had not signed up for the armed forces at 40 during World War II? With Faurot's brother Bob was missing in action, after the 1942 season he went off to service. While in the service, he coached military teams with guys named Jim Tatum and Bud Wilkinson, and because he was such an honorable man, he taught them what he knew.
After a year at Oklahoma, Tatum took the Split-T to Maryland, where he won a national title in 1951 and was prevented from an undefeated season two other times--1953 and 1955--by his OU successor...Wilkinson. All Wilkinson did at Oklahoma was outrecruit Faurot and take the Split-T to a 107-8-2 record from 1948 to 1958, establishing Oklahoma as the dominant national power they still are today.
Faurot was so honorable that he not only taught Tatum and Wilkinson everything he knew, but he also passed on hiring Tatum as an assistant in 1946 because he knew Tatum needed to be a head coach (he actually recommended Tatum for the OU job). And he was so loyal to the state of Missouri that his insistence on recruiting almost 100% Missouri kids ended up putting him at a bit of a competitive disadvantage in the 1950s. His best record in the 1950s was only 6-4, and he retired in 1956 after beating Kansas, 15-13, which resulted in this classic photo.
With his honor, loyalty and success, he changed college football and set an almost unattainable gold standard for all future Missouri coaches, and it's only right that the first brick in the RMN Wall of Excellence bears his name.