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When I'm reading historical pieces, be it about sports, politics, or whatever else, I tend to pay more attention when I'm reading about something about which I already know. It seems counter-intuitive, but I'm pretty sure I'm not the only one who does that. I get more feedback writing about a season (1995, for example) some on this site actually lived through, even though, in theory, the older seasons should get more feedback because nobody knows much about them.
That said, I'm not sure there was a more fascinating two-year span than the time from Don Faurot's last game (the "carried off the field after beating Kansas" game) to the end of Dan Devine's first season in Columbia. In the record books, it just shows two 5-4-1 seasons between Faurot's mid-1950s struggles and Devine's early-1960s success. But so much went on during this time that I almost feel a book could be written about just it. There was a coaching soap opera, there were tight losses and thrilling wins (and the most amazing tie ever), and possibly most fascinating, there was the cultural aspect.
Though Broyles did leave treadmarks heading for Fayetteville after one season in Columbia, he laid some important groundwork. In the spring of 1957, Norris Stevenson enrolled to play football at Mizzou; a few months later in the fall, Mel West did the same. They were the first two African-American players in Mizzou history. As Dan Devine took the reins of the program, he not only continued to usher in the cultural change within his own team, but he still had to fight against integration's resistance during some road trips. It was an intriguing time to be both a Mizzou fan and a sports fan in general.
The first two times Don Faurot called Dan Devine to try to get him to visit Columbia and think about taking the Missouri head coaching job, Devine said thanks, but no thanks. At just 33 years old, Devine had compiled a ridiculous 27-3-1 record in three seasons at Arizona State. He had turned down a decent Houston program and had, according to Bob Broeg, passed up a look from Texas A&M (I'm not sure when that happened, as Bear Bryant was still the coach there), and while Arizona State was still the minor leagues at the time--an undefeated 1957 season had only earned them a #12 ranking--he could probably continue to hold out for a better job.
But Faurot called a third time, and mostly out of admiration for the respected former coach, Devine agreed to come for a visit. His tried to mid-Missouri was...well, not a great first impression. The flight attendant spilled hot chocolate on him, engine troubles caused a six-hour delay in getting to KC, and when he finally got there, the welcoming party of alumni that had been waiting at the airport (and eventually the airport bar) for much longer than expected was, well, a little more tipsy than planned, and the introductions were brief to say the least. And then, as Faurot drove Devine back to Columbia in the middle of the night, his car ran out of gas.
So Faurot marched back to the closest town to get gas while Devine, in a coat not nearly thick enough for Missouri Decembers (likely wondering what the hell he was doing), waited in the car. Faurot came back with a trucker who, calling Faurot by name--I'm doubting the old coach had to introduce himself--got them the help they needed, and they arrived in Como around 3am or 4am. A couple hours later, it was off to Rolla for a board of curators meeting. Now, the road from Jeff City to Rolla is still a little dicey today, so I can't imagine what it was like then. But apparently Faurot was a little bit of a leadfoot and fast-talker, and they careened all over the foggy roads to Rolla. Again, Devine had to be second- or third-guessing his decision to check things out.
But somehow Faurot and university president Dr. Elmer Ellis sold him on the job. They negotiated with themselves during the interview, upping their offer to 25% over Devine's current salary (ahem, from $12K to $15K); plus, Faurot said that if things worked out, he would advocate for Devine becoming athletic director when he retired at 65. Also, just as importantly, Devine got assurance from all involved that there was no limitation when it came to recruiting. Faurot was embarrassed when Frank Broyles basically said Missouri only wanted to win with MO players, and that they were "living on a cloud" thinking they could succeed like that. Everybody involved told Devine he could recruit who he wanted to recruit.
All of this, combined with the fact that Arizona State was basically Boise State at the time--Devine had made them into a stout program, but they were still only part of the Border Conference (with West Texas A&M, Hardin-SImmons, New Mexico State, UTEP, and Arizona) at the time--won Devine over. He could win big in the Big 8, and the loyal streak in him was intrigued by the long-term possibilities of the Missouri job. So against all odds, Faurot got his man.
So Devine, a self-proclaimed "fussbudget" who obsessed over every little detail, got to work in Columbia...and he quickly came to some of the same conclusions Broyles had reached a year earlier--there just wasn't a lot of talent to work with, at least not yet. Broyles had brought in some big-time players--Norris Stevenson, Mel West, Danny LaRose--but they were still only sophomores-to-be. The team had experienced leaders and young talent...but not a lot of experienced talent.
Plus, the overall level of talent on the team took a pretty big hit thanks to, of all things, the baseball team 120 miles to the east. Broyles had brought in an exciting quarterback named Mike Shannon (yes, that Mike Shannon), but after working with the first string all spring, Shannon signed with the St. Louis Cardinals organization for $50,000.
And then they signed starting running back Charley James as well. Thanks a lot, St. Louis. Plus, they tried to sign the new starting halfback, Hank Kuhlmann, as well, but thankfully he passed.
Here's Sports Illustrated's 1958 preview blurb about Ol' Mizzou, from the SI Vault:
The Tigers have taken on a new coach and a new system and will be no easy mark for the rest of the Big Eight. Young Dan Devine, the former Michigan State aide who logged a 27-3-1 record at Arizona State, succeeds Frank Broyles, who in turn takes over Jack Mitchell's job at Arkansas. He brings a multiple offense to be built around Halfback Hank Kuhlmann, top ground-gainer and scorer (48 points) for last year's split-T Tigers. Devine's quarterback situation is above average, with veteran Phil Snowden and Rookie Mike Shannon, but his passing game is just so-so. The running game should be stronger with speedy newcomers Mel West and Donnie Smith backing up Kuhlmann and Bob Haas. Sophomore Jim Miles is likely fullback starter. Guards Charlie Rash and Don Chadwick head a strong all-veteran line. New PAT rule may minimize the role of Rash, who kicked 20 of 20 conversions in '57 and whose toe was instrumental in one-point victories over SMU and Nebraska and a 7-7 tie with Vanderbilt. Rash has a string of 26 straight going.
(The aforementioned "new PAT rule" was this: before 1958, a "two-point conversion" attempt was worth only one point. But I guess with kicks being made at a slightly more efficient rate, they added a bit of intrigue to touchdowns by giving coaches the choice of scoring a likely one point or going for two.)
So Missouri was still lacking a bit in experience and talent, but after going 3-3 in conference under Broyles in 1957 (starting, as you'll recall, with three straight wins before getting romped by Oklahoma and slumping down the stretch), there was at least a little bit of hope that Mizzou could see some success. The schedule featured only two teams in the preseason Top 20--#2 Oklahoma and #20 Texas A&M. Colorado had quite a bit of potential, but otherwise the conference wasn't all that impressive. Mizzou would hopefully make some noise.
A couple weeks into the season, however, conference hopes fell by the wayside.
September 20: Vanderbilt at Mizzou
After starting 1957 with a relatively ho-hum tie at Vanderbilt, Mizzou opened 1958 with a return visit from the Commodores. Vanderbilt was in the middle of a fantastically average half-decade of football. They had gone 5-5 in 1956 and 5-3-2 in 1957, and they would go on to finish 5-2-3 in 1958 and 5-2-3 in 1959. They were good enough to beat mediocre teams but not good enough to beat anybody of any stature--their best win in those four years was over 6-3 Penn State in 1957.
Mizzou was somehow 0-9-1 in season openers since shutting out SLU to start 1947...and they didn't really play well enough to break that strange streak. In front of 24,000 at Memorial Stadium, and on national television to boot, Devine's "multiple offense" never got untracked, at least not when it counted most. Mizzou drove multiple times into Vandy territory, but they just couldn't put many points on the board. Vanderbilt led, 12-8, late in the game when Mizzou put together one last charge. They faced a fourth-and-goal from the 1, and instead of plowing forward with the bigger Hank Kuhlmann, he went with Norris Stevenson...who was stopped inches from paydirt. Vandy certainly wasn't a bad team, but they were one you'd hope to beat if you wanted to know you could compete in the Big 8 later in the season.
It was a disappointing start to the season, but there were promising moments--the sophomore Stevenson had played well at times, and fellow sophomore Danny LaRose, an end, came in and played well when Dale Didcock got injured.
Vanderbilt 12, Mizzou 8
September 27: Idaho (0-1) at Mizzou (0-1)
Vandy wasn't scheduled as a sure win, but Idaho basically was. Idaho was 0-1 after a season-opening 27-0 loss to an Oregon* team that would finish 4-6. A year earlier, Devine's Sun Devils had whooped the Vandals, 41-0. This time around, Idaho would find the going a little easier against Devine's new team.
* Fun fact: in 1958, Oregon and Idaho were in the same conference, the Pacific Coast Conference, with Oregon State, Washington State, Washington, Cal, Stanford, USC, and UCLA. However, they only played OSU, UO, and WSU in 1958, as major scandal was rolling through the PCC. From, where else, Wikipedia:
[T]he conference was wracked by scandal in 1951. Charges were made and confirmed that the University of Oregon football coach had violated the conference code for financial aid and athletic subsidies. After firing the violating coach, Oregon urged the PCC to look at similar abuses by UCLA football coach Red Sanders. The conference spent five years attempting to reform itself. In 1956, the scandal became public.
The scandal first broke in Washington, when in January 1956, several discontented players staged a mutiny against their coach. After the coach was fired, the PCC followed up on charges of a slush fund. The PCC found evidence of the illegal activities of the Greater Washington Advertising Fund run by Roscoe C "Torchy" Torrance, and in May imposed sanctions.
In March, allegations of illegal payments made by two booster clubs associated with UCLA, the Bruin Bench and the Young Men's Club of Westwood were published in LA newspapers. UCLA refused for ten weeks to allow PCC officials to proceed in their investigation. Finally, UCLA admitted that, "all members of the football coaching staff had, for several years, known of the unsanctioned payments to student athletes and had cooperated with the booster club members or officers, who actually administered the program by actually preferring student athletes to them for such aid." The scandal thickened as a UCLA alumnus and member of the UCLA athletic advisory board blew the whistle on a secret fund for illegal payments to USC players, known as the Southern California Educational Foundation. This same alumnus also blew the whistle on Cal's phony work program for athletes known as the San Francisco Gridiron Club, with an extension in the Los Angeles area known as the South Seas Fund.
By 1957 the conference had fallen apart, leading to the decision to dissolve in 1959. Soon after the PCC was dissolved, five of its former members (California, Washington, UCLA, USC, and Stanford) created the AAWU. After initially being blocked from admission, three of the four remaining schools would eventually join (Washington State in 1962, Oregon & Oregon State in 1964), but members were not required to play other members. Tensions were high between UCLA and Stanford, as Stanford had voted for UCLA's expulsion from the PCC.
Idaho, which was not involved in the scandals but had become noncompetitive in the PCC, was also barred from AAWU admittance in 1959.
So there you go. Who knew the West Coast schools were as or more sleazy than their southern counterparts back in the day (and, it could be argued by those paying attention to the Reggie Bush/OJ Mayo/USC saga, still are today)?
Anyhoo...Idaho. Not a very good team in 1958. Unfortunately, in late-September, neither was Missouri. Once again, they puttered around through most of the first three quarters and found themselves trailing, 10-7, in the final minutes. A couple of nice passes by quarterback Phil Snowden (who had set a Mizzou record with a 74-yard punt earlier in the contest), and a nice run by Hank Kuhlmann, helped Mizzou advance into Idaho territory, but a clipping penalty all but killed the drive. The junior Snowden found the sophomore Danny LaRose for a huge go-ahead touchdown, and Charlie Rash's PAT gave Mizzou their margin of victory. It was far from pretty, but unlike the week before, Mizzou made the plays they needed to make in the fourth quarter. Mizzou was 1-1 with a Texas two-step on the way.
Mizzou 14, Idaho 10
Next up: the going gets tough.