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Mizzou Moves To The SEC: Coaching Hires And The Butterfly Effect

I've said many times through the years that making a coaching change is the single scariest, most significant thing an athletic department can do. Because nobody is actually very good at it, it should be done only when there are no other feasible options for success. A bad hire could lead to a diminished program, which might lead to limited options for future hires, etc. A great hire can change everything.

And as we see thanks to the wonders of the Google News archive, both deciding to hire somebody new and choosing who to hire are both momentous acts that create a trickle-down effect beyond what we even realize at the time. Nothing illustrates this better than the coaching changes that happened between 1956-58 and enormous impact they had on so many different programs.

In late-1956, Don Faurot retired as Missouri's head coach. From Bob Broeg's Ol' Mizzou: A Story Of Missouri Football:

Although some 40 men had applied, including Hi Simmons, Huston Betty, and Clay Cooper of the Missouri staff, Faurot considered only 14 seriously, including Bowling Green's Doyt Perry and an end coach at Michigan State named Bob Devaney. Perry, in fact, could have had the job, but he decided to stay at the Ohio school he had made a power in the Mid-America Conference.

So the choice was [Frank] Broyles, a former Georgia Tech three-sport star and one-time Baylor and Florida assistant who had just spent six seasons assisting highly successful Bobby Dodd at his alma mater in Atlanta. Player and coach, Broyles, a gifted playmaker, punter, and passer as a quarterback, had gone to 10 bowl games.

Bright, glib, son of a Decatur (Georgia) insurance man and of a vigorous mother from whom he learned to speak rapidly with a Southern accent, Broyles said, "I wanted this job because I wanted my family to grow up in a small town and because the aims and ambitions of Missouri reminded me so much of Georgia Tech. Missouri is an outstanding school, too, and has an athletic policy similar to Georgia Tech's. I believe it can be as successful here as it was there, and I thought I'd like to start my head-coaching career under Don Faurot."

Perry was a mentor for an incredible number of future coaches -- Larry Smith, Don Nehlen, Moe Ankney, Jerry Berndt -- but he admirably remained at Bowling Green, where he continued to win and retired to become athletic director in 1964. He never lost more than two games in a season and finished with a 10-year record of 77-11-5. Not bad. Clearly he would have been a great hire, but he passed. Spurned by one future College Football Hall of Famer (Perry), Faurot instead chose another one (Broyles) over another one (Devaney).

In November 1957, Kansas dismissed head coach Charles Mather after four years and a record of just 11-26-3. In Mather's final game, his Jayhawks defeat an increasingly disillusioned Broyles' Tigers, 9-7. Among the candidates for the Kansas job include native Kansan, and Arkansas head coach, Jack Mitchell.

[Kansas A.D. Dutch] Lonberg said Mitchell would meet with Lonberg in Kansas City, Mo., either today or Wednesday. A Kansas spokesman, extremely close to the athletic department, said Mitchell's hiring was merely a matter of time. The source, unidentified on request, said "the deal apparently has been cut and dried for weeks." [...]

Lonberg said despite rampant rumors that Mitchell was the school's "only choice," several others were under consideration. Lonberg declined to name others, but reliable sources have cited North Carolina State Coach Earle Edwards, Arizona Tempe State mentor Dan Devine, and Wade Walker of Mississippi State.

And by "reliable sources," we probably mean "Lonberg off the record." Regardless, Kansas chose the native son over Dan Devine and two coaches would not achieve much in the coaching world. There's obviously no way to know if these other men would have actually taken the job, but it's funny to think for a moment about the possibility of Devine going to Kansas and Broyles remaining at Mizzou, at least temporarily.

At Kansas, Mitchell was fine. He led Kansas to two Top 15 finishes and a 1962 Bluebonnet Bowl title before eventually fading in the mid-1960s. And of course, his most famous win did not end up being a win at all.

In December, having lost his coach to Kansas (which tells you quite a bit about the status of Arkansas as a national program in the 1950s), John Barnhill aimed high in looking for a replacement. First, he had to resist the prevailing sentiment that, after losing two straight decent coaches to home-state jobs, his Hogs should hire somebody with strong Arkansas ties.

University officials apparently ignored a strong sentiment in the state in favor of hiring an Arkansas native for the job. Several groups have adopted resolutions urging that a man with strong Arkansas ties be hired. Arkansas has lost its last two coaches -- Jack Mitchell and Bowden Wyatt in 1955 -- because they wanted to return to their native states.

Other names prominently mentioned in connection with the job included Murray Warmath of Minnesota, Wade Walker of Mississippi State, Tommy Prothro of Oregon State, Elmer Smith, an assistant at Texas A&M, and Jim Myers of Iowa State.

There are some strong names in that list. Warmath, struggling a bit at Minnesota, would turn things around and win a national title in 1960. Prothro would recruit a future Heisman winner, Terry Baker, to Corvallis; in the mid-1960s, he left for UCLA, where he recruited another Heisman winner, Gary Beban, and led the Bruins to Top 5 finishes in 1965-66. But while the list of candidates was decent, Barnhill clearly found himself a program changer.

Of course, while the 1957 season had some pretty memorable highs and lows, the most notable moment took place after the season was over. Even as the season was progressing more positively than expected, Frank Broyles was a bit unhappy with what he had discovered about the Missouri job in his time in Columbia. He knew that Don Faurot and Missouri boosters preferred recruiting Missouri kids over all others--that winning with Missouri kids was better than winning big with out-of-staters. No problem, he thought. But what he didn't expect was the lack of big-time high school focus on football throughout the state of Missouri. From Bob Broeg:

At a speech earlier before Missouri high school superintendents and principals Broyles had fussed about lack of prep emphasis in football. Leaving MU he decried the absence of spring football in high school and lack of a state prep all-star game.

"There aren't enough small-town schools playing football to make up for a disappointing situation I found in St. Louis city proper and in Kansas City," Broyles told the St. Louis Post-Dispatch. "Too many of the better high school coaches, the basic football teachers, are leaving the field. I though, for instance, I could expect 15 to 20 topflight players a year out of St. Louis alone. Last year we were able to recruit only four."

It was likely pretty clear to Broyles that he could build a competitive program at Mizzou--one that could win more than it lost. But he wanted to build something elite, something to compete with what he had watched Bobby Dodd build at Georgia Tech, and the likelihood of that, in his perception, wasn't nearly as high as he had once thought. He was in the process of signing a pretty solid first recruiting class to Missouri--one that included Mizzou's first ever black players--and over time, he would probably be able to slowly bring more and more out-of-state kids into the program (there was no rule forbidding the recruitment of non-local was just frowned upon). But the lack of athleticism on the 1957 squad, and their crumbling down the stretch, continued to weigh on him.

In early December, Don Faurot had given Arkansas Athletic Director John Barnhill permission to speak with Broyles about the Razorbacks' open head coach position. He didn't think much of it, really--Broyles had given him his word that the only job he would leave for was Georgia Tech, and as mentioned before, Faurot saw a lot of Broyles in himself. He thought Broyles, too, had the same to-a-fault loyalty as he did. Plus, he had worked behind the scenes to assure a pretty sizable raise for Broyles, and the future was pretty bright to Faurot's eyes.

Imagine his shock and surprise, then, when Broyles accepted the job.

Imagine his embarrassment when he was eventually relayed a damning quote from Broyles about Missouri's recruiting approach: "They're living on a cloud up there."

And imagine his pride and satisfaction when, a few years later, Missouri beat Arkansas in Little Rock. Even a proud, non-vengeful man like Faurot probably enjoyed that at least a little extra.

In all, the Broyles situation was rather unfortunate. Faurot thought he had found the guy to take Missouri through the next 25 years, and Broyles thought he had found his destination job, but things didn't work out that way. And in the end, both Missouri and Broyles probably ended up as good or better off with his departure. Broyles would win a national title in Fayetteville in 1964, while Missouri would almost win one in 1960 and churn out one of the winningest programs of the 1960s under Broyles' replacement (and Faurot's true successor) Dan Devine*. And who knows, maybe Broyles' call for more focus on football in Missouri high school athletics spurred on some progress!

* Dan Devine, who, by the way, recruited plenty of out-of-staters.

Broyles' tacky exit from Columbia for a school that had really not achieved anymore, historically, than Mizzou was not amazingly admirable. But it did open the door for Faurot to hire another pretty good coach, Dan Devine. Of course, Devine wasn't the only candidate. Bob Devaney was just wrapping up his first season at Wyoming and was likely still considered a candidate. But another name was surfacing, too: days before Broyles left for Arkansas, his chief assistant, Jerry Claiborne, had taken a similar job on Bear Bryant's developing staff at Alabama.

Jerry Claiborne, newly named assistant to Coach Paul (Bear) Bryant at Alabama, said he is interested in the head coaching job at Missouri, but he denied applying for the job. […]

Claiborne was asked to comment on a report first published by the Kansas City Star that he had reapplied for the Missouri head coaching assignment.

Claiborne said:

"I am happy that Missouri may be considering me for the head coaching job there, but right now I'm hard at work recruiting and doing other work with the University of Alabama.

"I am happy in my assignment with Bear Bryant. We are busy planning for next year's Crimson Tide."

Claiborne would coach in Tuscaloosa for three seasons before starting off on a long journey as a Division I head coach. He led Virginia Tech to a 61-39-2 record and two bowl games from 1961-70, then led a resurgence at Maryland. His teams won three straight ACC titles from 1974-76 and finished in the Top 20 four times in his first six seasons. He moved on to Kentucky in 1982, and after an 0-10-1 season in 1982, he led the Wildcats to back-to-back bowl seasons in 1983-84.

Claiborne was by all means a solid coach. But he was no Devine.

Devine had an offense-friendly reputation at the time -- Arizona State had led the country with 39.7 points per game in 1957 -- but that may have had as much to do with a certain assistant as anything.

The new coach will retain three members of the present grid staff at M.U. and plans to bring three assistants with him from the Tempe school.

The three being retained are Clay Cooper, freshman coach; Harry Smith, line coach, and John Kadlec, assistant coach. All were members of Faurot's staff of two years ago, and remained under Broyles.

The trio Devine plans to bring here include Frank Kush, line coach, Tom Fletcher, backfield coach, and Al Onofrio, chief scout.

Kush, just 27 years old at the time, was an All-American defensive lineman at Michigan State and was prepared to follow the 33-year old Devine to Columbia, but the Sun Devils anointed him as Devine's successor instead.

A major factor in the appointment is believed to be Kush's familiarity with the multiple offense system. His predecessor Dan Devine, who quit for the head coaching job at the University of Missouri, compiled a three-year record of 27-3-1 using the multiple offense.

Kush was scheduled to go with Devine to Missouri, but was released from his commitment.

Kush would remain in Tempe for quite a while -- he went 10-1 in 1959, averaged about seven wins per season for the next decade or so, then took the Sun Devils to a new level. They went 43-4 from 1970-73, finishing in the AP Top 10 four times, then went 12-0, finishing second, in 1975. ASU scored 41.4 points per game in 1968, 38.5 in 1971, and 46.8 in 1972.

Kush was fired in 1979 following an abuse scandal (think Mark Mangino), but if ASU had gone with someone else instead -- either an outsider or, say, Onofrio -- that would have changed the courses of multiple programs in and of itself. What would become a ferocious defensive team under Devine may have either been more offense-heavy, or more well-rounded, with Kush on board. It's hard to be too much better than Missouri already was in the 1960s, but the makeup of the team might have been significantly different.

You know who probably was better than Missouri in the 1960s, by the way? Nebraska. Bob Devaney, passed over for the Missouri job back in 1957, spent five years winning at Wyoming, then took the job in Lincoln, immediately engineered a three-game turnaround, won either nine or 10 games in each of his first five seasons in charge, then went 42-4-2 from 1969-72 and won shares of two national titles.

Teams hire new head coaches all the time. Assistant coaches change teams even more frequently. Some of the changes do nothing, good or bad, to a program's long-term prognosis. Many maintain the status quo. But some alter the history of multiple programs and college football itself. And you really never know, ahead of time, which ones will do which.