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Don Faurot as paradox

The grand old marshall of Ol’ Mizzou dragged the program forward and held it back.

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Moller-1935Faurot Missouri athletics

Former Missouri offensive coordinator Dirk Koetter said that Faurot would always slip him scraps of paper with plays diagrammed on them during game week.

When the Tigers played Memphis State in 1991, Faurot gave Koetter first-hand advice. Even though Faurot had recently been hospitalized, he attended the game and tugged an oxygen tank with him to find Koetter in an area reserved for coaches in the press box.

"Coach Faurot loved the shotgun, and Memphis State was blitzing us down after down," said Koetter, who now is offensive coordinator at Boston College. "Right before halftime, I felt someone tap me on the shoulder, and there he was with his gold sports coat and an oxygen tank. He was yelling at me to use the shotgun. He looked a little funny, but I listened, and he was absolutely right."

Columbia Tribune, October 20, 1995

The University of Missouri gave Don Faurot more than an education and a paycheck. Really, MU gave Faurot his livelihood. In return, he delivered the university's athletic identity.

Columbia Tribune, October 20, 1995

Don Faurot of Missouri is said to hold the inside track for the football coaching post at University of Southern California. [...]

Faurot has a long period to run on his contract with Missouri but states he can be released. He's willing to take the job for the same salary [Jeff] Cravath received, $13,500.

Ogden Standard-Examiner, January 1, 1951

At worst, most Mizzou fans know the CliffsNotes version of the Don Faurot story. He was a True Son, a former Mizzou athlete, and a 20-year Mizzou head coach. He was an offensive innovator. Maybe you know the “He taught his offense to Bud Wilkinson, who won national titles with it” spin-off. And did I mention he was a True Son?

For a long time, Mizzou fans were spoiled from a loyalty/longevity standpoint. Norm Stewart coached for 32 years, Faurot for 22 (well, 19 if you take out the three war years), even Gary Pinkel for 15. Hell, Dan Devine only stayed 13 years, and it was a reasonably big deal that he left.

“Will he stay?” was long a legitimate qualification for a good portion of the fan base, and almost understandably so. Nobody likes coaching changes, and nobody likes feeling abandoned like Mizzou fans did when, say, Mike Anderson left for Arkansas.

Loyalty is an incredible thing. But it’s also a past-tense thing. You don’t predict it in advance, and even if you have the grandest intentions, sometimes fate has different plans.

The top 10 wins of Don Faurot's career


Sept. 28, 1935: Mizzou 39, William Jewell 0. It was his first win, and honestly, Mizzou might not have been good enough to beat Willieam Jewell the year before he arrived.


Dec. 1, 1956: Mizzou 15, Kansas 13. It was his last one. Mizzou wins at the last second, and Faurot gets a hero's ride off the field.


Nov. 22, 1952: Mizzou 20, No. 18 Kansas 19. After cratering in 1951, the Tigers complete a 5-5 rebound season by taking down a 7-2 Kansas squad.


Nov. 8, 1947: Mizzou 28, No. 13 Duke 7. Faurot was 6-6-1 since returning from the war, but this dominant win in North Carolina capped a five-game winning streak that turned the program around for a few years.


Oct. 9, 1948: Mizzou 20, No. 4 SMU 14. All-American Doak Walker and his Mustangs came to Memorial Stadium a national title contender, and while Walker looked the part, Mizzou pulled the upset.


Nov. 15, 1941: No. 16 Mizzou 28, Oklahoma 0. The Split-T took the Big 6 by storm in 1941, and a dominant performance over six-win OU all but locked up another conference title.


Dec. 5, 1942: Mizzou 7, Iowa Pre-Flight 0. After wrapping up Mizzou's third conference title in four years, Faurot's Tigers knock off a super-powered military all-star team ... that Faurot then takes over in 1943.

3, 2, 1

Nov. 4, 1939: Mizzou 27, No. 10 Nebraska 13.

Nov. 11, 1939: Mizzou 20, No. 17 NYU 7.

Nov. 18, 1939: No. 12 Mizzou 7, No. 5 Oklahoma 6. In a three-week span in 1939, Paul Christman, the Orfs, and Faurot's first great team announced both Mizzou's presence and its potential. Christman dominated Nebraska, Mizzou rode special teams to a win over OU, and in between, the Tigers went to Yankee Stadium and played so well it inspired a Grantland Rice soliloquy in the press box.

Yes, Faurot stayed for two decades, changing the game of football with offensive innovation and building the ground work for almost everything we know about Mizzou football today. Yes, he remained athletic director after his coaching retirement. This is true.

But the Truest of True Sons also almost left in 1951. And he almost didn’t come to Mizzou at all. Mizzou almost waited too long.

Contradiction is a huge part of the Faurot legacy, of course.

In 1939, Mizzou’s strength throwing the ball nearly won its quarterback the Heisman. Two years later, he more or less invented option football.

More consequentially, Faurot was responsible for laying the groundwork for Mizzou to become a big-time college football program. But that wouldn’t happen until someone else (Devine) took over. Faurot’s ambition dragged the program forward, just as his stubbornness in the recruiting arena held him back.

"I Just didn't recruit outside of Missouri," Faurot said, making an exception for nearby areas such as Kansas City, Kan., and East St. Louis, Ill.

"Most generally, people don't come to your school from far away unless there's some inducements involved. They don't just get up and come to your school because it's here."

Faurot invented an offensive system that others would ride to national titles with better talent. But he felt that as long as he was in Columbia, his football program should stand as an example to Missourians, that the university and its players belonged to them. (Well, most of them, anyway.) His beliefs were steadfast enough that he almost elected to leave for Ohio State or USC so that he could attract Ohio or California talent and win more games.

Faurot’s beliefs were admirable and destructive to his own two-deep. Still, he became a mythical figure in mid-Missouri. As his story is Mizzou’s story, I will spend the next few weekends walking through Faurot’s legacy and the real story behind Mizzou Football in the middle of the century. Consider this part one of many.