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That time Don Faurot almost left Missouri for Ohio State. And USC.

He came really close.

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Moller-1935Faurot2 Mizzou Athletics

If Don Faurot had left for greener pastures in 1951, maybe Mizzou’s playing field would still be named after him. After all, he still made the program’s name far more of a national item than it had been before him. He had still won some conference titles and played in big bowl games. He still ran the athletic department for more than a decade. He still reinvented the game of football with his offensive innovation.

But he would have also been A Guy Who Left. And it came pretty close to happening.

Let’s start with the picture that Bob Broeg painted in his 1970s Mizzou opus, Ol’ Mizzou: A Story of Missouri Football.

If Don Faurot had gone to Ohio State as coach in 1950, what would have happened? To Faurot? To Ohio State? To Missouri football?

Wes Fesler’s Ohio State team nipped Pappy Waldorf’s University of California team in the Rose Bowl, 17-14, on a field goal by Jim Hague, whose point-after-touchdown had defeated Missouri in the 1949 opener, 35-34. Fesler, weary of the pressure at Columbus, quit when he was ahead.

Ohio State offered the job to Faurot, impressed by his coaching against the Buckeyes over the years. But now—for the first time—he hesitated. His wife, Mary, who frankly wished he would make the move, explained the indecision.

“Don knows that Ohio has more than enough top talent for the state university and other colleges there,” she said, “and it must hurt him—and it does me—to see him lose to men to whom he taught the Split-T, such as Bud Wilkinson and Jim Tatum.”

We have plenty of times discussed the relationship between Faurot, Wilkinson, and Tatum — how he taught the intricacies of the Split-T to them while heading the ‘43 Iowa Pre-Flight team. Tatum would take the Oklahoma job in 1945, and a year later he ended up at Maryland. Back in Norman, Wilkinson took over.

Between 1945 and Faurot’s retirement in 1956, here are his results against Wilkinson and Tatum:

  • 1945: Oklahoma 14, Missouri 6
  • 1946: Oklahoma 27, Missouri 6
  • 1947: Oklahoma 21, Missouri 12
  • 1948: Oklahoma 41, Missouri 7
  • 1949: Oklahoma 27, Missouri 7; Maryland 20, Missouri 7
  • 1950: Oklahoma 41, Missouri 7
  • 1951: Maryland 35, Missouri 0; Oklahoma 34, Missouri 20
  • 1952: Maryland 13, Missouri 10; Oklahoma 47, Missouri 7
  • 1953: Maryland 20, Missouri 6; Oklahoma 14, Missouri 7
  • 1954: Oklahoma 34, Missouri 13; Maryland 74, Missouri 13!
  • 1955: Maryland 13, Missouri 12; Oklahoma 20, Missouri 10
  • 1956: Oklahoma 67, Missouri 14

After the war, Faurot was 52-56-3 — 0-18 against Wilkinson and Tatum and 52-38-3 against everybody else. You could see why he might have been frustrated at beginning of the 1950s, and it was about to get so much worse.

In the post-war years, Faurot found that his ambition was conflicting with what his idea of what a school’s football team should represent. On one hand, he was trying as hard as he could to raise Missouri’s profile. With his athletic director hat on, he paid for the athletics budget by taking annual payout games at Ohio State and others, but with Mizzou on stronger footing, he was shifting more toward ambitious home-and-homes.

Missouri welcomed SMU to Columbia in 1948, 1950, 1954, and 1956, Navy in 1948, Clemson in 1950, Fordham (Mizzou’s 1942 Orange Bowl foe) in 1951, Maryland in 1952 and 1954, Purdue in 1953, Indiana in 1954, Utah in 1955, and Oregon State in 1956.

In gearing up for all of this, he expressed his plans for expanding 25-year old Memorial Stadium. The 25,000-seat stadium stretched to 30,000 by 1950, 35,000 by 1960, and 51,000 by 1971.

He had plans. He had seen what his offensive system could do in the right hands (i.e. Wilkinson’s and Tatum’s). And he was looking for a shared vision from university higher-ups. He wanted Missouri to start acting like a big-time athletic program.

At the same time, he wanted Missouri to act big-time so that it could serve as an example ... for Missouri kids. He forever believed that he could win with a roster almost entirely made up of in-staters.

Coach Faurot said that he wanted Missouri boys on his teams and pointed out that only three out-of-state boys lettered on his team this year. He said he wanted the people in Palmyra to feel that the University of Missouri Tigers was their team and extended a cordial invitation for all to come to the school and see the team play at any time they can.

In theory, this is admirable. In practice, it’s awfully tricky. As college football slowly became more of a national thing, he found it harder to keep some of the most talented in-state kids in state. To keep them, he needed Mizzou to be a bigger brand. But he couldn't really create the bigger brand by focusing so much on in-staters.

Following the 1950 season, Faurot’s name was never stronger. Mizzou had peaked at No. 8 in 1948 and finished both 1948 and 1949 in the Gator Bowl. He was penning a book about the Split-T.

But it was becoming clear that there was a talent drain occurring on the Missouri roster. In 1950, the Tigers, ranked 17th in the preseason, finished just 4-5-1, and they were looking at having to replace a ton of seniors in 1951. If ever there were a time to jump, it was right then. And wow, did he have some suitors.

January 1, 1951:

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.

January 11, 1951:

Faurot, pressed for a word on the rumor, had only a "no comment" to add to the general confusion. That was a change from earlier in the day when he laughed off reports that he was headed for Ohio State.

January 13, 1951:

Don Faurot of Missouri took a commanding lead in the Trojan coaching derby here tonight as the field narrowed to half a dozen men.

If the Trojans want Faurot they can get him. Don wouldn't say anything official for publication but those close to the Missouri mentor say he'll take the job pronto once the opportunity opens up. [...]

My guess is that the new coach will be Faurot. [...]

Harry Smith, Trojan frosh coach, worked with Faurot at Missouri before taking the first-year job at SC.

Faurot is no stranger to Southern California. He played fullback on the 1924 Missouri team which lost to the Trojans in the Coliseum. And he brought his Tigers to Los Angeles in 1937 to play against the Bruins.

Don is 48 years of age and the father of three girls. He is a tee-totaler and does not smoke.

(That last part cracked me up. Those were important details at the time, evidently.)

January 14, 1951:

Commenting on a story in yesterday's Los Angeles Times in which Braven Dyer flatly predicted Faurot would be the next coach at U.S.C., Faurot said:

"I have conferred with Southern California officials but no decision has been reached and I have no comment as to whether or not I might go there and coach."

Ohio State had only begun to enter the picture when rumors began to emerge that Faurot had resigned.

Don Faurot denied tonight a broadcast report that he had resigned his position as athletic director and head football coach at the University of Missouri, but said he was "under consideration" by several major schools.

Earlier tonight, sportscaster Tony Williams of radio station KCMO, Kansas City, said that Faurot has resigned at Missouri and would take another job at a bigger institution.

"I have not resigned at Missouri," Faurot said. "I like it here very much, but I know I am being considered by several schools. I have not been offered another job."

Although Faurot wouldn't say as much, the "schools" are understood to be Ohio State, Southern California and Minnesota. It was rumored here that Faurot would visit Ohio State this week end.

(Oh, the hits Rock M Nation could have racked up in January 1951...)

Former Ohio State head coach and then-current Cleveland Browns head man Paul Brown appeared to be the Buckeyes' chief target, but he was asking for a ridiculous amount of money. So while the USC coach hit a bit of a slowdown, Faurot's name began to pique the interest of many in Columbus.

Ohio State opens its interviews with prospective head football coaches today, with freshman mentor Harry Strobel first on the witness stand. [...]

Don Faurot, Missouri's athletic director and head coach, comes in Saturday for a chat with the "screening" committee. Faurot, also very much in the Southern California "we need a coach" picture, was first interviewed by Ohio State back in 1934 when Francis Schmidt got the Buckeye job, and again in 1940 when Paul Brown jumped from Massillon high school to the Buckeye berth.

January 22, 1951:

Passing through St. Louis en route to Columbia after a visit to Columbus, where he was invited Saturday by Ohio State authorities, Faurot smiled when asked whether it was true, as reported, that the job with the Big Ten power was practically his for the asking.

"It was a most pleasant visit, maybe even nicer than I expected, and they've got some very fine people there, too," Faurot said, sidestepping like a broken-field runner. Mrs. Faurot, who accompanied the coach, agreed that they had been received royally.

Commenting on the report that Ohio State was prepared to pay Faurot nearly double his $11,500 salary at the state university, Elmer Weber, a St. Louis member of the M.U. athletic committee, said:

"I wouldn't know about that, though I'm sure Ohio State is dead serious. The people up at Ohio State appreciate Faurot's ability and reputation as much as we do, I know. He's done a great job. We wouldn't want to stand in Don's way if he had a chance to really better himself, but we'll make every effort to keep him. And I can tell you the athletic committee will meet on that subject this week."

By the last week of January, Illinois' Ray Eliot had turned USC down. Wyoming's Bowden Wyatt, who would a few years later end up at Tennessee, withdrew his name from consideration. An Ohio State offer for Faurot was forthcoming, and a USC offer was looking likely.

Missouri had one last chance to retain Faurot. On January 29, Faurot met with Sam Shirky, a Mizzou dean and the chair of the committee on intercollegiate athletics.

[Faurot] was expected to tell Shirky whether the committee, which met in a four hour session last Saturday, came close enough to meeting his desires to allow him to remain at Missouri. [...]

Faurot is expected to be offered a modest increase in his salary at Missouri. He presently gets $11,825.

It was also understood that Faurot was seeking some concessions from the committee in the recruiting and maintenance of athletes. Faurot was understood to be asking for a "workable plan" for keeping Missouri in material for its big time football.

For Mizzou, this came down to investment.

For the university, it's largely a question of economics. An educational institution isn't like a steel company or any big corporation that can meet bids of rivals for valuable artisans and executives. It's probably out of the realm of possibility for the University of Missouri to approximate matching the top offer the coveted Faurot may receive.

But Faurot is a definite asset at Columbia. He's one of the best coaches in the country. And he's more than that. He's a credit to the university and to the coaching profession. Faurot doesn't believe in buying football players. He doesn't believe in scouring the country for talent. He believes a boy ought to go to school in his own state, with the people who will be his neighbors after graduation. He has discouraged boys from other states who have sought to attend Missouri.

The meeting with Shirky did not go particularly well.

To reporters after his visit to Shirky's office, Faurot said, "I have rejected their proposals. I have not resigned, but I don't know exactly where I stand."

Faurot disclosed that the athletic committee had offered him a pay increase, subject to the approval of the board of curators. [...] "Salary definitely is not an issue," Faurot emphasized.

With salary eliminated as a stumbling block, it was believed Faurot still was concerned over the question of recruiting and maintaining athletes for a tough schedule ahead the next few years. In addition, he was understood to be set on obtaining more authority to go with his title as athletic director.

Much of the policy-making is in the hands of the athletic committee, which reports directly to the university president, Frederick A. Middlebush. But believed of more concern to Faurot was the fact that he had little or no control over athletic business matters, which are handled by business manager Virgil L. Spurling.

With Faurot balking over original proposals, the Los Angeles Examiner predicted he would fly to the West Coast to discuss the Southern California opening with Willis Hunter, U.S.C. athletic director. Both Faurot and Hunter declined comment, however.

Despite the Southern California possibility, the strongest likelihood was that Faurot, if he resigned, would go to Ohio State, where he reportedly has been offered close to $20,000, a staggering salary for a football coach.

This was the end. Faurot was all but gone. But he and administrators kept exchanging ideas, and at the last possible moment, Faurot evidently heard what he was hoping to hear.

Faurot Tells Ohio 'No,' Will Stay at Missouri

COLUMBIA, MO (AP) -- Coach Don Faurot Tuesday said he had decided to stay at Missouri and had withdrawn his name from consideration for any other position elsewhere.

Faurot's announcement followed a four-hour meeting of the university committee on intercollegiate athletics. Faurot, football coach and athletic director, was present for the last half of the meeting.

The Missouri coach previously had been under consideration for football coaching jobs at Southern California and Ohio State

At Columbus, Ohio, Athletic Director Richard C. Larkins of Ohio State said Faurot telephoned him Tuesday night after making his decision.

"I can only say that Missouri is very fortunate and is to be congratulated for retaining such a fine person as Don Faurot," Larkins said.

Faurot got a slight raise and a commitment from the committee "that the university, without becoming a 'pro outfit,' would seek to maintain a flow of athletes to enable the institution, within bounds of pending Big Seven Conference regulations on subsidization, to meet an ambitious five-year football schedule.”

(Here’s your reminder that subsidization was a huge issue in the early 1950s, with every conference having slightly different practices and beliefs as to what should be allowable.)

We’ll finish with another Broeg passage:

From the time 48-year-old Faurot turned down Ohio State with thanks, this highly successful coach, with only one losing season in 12 at Missouri, broke .500 just once in seven years. Ohio State, meanwhile, hired Woody Hayes and achieved new heights.

To say that Faurot would have done as well as Hayes, past 60 and still on the job at Columbus, is presumptuous, but to say that Faurot would have done well at Ohio State is undeniable. The Scarlet and Gray does recruit in an area of outstanding prep talent, and Faurot already had demonstrated that he could make a little go a long way.

As for the future of Missouri, some felt that Faurot’s immediate successor might do better at Missouri those next several seasons than had the Old Master of Ol’ Mizzou. Those who felt this insisted that Faurot had been obsessed with the home-state program that won him national plaudits and yet cost him players. [...]

[1952], a season noteworthy for the display of the good ol’ college try and an announcement by President Frederick A. Middlebush that the university had taken over the awarding of athletic scholarships and the handling of all athletic funds. This forerunner of the NCAA athletic scholarship was hailed by Coach Faurot. Harry Ice, the former Sugar Bowl halfback star who had been raising funds informally from Quarterback Clubs around the state, was added officially to the athletic department administrative staff.

As it turned out, Faurot was right to look around. By continuing to limit himself to Missouri kids (and not all Missouri kids), he had doomed himself to presiding over rosters that simply didn’t have enough talent. Mizzou would average just 3.7 wins per year with one winning season over his final six years in charge. He would continue to serve as athletic director until he was forced to take age-based retirement, and after a one-year miscue, he would find the successor to take Mizzou to a level he couldn’t sustain. Granted, Dan Devine was allowed to do it with out-of-staters.