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The Faurot years: A coda

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Don Faurot never stopped learning.

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The Football Coaching Bible is a book published in 2002 through the American Football Coaches Association (AFCA).

It is written by coaches for coaches, and it’s as self-reverential as you can imagine. You’ve got Bo Schembechler writing about inner drive. Lou Holtz writing about pursuing your vision, Gene Stallings writing about productive practices, (gulp) Jerry Sandusky writing about making defensive calls.

It is self-important but informative. And in the opening chapter, called “Responsibilities of a Coach,” former Baylor head coach Grant Teaff shares an anecdote about Don Faurot, who had passed away in 1995.

At an AFCA convention just a few years before Don Faurot passed away in his 90s, I was a featured speaker. My topic was Baylor’s short-yardage offense. At the Coach of the Year reception that night, Coach Faurot — who was one of the great innovators in college football at the University of Missouri — walked up to me, pulled out a little notebook, and started reciting from it almost exactly what I had said in the lecture. I said, “Don, were you there at the short-yardage lecture?”

He said, “Oh yeah! I never miss a lecture.” Then he said, “I would like to ask you a couple of questions about what you do with the fullback on your lead play.”

I said, “Don, you haven’t coached in nearly 20 years. Why do you still take notes and ask questions?”

Don turned to me, looked me straight in the eye, and said, “Coach, never stop learning.”

Faurot, the namesake of Missouri’s home field, was a coach’s coach, a wonk with a patriotic side for both school and country. He was Mizzou’s Amos Alonzo Stagg, a tinkerer and sportsman who latched onto football because of the way it satisfied both his tactical curiosity and his desire to turn young men into sportsmen.

Like Stagg, Faurot’s flaws were obvious. He was fascinated by the intricacies of the game but after a while couldn’t recruit the same level of talent as his rivals. Coaches were terrified of facing Missouri because they never quite knew what Faurot was going to come up with, but as the years passed, they also became more likely to outlast less talented Tiger squads.

He never took the coach’s hat off, even long into retirement.

When Don Faurot was almost 90, he was doing calisthenics with football players and exercising his knowledge with Missouri football coaches.

Though he coached his last game in 1956 and stepped down as athletic director in 1967, Faurot didn't disappear from the MU athletic scene.

"He is forever a legend at the University of Missouri," former coach and athletic director Dan Devine said. "I guess legends are forever, aren't they?"

His impact was felt on a variety of coaching staffs. 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."

MU went on to win 31-21.

Faurot stayed closely linked to the football program. He had an office in the team's Tom Taylor Building and his blue Buick was a constant at practices.

Faurot would tote his own lawnchair and watch the team practice for hours. Most of the time he sat outside, but on colder days, he would watch practice from his car and occasionally offer spectators a chance to warm up.

"He was a fixture at that field," Missouri coach Larry Smith said. "Day 1 in spring practice that I got here, all the way through, health permitting, he was there."

Faurot was complicated — spectacularly progressive in some ways and a steadfast conservative in others. In that way, there will never be a Missouri coach so quintessentially Missouri.