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Missouri almost didn’t get a second chance at Don Faurot

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Coaching hires are the ultimate butterfly effect.

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Mizzou 1935
Mizzou went 3-3-3 in 1935, Faurot’s first season in charge.
The Savitar

COLUMBIA, Mo., Oct. 7 — Frank Carideo's Missouri Tigers lost to the Kirksville (Mo.) Teachers, 26 to 6, in their first real test of the 1933 football season here today. [...]

The Teachers, coached by Don Faurot, former Tiger backfield star, had Missouri on the defense throughout the first half. They led by 19 to 0 at the half-time intermission.

Missouri did not make a first down until half of the second period had elapsed. [...]

Kirksville gained 347 yards at scrimmage compared to Missouri's 119. Missouri completed five of 10 passes for 115 yards. The first downs favored Kirksville, 19 to 6.

KIRKSVILLE, Mo. — Faurot has been uniformly successful with the Kirksville Bulldogs since he began coaching them in 1926. The early success drew football players to the school and now each fall a small army of potential stars seeks admittance. One result is that the school is within four games of establishing a new record for consecutive games won. [...]

A wiry bundle of nerves, Faurot goes at top speed and his teams move at the same tempo. He is a stern disciplinarian during the football season, and he demands quick thinking of his men. His comments on the practice field can be barbed with sarcasm but he usually deadens the sting by mussing the hair of the unfortunate player while he addresses him. On the bench during a game he seems to make every tackle and run every play, fidgeting and twisting from whistle to gun.

The style he teaches is a mixture of Rockne, Warner, Gwynn Henry, under whom he played at Missouri, and a good dash of Faurot himself. He lives football the year around, keeping abreast of advanced ideas and attending summer coaching schools. This fall he saw Minnesota play Iowa. He noticed a Minnesota play he liked and the next week taught it to the Bulldogs. They used it against St. Louis university for the first time and it gained 20 yards.

In May 1932, Missouri passed on Don Faurot. Booster pressure and wide-eyed thoughts of becoming the next Notre Dame led to the university passing on the alum in favor of ultra-young former Knute Rockne quarterback Frank Carideo.

As far as hiring decisions go, few have been worse than this. Mizzou, which had been good as recently as 1929 under Gwinn Henry, won just two games in three years under Carideo, who basically walked out of the Mizzou locker room after a 20-0 home loss to Kansas in 1934, left town, and never came back.

We know the short version of this story. Mizzou righted its wrongs by bringing Faurot in in 1935. It was only natural, the True Son returning to restore the ol' alma mater.

The longer version takes on a tone similar to other pieces in this series: It could have very easily not happened at all.

In the early 1940s, as the Split T was taking shape, Faurot would liken his implementation of the option to miniature 2-on-1 basketball fast breaks on the gridiron. There's a pretty specific reason why this came to his mind: as a student athlete at Mizzou, he was known as much for his prowess on the court as on the field.

Faurot played football, basketball, and baseball during his time at Mizzou in the early-1920s. After graduation, he quickly became coach of the Mizzou freshman teams for both football and baseball, and within a year he was named the head of the physical education department at Kirksville State Teachers' College, now Truman State.

It took Faurot a long time to figure out something he wasn't good at in the field of athletics, and coaching came to him as naturally as playing. In his first year as head football coach at Kirksville in 1926, his Bulldogs went 7-1. In his second year, they won the MIAA. They won the conference seven times in nine years, and for good measure, he led Kirksville's basketball team to a conference title in 1927 as well.

At the turn of the 1930s, Kirksville really rounded into form. On November 11, 1931, the Bulldogs lost to Northwest Missouri by the score of 7-0. It was their only loss that season, and it was the last Faurot would suffer. From 1932-34, they went 25-0. Among their victims in 1933: Mizzou, and by a blowout margin.

Faurot wasn’t waiting around for Mizzou to call. Following the 1933 season, he applied for the Ohio State job left vacant by Sam Willaman and received consideration. As Ohio State was choosing Francis Schmidt, he interviewed for the vacant Kansas State job as well.

Bo McMillin had gone 6-2-1 in 1933 in Manhattan before leaving for Indiana, and Faurot was high on the list. But Lynn “Pappy” Waldorf ended up taking the job and winning the Big 6 in 1934.

It’s possible that if Faurot had won the KSU job that year, he still would have been open to Mizzou’s advances a year later. Waldorf, after all, did basically that. He won the Big 6 in 1934 in Manhattan and did an impressive enough job that he got called up to Northwestern in 1935.

That meant KSU would be looking for another new coach soon. Following Carideo’s resignation, Mizzou began to consider not only Faurot, but also Waldorf, Abe Stuber, Ohio head coach Don Peden, and Minnesota backfield coach Red Dawson.

Dawson would end up at Tulane, where he would take the Green Wave to a top-five finish in 1939; Stuber, meanwhile, would have a track & field complex named after him at SEMO. But in part because Carideo ditched town so quickly, Mizzou had a leg up on KSU and got its man.

Faurot could have gone to Kansas State or Ohio State. Dan Devine could have chosen to take a harder look at Texas A&M in 1957 before going with Mizzou. Gary Pinkel could have ended up at Washington or a Big Ten school in 1999. Each school’s history looks so certain in retrospect, but every coaching carousel is its own butterfly effect.