One of only 13 men to coach the Green Bay Packers, Dan Devine died Thursday in his Phoenix, Ariz., home due to complications from a lengthy illness. He was 77-years-old.
Perhaps best known for his success in the college ranks, Devine spent four seasons with the Green and Gold, accumulating a 25-27-4 record from 1971-74 as he maintained the duties of both head coach and general manager. It might have seemed meager at the time, the legend of Vince Lombardi still casting such an enormous shadow, but history looks upon Devine's Green Bay career more kindly.
"It was a tough time to be coach in Green Bay because it was still so much on the heels of the Lombardi years," said current Packers president and chief executive officer Bob Harlan, who was Devine's assistant general manager. "When Dan came here, Bart Starr was still around and Ray Nitschke, so there was some of the Lombardi feel here. But those guys were also aged, they weren't what they were in the 60s."
To be exact, there'd been one winning season since Lombardi's exit when Devine arrived in Titletown, an 8-6 stint in 1969 under Phil Bengtson. In 1971, Devine's inaugural season, Green Bay finished at 4-8 after starting the year 2-1.
In 1972 however, Devine earned 'Coach of the Year' honors from Pro Football Writers and UPI after the Packers went 10-3 en route to the NFC Central Division title. Most memorably, a Green Bay team quarterbacked by Scott Hunter upset Fran Tarkenton's Minnesota Vikings 23-7 to clinch the crown in Minneapolis.
"That was so unexpected because to come out and win the division was huge, but to do it over there was incredible," Harlan said. "I remember the shock on everyone's faces, even in our own locker room. People could hardly believe that we had accomplished this.
"At that point it was a pretty young ballclub in many respects, so it gave you hope for the future, but the next years did not go well."
The Packers wouldn't compile another 10-win season until 1989. It would be 23 years until they earned another Central Division crown, not until Mike Holmgren's Packers broke through in 1995.
Green Bay went a combined 11-15-2 over the 1973 and 1974 seasons and Devine resigned, resurfacing at Notre Dame where he would add to his already legendary career by guiding the Irish to a 53-16-1 record over five seasons, including the 1977 national championship.
"I'm not sure how much happiness Dan had here," Harlan said. "There was turmoil in his third and fourth years, but I don't know that I have ever seen anyone who landed on his feet as well.
"He was in what I consider to be the best place in pro football in Green Bay, and the next thing you know he's got a news conference in South Bend announcing that he's the new football coach at Notre Dame, arguably the best place in college football. So he landed on his feet and he landed in a hurry."
Devine's college head coaching career had begun in 1955 at Arizona State, where he spent three seasons building a national contender that went 27-3-1 under his watch. His 1957 Sun Devil squad was the school's first undefeated and nationally ranked team.
After that came his memorable seasons in Missouri, the Tigers never losing more than three games in any of his 13 seasons while going 93-37-7 and gathering victories at the 1961 Orange Bowl, 1963 Bluebonnet Bowl, 1966 Sugar Bowl and 1969 Gator Bowl.
He retired from coaching duties in 1980 with a career college football record of 173-56-9, a .746 winning percentage over 21 seasons. In years to come, he served as the executive director of ASU's Sun Angel Foundation from 1980-87 and as the director of athletics at Missouri from 1992-94.
Among his many qualities, Devine is remembered by those who worked with him for possessing a tremendous eye for talent and a bedside manner that made him a natural recruiter. Neither skill was limited to player personnel.
It was Devine who brought Harlan -- then working with the St. Louis Cardinals -- to Green Bay in 1971. After conducting his initial interview at the Cardinals' Spring Training home in Florida, Devine invited Harlan and his wife Madeline to visit Green Bay. Upon their arrival they were wined and dined the Devine way.
"I found out that day how good he was one-on-one," Harlan remembered. "He brought us to his house and sat us down in the kitchen and made us each a sandwich. We sat there and just visited and that's kind of where he offered the job.
"It was all very laid back and you could see the way he operated and see why the guy could recruit so well. He could go into Mother's kitchen and recruit Mother. Al Maguire (Hall of Fame basketball coach at Marquette, with whom Harlan worked as a sports information director) always told me, that was the key: recruit the mother."
It was a similar memory for Devine's legendary successor at ASU, Frank Kush, who after serving as Devine's assistant would go on to spend 22 seasons as the Sun Devils' general, compiling a 176-54-1 record.
"I had been in the military when Dan offered me the job to be his assistant coach in 1955," Kush remembered. "I didn't even know where the state of Arizona was at the time and it was not such a big school back then. When I got here I was shocked at the level of talent Dan had assembled."
But Devine's expertise went beyond recruiting, Kush insisted. Now a special assistant to the athletic director at ASU, Kush's walls are decorated with pictures of some of football's best. Among them are shots of Ray Nitschke and Willie Wood. And, of course, Dan Devine.
"Dan understood the X's and O's of the game as good as anybody," Kush said. "His system with multiple formations was quite complex for that day and age."
Like Harlan, Kush suggested that the legend of Lombardi took its toll on Devine during his years in Green Bay.
"I was a big Lombardi fan and he just had a different style than Dan," Kush said. "Dan liked to give a lot of the control over to his assistants and he wasn't opposed to joking around a little bit.
"With Lombardi it was different, there was no messing around and no mistake about who was leading that team. I think Dan's style was just better suited for the college game."
Still, Devine's career in the NFL is far from just a side note -- the number of coaches to have never won a division title far exceeding the number of coaches who have.
"He won a division championship in 1972 and it took us a heck of a long time until we won one again, so you have to give him his due there," Harlan said. "Whether you were friend or foe when he was in Green Bay, you have to recognize that 1972 was a remarkable year and he was a remarkable coach."
Devine was born in Augusta, Wis., and grew up in Proctor, Minn. He graduated from the University of Minnesota-Duluth with a bachelor's degree in history in 1948, his collegiate studies interrupted by a two-and-a-half year service in the Army Air Corps. He later earned his master's degree in guidance and counseling from Michigan State.
In 1985, Devine was elected into the National Football Foundation Hall of Fame.
He is survived by his seven children and their families. His wife Joanne passed away in December of 2000.
The funeral will be Friday, May 17, at 10 a.m. at Corpus Christi Catholic Church in Phoenix.
Devine's Packers Career
1971: 4-8-2 (.333), 4th in NFC Central
1972: 10-4-0 (.714), 1st in NFC Central
1973: 5-7-2 (.429), 3rd in NFC Central
1974: 6-8-0 (.429), 3rd in NFC Central
Career Packers Record: 25-27-4, .482
Devine's Collegiate Coaching Timeline
1955-1957: Head Coach, Arizona State (27-3-1, .887)
1958-1970: Head Coach, Missouri (93-37-7, .700)
1975-1980: Head Coach, Notre Dame (53-16-1, .764)
Career Collegiate Coaching Record: 173-56-9, .746