With Don Devine told to get out from under the Golden Dome, America's leading football factory is looking for a new coach to take over next season. Take a number, coach, and get in line. It is a long line, a very long line.
"The line reaches from Notre Dame, Indiana, to Notre Dame in Paris," said a coach who figures he's in line somewhere around the Azores.
"Look first for Don Shula," he said. "Shula's a great coach, a stout Catholic, a Midwesterner and he has the Joe Robbie-Notre Dame connection, for whatever that's worth." (Robbie, the Miami Dolphins' owner, donates a lot of money to NotreDame. Shula's coaching genius produces some of Robbie's money. So, would Robbie help Shula go to Notre Dame out of his love for the school? Or would the owner keep the coach at the Miami grindstone? No one knows.)
Anyway, put Shula at the front of the line. After a decade dealing with high-priced prima donnas, he may be ready to teach football to players eager to learn. He could do it without financial pain, too. He owns a small piece of the Dolphins. And when you are the Notre Dame football coach, money is on the floor to be picked up. Clinics, speeches and commercials might bring in $100,000 a year over your salary.
If Shula doesn't want the job, this Irish Sweepstakes becomes a stampede. Lou Holtz of Arkansas, Joe Restic of Harvard, Tom Osborne of Nebraska, George Welsh of Navy, Hank Stran of Everywhere, Including CBS -- you will see these molders of character running up the backs of fallen compatriots to get a shot at the job that made Rockne a legend, turned Ara into a television star and left Dan Devine a nervous wreck.
Devine has been the wrong man in the wrong place for the last 10 years. Wonderfully successful at Arizona State and Missouri, fine schools where a fellow could coach forever without exposing himself to the risks of fame, Devine took a wrong turn one night and wound up in Green Bay, Wis., there to coach the Packers of Lombardi.
Phill Bengtson already had failed there. So it seemed, for Devine, the right time to move to Green Bay. If a coach can help it, he won't secceed a legend.The rule of thumb is that it is much safer to succeed the man who secceeds the legend. With Bengtson going down in flames, here came Dan Devine to raise the Packers from the ashes and restore them to the glory of Lombardi.
Didn't do it.
Didn't come close. Went 4-8-2 his first year, then 10-4 before collapsing to 5-7-2 and 6-8. There came on Devine's face a haunted look. His eyes are small brown dots. They saw enemies. The people of Green Bay were hounding him, he said. He told the national media stories of abuse. He called in the police to watch his home.
And when the getting was good, Dan Devine got.
He got out of Green Bay.
Astonishingly, Notre Dame hired him. Father Edmund Joyce, the university chancellor, and Athletic Director Ed Krause rembered Devine as a class guy who could draw Xs and Os with the best of them. The Green Bay experience had been beyond Devine's control, they decided. So when Ara Parseghian retired, they had Devine warmed up in the bullpen. They hired him four days after Ara quit.
And now, five years later, he is a lame-duck coach retiring after this season for "personal reasons." Devine's wife has had multiple sclerosis for years and is said to be losing the sight in one eye. That is a powerful reason to give up a kid's game, but it was less than a year ago that Devine stumped for the Arizona State job left open by Frank Kush's firing. He asked after the Michigan State job, too, and he wondered about Tulane and Arizona.
Even the day he announced his "retirement," Devine said he might get back into pro coaching "because the only bowl I haven't won is the Super Bowl."
Does this sound like a man who is quitting to stay at home?
"Don't believe that 'personal' bull," a big-time Midwestern coach said. "With Dan, it was a matter of time. Notre Dame doesn't 'fire' people, but they told him, 'This is your last year, so get out any way you want to; it's for the betterment of your career'."
The irony is that while one winning season in four at Green Bay was good enough to get Devine hired at Notre Dame, five straight winning years and one national championship were not enough to make him secure in a job that Parseghian had restored to the glory of the Rockne and Leahy years.
Devine's five Irish teams went 8-3, 9-3, 11-1, 9-3 and 7-4. That's 44-14. Parseghian was 95-17-4 with three national championships in 11 seasons.
"That 7-4 was a lousy year," a coach said, "and the 9-3 was lousy, really, too. But Dan's biggest problem is that he followed Ara. Ara was chrismatic, effervescent, outgoing -- and a damned good coach. Everything you'd want in a Notre Dame coach, Ara was it. Dan just couldn't match that, and when he saw he couldn't match it, he started withdrawing."
Even with a won-lost record that most coaches would envy, Devine never was at ease. Parseghian relaxed in South Bend, suffering the recruiting prospect to come to him; Devine was on the road constantly. Ara courted the media, charmed them; Devine snapped answers defensively, and instead of enjoying fame sought to escape its demands by holding up in his office, safe in his bunker.
"The last two years, Dan has become more and more a recluse," a coach said.
"You never saw him around at coaches' things."
Who, then, would want such a job? Who would want a job that turned a good coach into a recluse although he won 76 percent of his games and a national championship? If it is a high crime not to be Ara Parseghian, who would volunteer to be put on trial?
"Only everybody," the Midwestern coach said."The job may be hell, but it's awful close to heaven."