Consider the record: Four bowl bids in six years, one national championship achieved, a second being worked on. A record of 7-0-1 this year and a six-season mark of 51-14-1. A winning percentage of almost .800.
In return, the coach is being run out of town.
The coach is Dan Devine and the school is Notre Dame, and that should at least partly explain the situation. Since the day he arrived in 1974 to succeed Ara Parseghian, Devine has not been able to escape the shadow.
Parseghian was emotional and easy to identify with; Devine is low key and distant. Parseghian was colorful and glib; Devine is colorless and often fumbles for words. Parseghian took a 2-7 loser and won immediately; Devine took a winner and won slightly less.
The alumni have never accepted him, many of the players have made fun of him and the press, at times, has ravaged him.
This is a story about the second-winningest active college football coach in America. It is also a story about a man whose superb record has not been enough to quiet his critics. Finally, it is a story about a man whose consistent ability to win baffles many of his closest associates.
Scene 1: September 1975. The era of Ara has ended and Notre Dame fans are hoping this day will mark the beginning of the dynasty of Devine. Opponent/victim No. 1 will be Boston College.
BC kicks off and the Irish gather around as Devine tells them the first play. They are puzzled because they have never heard of the play the coach calls. He has called a Green Bay Packer play.
The players, most recruited by Parseghian, begin whispering a nickname for their new coach: Inspector Clouseau.
Scene 2: It is the fifth week of the 1975 season. The record is 3-1.The Irish are being whipped by North Carolina, 14-0, when quarterback Rick Slager is hurt.
Devine looks around and sees Joe Montana. Last-string quarterback under Parseghian, elevated to fourth string by Devine. Ignoring quarterbacks two and three, Devine sends in Montana.
To this day, Devine cannot explain why. "Just a feeling," he says. Led by Montana, the Irish come back in the fourth quarter and win, 21-14.
Scene 3: The year is 1979, the record is 6-2. Notre Dame is at Tennessee to take on a struggling team, one hoping for a winning season. The Irish still are hoping for 9-2 and a third straight major bowl bid.
Tennessee wins, 40-18. One week later, back home, Clemson, from the lowly Atlantic Coast Conference, digs the grave a bit deeper, beating Notre Dame, 16-10. No bowl bid. Just embarrassment.
Scene 4: September 1980. Michigan is the opponent and defeat is imminent. The Wolverines lead, 27-26. The Irish have a first down on their 20, 41 seconds left, no timeouts remaining. Devine sends in quarterback Blair Kiel. Kiel has never taken a snap from center in college. Most Irish fans think he isn't even the best freshman quarterback on the team.
Gut feeling again. Kiel drives the team to the Michigan 34, close enough for a 51-yard field goal on the game's last play. Notre Dame wins when it cannot possibly win.
Never underestimate Inspector Clouseau.
It is difficult to understand Dan Devine.
This is a man with a 171-54-9 record. In 22 years as a college coach he has had one losing season. He has had two perfect seasons and won a national championship with an 11-1 team three years ago. His teams have always had a flair for the dramatic comeback, the most memorable in the 1979 Cotton Bowl when the Irish trailed Houston, 34-12, with 7:30 to play and won, 35-34, on the game's final play.
"You would have to have been stupid to think we were going to win that one," Devine says today. "I knew we were going to win."
He has won almost every coaching award in collegiate football. From a distance, this is clearly a major success story.
Move in closer and the vision blurs.
"Never in my life have I met a man like him," said Chuck Lane, Devine's publicity man in Green Bay for three years who has feuded with him publicly for years. "Time after time he jumps out of a burning building and lands smack in the middle of a bed of roses."
Notre Dame has not been a bed of roses. When he told the Rev. Edmund P. Joyce, Notre Dame's executive vice president, that he was resigning in July, Devine cited the health of his wife as the reason for his decision. That is clearly a major factor. Jo Devine has multiple sclerosis. But it is unlikely that is the only reason for her husband's decision.
After the expiration of the five-year contract Devine signed when he came to Notre Dame, he asked for a renewal. The university refused. Since then Devine, 55, who wants security, has been without a contract.
And, clearly, Devine has grown weary of the pressures any Notre Dame coach deals with. Anything short of a national championship is questioned. And, having succeeded the personable and charismatic Parseghian, Devine has never been accepted by many Notre Dame people. That bothered him from the first day and is likely to bother him after the last day.
"I've never really thought about those kinds of things," Devine insisted. "The people who are important to me -- (University President) Father Hesburgh, Father Joyce, my players, the students and the real alumni -- have always been great to me, always supported me. That's what's most important to me. I don't worry about what some reporter who doesn't know me writes or what some sidewalk alumnus thinks. I don't have time for that."
Others disagree. They say Devine is paranoid about Parseghian and his image. There are stories about Devine spending long periods arguing about his image and making a point of having props to prove to visitors that he is popular with his players: letters, telegrams, stories quoting them.
"That's the one thing I've never understood about Devine," Parseghian said. "He's so sensitive about his image, about everything. I don't know where he finds the time to defend himself so much. If he would just ignore all that and let his record speak for itself I think he'd be a lot better off."
Devine's players defend him.
"If Coach Devine wanted to please all the people who complain about him he could do it," defensive end Scott Zettek said. "But he's a coach, not a used car salesman. He doesn't have to sell himself. I'd rather play for him than someone like Digger (Phelps, the Irish basketball coach) who is always being all things to all people."
Joyce acknowledges Devine's non-acceptance but says he can't understand it.
"One of the biggest mysteries and biggest disappointments I've ever had in athletics has been trying to figure out why Dan has never received the credit or adulation his record entitles him to," Joyce said.
It is a cold November night, the wind whipping the trees on the Notre Dame campus, which is dark except for the lights on the Golden Dome. Dan Devine, dressed impeccably, sits behind his desk, slowly sipping coffee.
The subject is Dan Devine.
"I'd really rather talk about this football team," he is saying. "These kids are the story, not me."
He begins to talk, at first slowly, with long pauses, then picking up steam as his memory is jogged and the past becomes clear once again.
"I suppose it's fair to say that my Green Bay experience had an effect on me," he said. "Before I went there, I had never been subjected to disloyalty. I had never had to choose my words with reporters and then found them being misinterpreted in the paper. Since then, I've been more careful, been more wary of people I don't know."
Devine resigned as Green Bay coach after the 1974 season and was named coach of the Irish the next day. Ironically, Devine, who had one year remaining on his contract with the NFL team, reportedly was going to be fired at Green Bay, although team executives say a formal vote was never taken. Devine had a 25-27-2 record with the Packers and was heavily criticized by fans, the media and by some of his players.
George Kelly, Notre Dame's linebacker coach, was an assistant at Nebraska when Devine was at Missouri. When Devine first arrived in South Bend, Kelly picked him up at the airport.
"It was a different guy than the one I had known in the Big Eight," Kelly said. "Something had affected him, changed him. He was almost timid. He certainly wasn't the dynamic guy I had known when he was at Missouri."
The Devine who coached Missouri for 13 years was considerably different from the one at Notre Dame.
"At Missouri he would throw tantrums constantly to get the players going," said one assistant coach. "At Notre Dame, never. Always calm."
Devine says he began to change in 1963 when he was 37 and already a success.
"We were playing Arkansas and it was one of those games where neither team can beat anyone for weeks afterward because so many people get banged up.
"In the fourth quarter we were trailing, 6-0, and driving. We had a fourth and one and went for it. The official signaled first down but the Arkansas coaches wanted a measurement. Before they could measure, I ran down and moved the box and chains. They couldn't measure. There was almost a riot.
"We won the game and I gave myself all the credit. The next day (Missouri Athletic Director) Don Faurot called me in and said, 'Young man, you're never going to make it the way you're going.'
"I realized that I had become bigger than the football team. I realized I would do anything to win. Victory at any cost. I did a lot of thinking. And, I began to change."
Then, Devine says, it was Dan Devine and the Missouri Tigers. Now, it is Notre Dame and Dan Devine.
"Ninety-nine percent of what has happened to me at Notre Dame has been good," he said. "To me, the most important thing is that when I leave I think a lot of people will say I made a contribution to the place, that I made it a little better place.
"I feel good when I realize that sometimes these guys (players) get a little too overconfident because they figure no matter what kind of trouble they get into (in games) the old man will find a way to get them out of it.
"The most important thing to me, though, is that plaque down in the locker room. That's special to me. Especially since it came after a loss."
The plaque, right next to the one with George Gipp's "Rock, tell the guys to win just one for the Gipper" farewell on it, says, "To Coach Dan Devine and the Notre Dame Fighting Irish. Thanks for Never Giving Up." It is signed, "The Notre Dame Student Body."
The plaque was presented to Devine after the Irish has come from 24-6 down against Southern California in 1978, gone ahead, 25-24, only to lose on a last-second field goal.
"To have the students feel that way means more to me than anything else possible could," Devine said, his voice soft, his mouth and eyes both smiling. "How could I possibly be bitter?"
If this were a movie, Ronald Reagan would be playing Dan Devine and his players would be dedicating this season to him. But there is no talk among the players of winning one for the Gipper, or for Devine.
All of them remember the morning of Aug. 18, the third day of summer practice, when they were summoned to a team meeting. There, in a choked voice, reading from a prepared text, Devine told them this would be his last season.
All had heard the rumors of Devine's departure each year they had been on campus. But they had expected the announcement at the end of a season, not the beginning of one.
"I was shocked, scared and confused," said Kiel, who had just arrived on campus for the first time. "I didn't know what it would mean to me, to the team and to Notre Dame. It was really upsetting."
The team's captains, John Scully, Bob Crabie and Tom Gibbons, knew most of the underclassmen were having the same confused, frightened thoughts Kiel was having."We hadn't really started this season at all and all of a sudden this phenomenon of worrying about next season loomed," Scully said. "We had to do something."
The three captains called a players-only meeting for the next day. They didn't want paranoia about 1981 to ruin 1980. At the meeting, they made one point repeatedly.
"They reminded everyone that no individual, coach, player, whatever, is as big as Notre Dame football," Zettek said. "Players don't come here to play for a coach anyway, they come here to play for Notre Dame."
There was no talk of winning one for the Gipper, no jumping up and down. No yelling. "At Notre Dame you look around each August and the talent to win the national championship is there," Zettek said. "We all just decided we had to play up to our potential. We owed that to ourselves."
The Rev. Joyce put it another way: "They had a monkey taken off their backs. They didn't have to answer questions about rumors anymore. They could just go out and play football."
For seven weeks they were superb, beating Purdue, Michigan, Michigan State, Miami (Fla.), Army, Arizona and Navy. Thirteen players were injured, out for the season. Replacements did the job.
Did it so well that the Irish, who were 7-4 in 1979, suddenly found themselves ranked No. 1. Suddenly, the questioners were back. What had happened? And could they beat Alabama in two weeks once they took care of lowly, 1-7 Georgia Tech?
They may beat Alabama Saturday. They tied Tech, 3-3, last Saturday. No longer are they No. 1. The old man could not find a way out this time.
Devine's legacy at Notre Dame probably will be as muddled as his career here. In this gray Midwestern town, he is something of a mystery, a recluse of sorts who is uncomfortable with many in the press and unhappy with his image.
"I can be anything they want me to be if I choose to," he said, leaning forward in his chair. "Look, I can b.s. with anyone if I want to. But why should I do that? I really don't care what people think or write."
Devine's actions bely that statement. When he announced his resignation two Chicago Tribune columnists wrote about him. One piece was positive, one negative.Why, Devine wants to know, was the negative column picked up all over the country?
It is suggested that it was because the negative columnist is syndicated.
"No, that's not it," Devine says. "I checked, it had nothing to do with the syndication thing." Then he catches himself. "I only checked a little. I really wasn't that interested."
"What happened at Green Bay definitely affected him," Kelly said. "But I still think whatever anyone says about him, they have to give him credit for being an awfully good coach."
Some say Devine should be credited for leaving most of the responsibility in the capable hands of assistant coaches like Kelly, Brian Boulac and Joe Yonto, all holdovers from the Parseghian days, all Notre Dame graduates with a feel for what it is to be a Notre Dame player.
Some former players swear by Devine, others swear at him. Some say the Clouseau image is unfair and his initial problems were more a product of the Parseghian-recruited players not being able to adjust to Devine's personality. Others say he is aloof and distant and that the players win in spite of him, not because of him.
And Ara Parseghian, the man Devine has had so much trouble replacing in the minds of Notre Dame people, says this: "If they asked me what type of coach I think they should hire I would tell them to get someone energetic, really enthusiastic. Someone who shows his emotions a lot because that's the kind of person Notre Dame people relate to. I would tell them to get someone who likes mixing with alumni and likes being a part of the Notre Dame atmosphere, likes the kind of pressure that comes with it."
Parseghian has described the antithesis of Dan Devine.
"I don't have any regrets," Devine says. "No reason to. If some people say I haven't received the credit I'm due, that's nice, but I've always been taught you don't receive your just rewards in this life anyway."
He is asked two last questions. Why is his image so mixed? Why is he an enigma to so many?
"I could explain it to you," he replied, the brown eyes dancing. "But I won't."