Faculty, Alumni and Staff Profile: Robert S. "Bob" Devaney
Robert S. "Bob" Devaney began his football career at Alma College as an end. He played this position for three years on the varsity team and earned the title of most valuable player, graduating from Alma College in 1939.
His love for the game didn’t vanish after graduation. Devaney, who was born in Saginaw in 1915, coached high school football for 14 years at four different places in Michigan. He went on to join the Michigan State Spartans as an assistant coach before becoming the head coach at the University of Wyoming.
After spending five years with the Cowboys, Devaney accepted the position of head coach for the University of Nebraska. Here, he would create a legacy as one of the greatest coaches in collegiate football history.
The Cornhuskers only had three winning seasons in 21 years before Devaney got his hands on the team. He reestablished them as a force in the Big Eight Conference. In his 11 years of coaching of them, he produced 11 winning seasons with two national championships.
His determination was unbreakable. He once said, “I don’t expect to win enough games to be put on NCAA probation. I just want to win enough to warrant an investigation.”
His 1971 team is particularly memorable. On Thanksgiving Day, the defending champions played what has been called “the perfect game”, beating the undefeated Oklahoma Sooners. ABC broadcast the game to 55 million people, the largest TV audience at the time to ever watch a college football game.
Devaney’s accomplishments off the field also hit the end zone. To be a Nebraska fan now meant something new. The university’s stadium capacity more than doubled, and there wasn’t an empty seat at a home game. An indoor arena was built and opened as the Bob Devaney Sports Center in 1976.
Devaney was inducted into the College Football Hall of Fame in 1981. He also served as Director of Athletics at Nebraska until 1993 and Athletic Director Emeritus until a year prior to his death in 1996. For 35 years, he was the heart of the university’s athletic teams.
His teams won 101 games and lost only 20, and there is a simple reason for this: leadership. In 1970, when Nebraska defeated Kansas 41-20 after trailing them, he said, “You learned you can come back. Remember that. That is the lesson of life.”