The following article was originally printed in volume 62, issue 16, page 12 of The Maneater. It has been reprinted here as it appeared in the paper in 1995. It is not to be seen as a current news article.
The Faurot Legacy
By Jason Bane
To live a life. To leave a legacy.
Tiger legend Don Faurot died Thursday morning at the age of 93. The man who left perhaps the greatest impact on intercollegiate athletics at Missouri died of congestive heart failure at University Hospital and Clinics. Time and place for services have yet to be set.
In passing, Faurot left quite a mark on the world and on everyone with whom he came in contact.
“There was never any questioning of Don Faurot,” said Dan Devine, who coach at MU from 1958-1970. “Did he do things legally — the right way? Those of us who knew him knew he did, and that deserves credit. Simple things like honesty and integrity — he made them real.”
Faurot was born on June 23, 1902, in Mountain Grove, Mo. Don was the oldest of four boys in a family with eight children. It was on their family farm that Don and his three brothers honed their athletic skills before all four of them letter in sports at MU.
For more than 72 years, Don Faurot was involved with nearly every aspect of athletics at Missouri. He was a three-sport letterman at the university — in football, basketball and baseball — from 1922-24. However, it was his coaching abilities that made him a legend.
“He meant so much; it is hard to find one word to describe it,” Devine said. “He was a Missouri boy who chose to attend school at his own state university. He became a legend as a player and a coach. Don had a nationwide reputation. He always brought credit and dignity to the university.”
As a coach, Faurot almost single-handedly turned around the Missouri football program. He served as head football coach from 1935 through 1956, taking three years out to serve in the Navy during World War II.
“Missouri was just flat broke, when he came there,” explained Charlie Jones, executive director of the Blue-Gray game Faurot was involved with: “He went on the road and played Ohio State for 15 years … he made enough money out of that; the first thing he did was get Missouri on its feet with athletics.”
When Faurot took over as coach, he inherited a miserable football program that was deep in debt. In just four years, he [took] Missouri to the Big Six and a berth in the Orange bowl, which was the first bowl game in Tiger history. In his 19 years as head coach, Faurot’s record was 101 wins, 79 losses and 10 ties. Perhaps more important, Faurot left the department virtually debt-free some 32 years later.
B. D. Simon Jr., a former player of Faurot’s, recalled his coach’s first years.
“When he came to Missouri, the bonds on the stadium were in default,” Simon said. “Missouri had won one game in three years — about as low as you can get. He took over that losing situation and turned it into a very respectable athletic program.”
“Boy, he loved the University of Missouri; it was his whole life,” Jones said.
Not only did Faurot leave his mark on the University of Missouri, but also he changed the complexion of college football for years to come. In 1941, Faurot invented the Split-T formation and the option offense. Most of college football’s most successful formations today originated with this option attack, and many of the nation’s top teams, such as 1994-95 national champion University of Nebraska, use the option as the cornerstone of their offense.
After he had saved Missouri’s athletic program, he was asked to save the Blue-Gray College All-Star game. True to form, Faurot stepped in and turned around that program as well.
“For 40 years he and [his wife] Mary came to Montgomery [Ala.] during Christmas week — he was the North recruiter,” Jones said. “The South was winning every year, and they asked Don to help them recruit North players.
“Don finished with a slight winning record; he just turned it around. Nobody was more respected than Don,” Jones said. “Nobody would take a job like Don [took] and do it. Don coached there for a long time. Then he would just help out as an assistant. I have never heard a guy who could handle a situation as well as Don.”
Among his many honors, Faurot a member of the National Football Foundation Hall of Fame, the Missouri Sports Hall of Fame, the Orange Bowl Hall of Honor, the Blue-Gray Game Hall of Fame, past president of the American Football Coaches Association and recipient of the Amos Alonzo Stagg award for his distinguished service in the advancement of the best interests of football.
“His profession was coaching football, and he was very proud of that,” Devine said. “Even though his master’s thesis was on pruning grapes, his profession was football.”
In addition to all his accolades, Faurot also has an award named after him.
In the Blue-Gray Game every year, the players vote on an award known as the Don Faurot award.
“It’s given to a player on quality of person,” Jones said. “We told the players, this thing is a unique award for leadership and concern for others and players. By the end of the week, even when he was 88 years old his presence made such an impact on the team that the award was a serious vote … it wasn’t always the best player that won it. I guarantee you it’s on a lot of great walls around the country.”
Don Faurot was as beloved a man as one could meet. Few people, if any, had bad words to speak of Faurot. To some, he was nothing short of an idol.
“He has been my role model,” Simon said. “I hope I have passed on to my children the things I learned from Don. I think he’s a great gentleman. He played football as fullback, weighing 160-170 pounds. Any back to do that has to be very tenacious. Having known that he played fullback at 170, I was able to be a starting guard on Missouri’s football team for three years (1935-37). Maybe I was too small, but Don wouldn’t let me [feel that way] … I couldn’t feel [too small] if he could play at 170 … [He is] someone I will always respect.”
Perhaps Faurot’s ultimate honor came when the field in Memorial Stadium was named in his honor in 1972. As a graduate student in 1926, Faurot helped lay the original sod at Memorial Stadium. When the field was converted back to grass this summer after 10 years of Omniturf, Faurot was there again to lay the final piece of sod.
“There’s only been on Don Faurot at Missouri, and it’s wonderful that the naming of the stadium exemplifies that,” Simon said.
If one man symbolizes Missouri athletics, it would be Don Faurot. He left a legacy that will stand for years to come.
The first line of the Don Faurot may signify his life best: “Don Faurot: football innovator, leader of young men.”