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How Tippy Dye Changed College Football

Tippy Dye changed college football. I’ll give you two reasons why, but let’s begin with a little background on Dye, who passed away on Wednesday at 97. He had an impact on college sports in three different incarnations: as a player, as a coach and as an administrator. Born in 1915 in Harrisonville, Oh., Dye was a two-sport star at Ohio State — basketball and football — from 1934-37. He took a brief foray into coaching after the end of his playing career, coaching at Brown and his alma mater from 1941-43, before serving in the Navy during World War II. Dye was actually a basketball coach: at Ohio State from 1946-50, winning 22 games in his final season, and at Washington from 1951-59, reaching the Final Four in 1953.

On the surface, it was in basketball that Dye left the biggest footprint. That’s not necessarily the case — not to diminish Dye’s lasting legacy with the Huskies, where he still ranks fourth on the school’s all-time wins list. Dye led Washington the Elite Eight in 1951 and the Final Four two years later; in the half-decade since, the Huskies haven’t advanced farther than the round of 16.

Forget basketball, however. Football: that’s where Dye cemented his legacy, even if his role in the history of two premier programs remains largely forgotten. One is his alma mater, Ohio State. The other is Nebraska, where he served as the athletic director from 1961-67.

Start with the Buckeyes. Dye was Ohio State’s starting quarterback from 1934-36, helping the Buckeyes go a combined 19-5 and, in 1935, land a share of the Big Ten title — splitting the crown with Minnesota, which was named the national champion in the final season before the advent of The Associated Press poll.

Up until 2005, Dye was the answer to this trivia question: Who is the only Ohio State quarterback to beat Michigan three straight times? Dye and the Buckeyes didn’t just beat the rival Wolverines in each year from 1934-36; they embarrassed the Wolverines, winning the three games by a combined score of 93-0.

Troy Smith, the 2006 Heisman Trophy winner, would match Dye’s feat from 2004-6. Consider this, however: When Dye first met Michigan in 1934, the Wolverines held a commanding 22-6-2 edge in the series. To that point, it wasn’t so much a rivalry as an everyday Big Ten pairing — there was antipathy between the two, but through 1933, Michigan owned Ohio State.

Since 1934, Ohio State holds a slight, 37-36-4 edge against the Wolverines. Was Dye the tipping point? Not alone, no. There were other deciding factors behind the turn in the series’ history, but you can mark the change in Ohio State’s fortunes to the first of Dye’s three seasons as the Buckeyes’ starting quarterback.

Consider Nebraska. Rather, consider Nebraska from 1942, when Glenn Presnell replaced Biff Jones, through 1961, the final season of Bill Jennings’ disappointing five-year tenure. Over this 20-year span, the Cornhuskers posted only three winning seasons: 6-2-1 in 1950, 5-4-1 in 1952 and 6-5 in 1954. Nebraska has had 25 sub-.500 seasons; 17 occurred from 1942-61.

Enter Dye, who was hired away from Wichita State in 1961. His first order of business? Finding a new football coach. According to most recollections of the search, Dye reached out Utah coach Ray Nagel, who was fresh off a 6-4 season in 1961. Rebuffed, Dye then turned his attention to Utah State’s John Ralston, who had gone 18-3-2 from 1960-61. Ralston would head to Stanford in 1963, leading the Cardinal until 1971.

It’s also believed that he offered that job to Michigan State coach Duffy Daugherty, who while not interested in the position could think of someone who was: Bob Devaney, his former assistant at Michigan State and the current head coach at Wyoming. Since being hired in 1957, Devaney had turned the Cowboys into the class of the Sykline Conference.

So Dye found his man, though the timeline of his coaching search is still somewhat hazy. Devaney had recently signed an extension at Wyoming, which was loath to lose its up-and-coming coach. Did Dye go to Devaney first, hit a snag in negotiations and then turn to Nagel and Ralston? Regardless of Dye’s initial preference — whether it was Devaney or one of the Utah coaches — Nebraska had found its man.

Since 1962, and despite a recent lull, Nebraska has been the best program in college football. The Cornhuskers won two national titles under Devaney, in 1970 and 1971. They’d win another three under Tom Osborne, in 1994, 1995 and 1997. From 1962 through last fall, Nebraska has failed to win at least nine games in a season only six times: 1967, 1968, 2002, 2004, 2005 and 2007.

Imagine college football over the last fifty years without Nebraska being, well, Nebraska. Devaney, hired by Dye in 1962, changed the entire tenor of the program. And imagine a nonexistent rivalry between Michigan and Ohio State, such as the series was before Dye took over at quarterback in 1934. It’s hard, right? That’s how Tippy Dye changed football.

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  1. Clem says:

    Very nice read. Add the name of Hank Foldberg to the guys he tried to hire at Nebraska before got Devaney. Foldberg was actually the first choice, but he went to Texas A&M instead and was a flop.

  2. Tom Flor says:

    I could be wrong but I believe Tippy was an extremely rare 3 sport star at Ohio State – baseball, basketball & football. I’m pretty sure he was captain at least one year each in baseball & basketball. I’d guess he was captain of the football team, but I’m not sure.

  3. Husker Bob says:

    I didn’t know Tippy was still alive in 2012. I was a junior at Nebraska in 1962 when Tippy hired Devaney. Unbelievable turnaround from the get-go. The games became fun as opposed to same old, same old. In ’63 season NU beat Auburn in the Orange Bowl. I stayed to get my Masters so I could see one more season. It was a fortuitous event, Tippy hiring Bob Devaney. Without that, NU football would not have had the success we witnessed. Thanks, Tippy. Rest in peace.

  4. Andrew says:

    I didn’t realize Tippy had changed the game in these ways. You learn something new every day.

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