COLUMBIA — Dan Devine Jr. steps onto Hickman Field. He walks from left field to right, testing the grass still recovering from rain the night before.
A few minutes later, Devine opens the door to the equipment room and begins collecting bases for the infield. The Hickman baseball team will be practicing in a half hour and Devine wants to make sure his team has everything it needs.
That’s Devine’s style.
Ordering jerseys, arranging bus rides, grounds keeping — these are a few of the responsibilities that come with being a head coach at the high school level. Last year, Terry Whitney was the head coach, and Devine was his assistant. But with Whitney's teaching position at Ann Hawkins Gentry Middle School, the two swapped titles because Whitney didn’t have the time. Devine has plenty of time.
Devine, who turns 56 Sunday, officially retired in the spring of 2008. Last year, Whitney lured him back to a job he has been doing for more than 30 years.
Coaching was probably expected from Devine, whose father, Dan Devine Sr., coached the Missouri football team from 1958-1970. Dan Devine Sr. also coached at Notre Dame and Arizona State and had a four-year stint as coach for the Green Bay Packers. While coaching at Notre Dame, he won a national championship in 1977, defeating Texas in the Cotton Bowl. At Missouri, he coached for 13 years, with four bowl victories and a career record of 92-38-7. In 1967, Devine's father took on the added responsibility of being athletic director, and that same year he hired Norm Stewart as the Missouri men's basketball coach.
Many Columbia residents are familiar with the Devine name, even if they don’t regularly follow football. Just south of Stadium Drive, off Providence Road is the Devine Pavilion, an offseason workout and conditioning facility for Missouri football players. The $12 million project was completed in 1998, honoring Devine’s father, who was inducted into the College Football Hall of Fame in 1985.
Growing up, Devine Jr. got to enjoy the perks of being a coach’s son. He was a ball boy for his father at Missouri and for the Green Bay Packers. He often got to stand on the sidelines during football games and hang out in the locker rooms with players.
“It was fantastic, unbelievable,” Devine Jr. said. “Being on the field for those games, it was a lot of great memories.”
He soaked it all up. He loved sports and being around his father. Devine Jr. would spend nights with his father in their basement watching game film. Devine Jr.’s sister, Sarah Devine-Avery, remembers the bond between the two.
“They shared a very nice relationship,” Devine-Avery said. “I always was kind of envious of him, getting to go on the sidelines and all of that because I thought that was very cool.”
But being a head coach at the college and professional level, Devine’s father had a significant time commitment to his job. Devine Jr. played several sports in high school, including baseball, basketball and football, but rarely did he see his father watching from the stands.
“You kind of learn to accept the good with the bad,” Devine Jr. said. “He didn’t get to see me play very much because he was doing his thing.”
But there is no resentment in Devine Jr.’s voice as he speaks. He will never forget the time he did spend with his father, who died in 2002.
“There are special memories that I have,” Devine Jr. said.
Devine Jr. also became acutely aware of the added responsibilities of coaching at the highest levels. Before the 1974 season, the NFL player’s union organized a strike. His father was coaching the Green Bay Packers that year and was also their general manager. The business side of football was stressful for his father and did not appeal to his son.
“Instead of coaching he had to deal with that,” Devine Jr. recalled.
Devine’s father also endured harsh criticism from some in the media and the city of Green Bay, especially after trading two first-round draft picks, two second-round picks and a third-round pick for 34-year-old quarterback John Hadl from the *Los Angeles Rams.
“When you live in the public eye, it’s tough when your parent is criticized publicly,” Devine-Avery said. “You close ranks.”
Devine Jr. saw what his father went through and realized it was not his dream to coach at that level.
His goals were simple, but nonetheless important. He wanted to make an impact on people’s lives. And Devine Jr. found that the best way for him to do that was through teaching.
His first job was at Jefferson Junior High School, teaching ninth-grade social studies. His first coaching job was the C team football coach there.
“You always start at the bottom,” Devine Jr. said.
His humble personality is somewhat remarkable considering his background, but Devine Jr. had his own dreams.
“I didn’t feel like I had to do something different in order to be successful,” he said.
So Devine Jr. stuck with teaching and coaching children. From 1977-96, he was the defensive coordinator for the Rock Bridge football team. Devine Jr. also coached Jefferson Junior High girls basketball and track.
But Devine Jr. always had a special place in his heart for baseball.
He played little league as a child and served as assistant baseball coach to Whitney at Rock Bridge in 1998. Last year, when Whitney was appointed the head coach at Hickman he gave Devine Jr. a call, asking him to be his assistant.
“I missed coaching baseball, and I wanted to get back in,” Devine Jr. said. “I really like the parents, loved the kids.”
Now the head coach, Devine Jr. is uncertain of his future beyond this year, but his passion for the game will never change.
In January, he attended The Cardinals Legends Camp. Devine Jr. and Whitney traveled to Jupiter, Fla., the spring training site for the St. Louis Cardinals. Devine had a chance to play baseball with former hall of famers such as Lou Brock and Ozzie Smith.
Devine Jr., an avid fan of the game, sometimes found it hard to believe the opportunity he had and never failed to appreciate it.
“It’s pretty special,” he said. “There’s a lot of moments where you just want to pinch yourself and say, 'Wow.'”
Devine Jr. didn’t go just to enjoy the moment. He picked up practice drills from talking to players and coaches. He wanted to bring something back for his players. He wanted to teach.
For Devine Jr. it was always about teaching. Whitney can attest to that.
Whitney has known Devine Jr. for more than 30 years. When Whitney was a senior football player at Rock Bridge, Devine Jr. was the defensive coordinator. Whitney and Devine Jr. have been coaching together for more than 20 years.
“I know, talking with him all through the years, he liked being a teacher more than he liked being a coach,” Whitney said. “I’ve learned a lot, just being around him, in how to treat players.”
Although Devine Jr. is still officially retired, he can never seem to stop teaching. Anyone who has had a conversation with him learns from him.
“He really, really handles people well,” Whitney said. “He knows how to get the best of people.”
Some may be surprised to see Devine Jr. lugging bases around on a dreary afternoon, but he’s doing exactly what he wants to do. He loves teaching, and he loves teaching sports to his players.
“I think the coaching is in his blood,” Devine-Avery said.