Steven M. Sipple: Melton helped Devaney lay foundation

2013-06-11T23:55:00Z 2013-07-07T09:55:05Z Steven M. Sipple: Melton helped Devaney lay foundation

Things I know and think I know:

They were regarded by many as gridiron miracle workers, Bob Devaney's original coaching staff at Nebraska.

All they did was lay the groundwork — and assemble an engine — for what became a traditional college football powerhouse.

Devaney, at age 46, arrived at Nebraska in 1962 after five seasons at Wyoming. His original full-time staff had six assistants (only six were needed, as opposed to nine now, because of the NCAA-mandated one-platoon system of the time).

John Melton, Jim Ross, Mike Corgan and Carl Selmer came with Devaney from Wyoming. Cletus Fischer and George Kelly were holdovers from the previous staff.

Tom Osborne, a graduate assistant in 1962, notes with a tinge of sadness that, in the wake of Melton's death Saturday, only one member of Devaney's original full-time staff is living. Last Osborne heard, Selmer, the offensive line coach at the beginning, was living in Bellevue.

Melton coached the freshman team for Devaney from 1962-66 and went on to spend 27 seasons as a Husker assistant — first for Devaney (1962-72) and later for Osborne. Melton's funeral is set for 11 a.m. Thursday at First-Plymouth Church, 2000 D St.

Devaney evidently assembled a fine group of assistants in 1962. Nebraska's program was hurting, having endured six straight losing seasons to cap essentially two decades of frustration.

The athletic program operated at a $71,000 deficit for the 1961-62 fiscal year. A brand new athletic director, Tippy Dye, was in place. The football facilities were substandard. Indeed, Wyoming's were better, Devaney said then.

Morale was low.

"The football program was in disarray," Melton told me in 2011.

But there were enough talented players to win. Bill Jennings, the outgoing head coach, could recruit.

"We just had to give them some confidence," Melton said in 2011. "That was the thing that was lacking more than anything else."

Nebraska received an immediate and lasting jolt of positive energy in Devaney's second game, a 25-13 win at Michigan — a triumph that typically gets overlooked when NU's all-time great ones are discussed. The Huskers finished 9-2 in 1962 after going 3-6-1 in 1961.

"That was the thing that changed the whole deal," Melton said of the victory in Ann Arbor, Mich.

You know the rest of the deal, or at least the gist of it.

We regard Melton's passing with sadness. On the bright side, it brings back a flood of pleasant memories — not to mention about a zillion laughs, complements of John — and reaffirms the undeniable: He was part of the original Devaney staff that got Big Red rolling in the modern era.

* Tim Miles' hire of Kenya Hunter as a Nebraska men's basketball assistant is all about expanding the Huskers' recruiting reach, most notably into the AAU scene in Washington, D.C., and elsewhere. Wise move, obviously, considering what we've seen talentwise at NU for the past several years. Miles understands what he's up against in the Big Ten — talent galore — and Hunter's track record suggests he can bring some backboard breakers to Lincoln.

Hunter's salary, $230,000 to start off, suggests he had better reel in a few.

This Miles guy isn't messing around.

* Nebraska senior center Cole Pensick's inclusion on the initial 44-player watch list for the Rimington Trophy takes on added meaning because his father, Dan Pensick, used to square off against Dave Rimington in Husker practices.

Dan Pensick was a regular in the defensive tackle rotation as a senior in 1979. Although Rimington was a redshirt freshman in 1979 (he hurt his knee in 1978), he saw playing time and often practiced with the first string. Dan Pensick can't remember if he ever hammered young Rimington.

"My pride would say I'm sure I did, but I can't honestly say that was the case," Dan Pensick said with a chuckle.

However, the elder Pensick will tell you how grateful he is that Rimington has taken time to visit with Cole.

"As an ex-Husker, and parent of a son who made that (Rimington) list, it's a pretty big honor," Dan Pensick said. "Just to be mentioned in the same context as Dave Rimington … I mean, Dave is as good a center as ever has played the game."

No argument here.

* Want to get Bo Pelini fired up? Suggest the Miami Heat could top the great Bulls teams of the 1990s. No chance, he says emphatically. Those Bulls teams, led by Michael Jordan and Scottie Pippen, were too long and athletic for the Heat. Bo knows his hoops.

* From Journal Star archives: Framed on the wall behind the desk in Melton's office at NU, next to an autographed photo of the great musician Willie Nelson, was the inscription: "We interrupt this marriage to bring you the football season." I'm guessing I'm not the only one who can relate.

Reach Steven M. Sipple at 402-473-7440 or

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About the writer

Steven M. Sipple | Lincoln Journal Star

Steven, a lifelong Nebraskan, newspaper enthusiast and UNL grad, joined the Journal Star in 1990 and has covered NU football since 1995.

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