Bob Devaney's charisma and popularity always were evident to Jim Walden.
Especially on the night of Nov. 13, 1992.
Walden was Iowa State's head football coach at the time, and Devaney was Nebraska's athletic director. The Huskers and Cyclones were set to square off the next day in Ames, Iowa. Devaney, the legendary former Husker head coach, scheduled a dinner with Walden on that Friday night in Ames. After all, Walden had coached under Devaney at NU from 1969-72.
Scott Frost's Thursday news conference was brief, but we still learned plenty from the head coach before he takes his team to Ohio.
"We end up going to a place downtown," Walden said. "We walk in the place, and it's just jammed. Here I am, the head coach at Iowa State with the former coach at Nebraska. He gets 100 people walking up and asking for his autograph, and not a damned one of them wanted mine.
"They were nice enough about it, though. They'd say, 'Hi, Coach Walden, and Coach Devaney could you sign this for me?'" Walden added with a laugh.
Devaney became a coaching legend for a variety of reasons, as Walden discovered first as a Nebraska graduate assistant coach in 1969 and ’70 and then as a full-time coach on defense in 1971 and '72. NU, of course, captured national championships in 1970 and 1971.
One of Devaney's traits stands out in the 82-year-old Walden's mind to this day.
"He had an unbelievable awareness of how to deal with players," Walden said. "He related well to people. He was a quick-witted man who could walk up to a player and talk about anything."
Walden, who coached outside linebackers in the 1971 and ’72 seasons, noted one of Devaney's strategies for encouraging his players. During a practice, Devaney might walk over to Walden and ask him where one of his players lived growing up, especially if that player was having a good practice.
"It wasn't like he memorized every kid's hometown," Walden said. "So, I'd tell him Willie Harper's busting his tail and doing a great job, and Bob would say, 'Now, where's he from?' The next minute you'd see Bob walk over to Willie, put his arm around him and tell him, 'Great job. I'm sure all the people in Toledo are really proud of you, so keep up the good work.'"
Ah, but Devaney had other ways to get players' attention.
"He also knew when to jump on you, man," Walden said. "He was intense. He would much rather not be screaming. He loved to tell a joke. He loved to keep things light. But, boy, when he decided things weren't going right, I'd never seen anybody who could chew you out as well as he could."
Coach Scott Frost said Nebraska is grateful to the Buckeyes: "It's strange where you find allies in certain things."
No question, Devaney was ultra-competitive. Walden found that out first-hand in early August of 1968 when Devaney initially tried to hire him away from his job as a high school coach in Mississippi. Walden felt he had to turn down Devaney because the high school season in Mississippi was set to start in two weeks. There's was no way Walden could explain to his players, assistants and the team's fans that he was just walking away from it all and heading to Nebraska, he said.
"The one thing about Bob was he was competitive at everything," Walden said. "I mean, he competed, and that was a form of rejection to him. I could tell he was pissed off. And I thought, 'There goes my chance to coach at Nebraska.'"
Turns out, Devaney was apparently impressed by Walden's loyalty to his high school job, because Devaney called Walden again in January of 1969.
"I get a call at the house, and it's Coach Devaney," Walden recalls. "He says, 'Does this give you enough time to get your ass up here and join my staff?' I said, 'I'll be there whenever you tell me to be there.''"
And so began Walden's college coaching career. He went on to become a head coach at both Washington State (1978-86) and Iowa State (1987-94), going a combined 72-109-7 at the schools. Of course, many Nebraska fans remember Walden for guiding Iowa State to a 19-10 victory against NU on Nov. 14, 1992, at Cyclone Stadium. ISU was a 29-point underdog with losses in five of its previous six games.
That's right, the game was played the day after Devaney and his wife took Walden and his spouse to dinner in downtown Ames.
The following Monday, Walden received a phone call from Devaney.
"He says, 'Jimmy, my boy, as badly as I hate to see Nebraska get beat by anybody, I appreciated the way your team executed and beat a really good team,'" Walden recalls. "I thanked him, and he said, 'Just don't think you're going to make it a habit.'"
That was Devaney: charismatic, humorous and capable of showing great class.