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By Randy York
Let me say this up front. I've been sitting on this story for a month, not because it lacks interest or even a high level of intrigue. It qualifies both ways. Waiting a month is a mere flash when insiders have known this story for 50 years but never saw the need to identify the mover/shaker who played a major role in changing the course of Nebraska football history. This story centers on someone who stood up to the University of Nebraska's chancellor 50 years ago, made an emphatic point, influenced a pivotal decision and a half century later, the N-Sider would like to thank this individual publicly for doing what he did. He's a former Nebraska Football and College Football Hall-of-Famer and served three terms as a member of the University of Nebraska's Board of Regents. But before we reveal his name, let me acknowledge the intrinsic power of blogging because that's what solved this mystery. The answer came in one simple email. That's all it took - just one look at an N-Sider Blog that described Tippy Dye as a real gentleman following his recent death in Northern California at age 97.
Dye was the athletic director when Nebraska hired Bob Devaney as its head football coach in 1962. Dye's role got blurred in that hiring because Devaney wasn't even one of the top three choices on Dye's original priority chart. When those names fell off the table, Dye appeared ready to pursue a head coach who reported to him when he was athletic director at Wichita State. That incensed our mystery man, who heroically approached then Nebraska Chancellor Dr. Clifford Hardin, telling him in no uncertain terms that the Huskers needed a head football coach with experience at a much higher level than Wichita State, especially if the Huskers were going to turn around a program that had won just 15 of its last 50 games. Nebraska Sports Information Director Emeritus Don "Fox" Bryant acknowledged that story in the Dye blog linked above, but he would not mention the regent's name because, well, that's been the protocol for 50 years. Fair enough, I thought. Why push something that's been kept under such wraps all these years?
The day after we published that blog on Huskers.com, I got an email. "I enjoyed the article on Tippy Dye, and I do know who the regent was who worked with Cliff Hardin (on Devaney's hiring)," it said. The email came from Kathryn "Tish" Druliner, so I emailed her back and asked if she was willing to share the regent's name. "The mystery regent was my father, Clarence Swanson. He played football for Nebraska and is in the National Football Foundation Hall of Fame. His great grandsons are the Ruud boys. Thanks. "Tish" Swanson Druliner." I was in my office, and all I could do when I read that was shake my head and think to myself: 'Clarence Swanson was the tough guy who'd seen enough and wasn't going to take it anymore? Are you kidding me?'" I couldn't put my fingers back on the computer fast enough. "Thanks for your email," I wrote back to Kathyrn. "Where do you live and do I have your permission to use this information?" She was understandably taken aback. "We live in Lincoln," she emailed. "You can print something, but I didn't mean to make a big deal out of this. He's been gone so long. I don't know who would pay much attention now."
She's probably right. Her dad died at age 72 on Dec. 3, 1970, eight years after he effectively intervened in a hiring process that was going nowhere fast. Even though the younger generation isn't much into the formative process that laid the foundation for Nebraska's remarkable football history, some of us find it hard not to get excited about something like this, especially since Clarence E. "Swanny" Swanson was a trailblazer who played for the Huskers and was the team's only captain in 1921, two years before Memorial Stadium was built. Tom Ruud, a first-team All-America linebacker and first-round NFL draft choice, married the late Jaime (Swanson) Ruud, "Tish's" niece. Jaime's son, Barrett Ruud, a third-team All-America linebacker and second-round NFL draft choice, was Nebraska's defensive captain in 2004. His brother, Bo Ruud, a first-team All-Big 12 linebacker and three-year Husker starter, was a Nebraska captain three years later. Their uncle, Bob Martin, was a Nebraska captain in 1975 after earning first-team All-America honors as a defensive end. Bob Martin's son and Barrett and Bo Ruud's cousin, Jay Martin, was a 2012 Big Ten All-Academic tight end at Nebraska. Another Barrett and Bo uncle, John Ruud, lettered two years at linebacker and often shows up on Nebraska's high-def scoreboards because of his jarring tackle on the second-half kickoff that set the tone for the Huskers' 17-14 upset of No. 1-ranked Oklahoma in 1978.
When Clarence Swanson made his decision to get involved and "pair up" with Chancellor Hardin in a process to elevate the candidates and find someone like Devaney, he was doing it for his alma mater and the tradition he wanted to see re-emerge from the only school that beat Notre Dame's Four Horsemen twice. Here's betting he never dreamed so many members of his own family would be primary benefactors. And since he died less than a month before Nebraska won the first of its five national championships and never saw Tom Osborne coach in any of his 255 wins, "Swanny" wouldn't know the true magnitude of a decision that he so gallantly served and saved. What he clearly understood, however, was how he helped create an identity and since his intervention lifted the standards higher than he ever imagined, we think he deserves an even more special place in Nebraska history than he already had.
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Voices from Husker Nation
I greatly enjoyed reading your blog on Clarence Swanson and his role in getting Bob Devaney to Nebraska. It's amazing to think that without his help our beloved Huskers may never have become what we know today. His daughter may not think anyone pays attention, but I'm sure I'm not the only younger generation fan (I'm 27) who enjoyed learning about what helped create the Nebraska tradition that we all know and love today. Keep up the great work! John Cornett, Kearney, Nebraska
Loved your Mystery Man piece. I was Jay Martin's high school principal at Waverly, and I know his dad Bob well. What great people they are, and I appreciated the way you built the entire family history into the story. The chain of success is really neat to see. Glad someone stepped in when the situation called for it back in the day. Again, thank you for finding the nuggets of Husker football that many of us appreciate. P.S. While the principal at Round Rock High School, I also got to see (2012 Husker quarterback recruit) Tommy Armstrong play against us twice. He is quite an athlete and always seemed to have a cool head on the field. Phil Warrick, Round Rock, Texas
I find it interesting how different the world was 50 years ago when people would actually get together and talk through issues and make things happen instead of worrying about who's right and who's wrong and who wrote what in an endless string of emails? Nebraska will be forever indebted to Clarence Swanson. I find it fascinating that a Hall-of-Fame player and a member of the Board of Regents laid the groundwork for one Bob Devaney to come to Lincoln. What a difference he made and how interesting it is that this story has remained silent for all these years. Truly incredible. Steve Hoffman, San Diego, California
Just a short note to let you know how much I enjoy your articles on Nebraska football. I SO appreciate any articles on the history of Nebraska football. As much as I love the current Huskers, I must admit there is nothing better than learning more about the Huskers of decades past! We also have the same Devaney poster in our collection that you have hanging in your collection. In fact, we own the jacket that Coach Devaney is wearing in that poster. Although we own many pieces that Coach Devaney had, this jacket is our favorite piece! Thank you for your wonderful stories and GO BIG RED!! Troy and Chris Kearney, Kearney, Nebraska
Wow, what an incredible article about our history. Thank you for sharing it with us. It would have been really interesting to have some documents or records of those specific events. I hope this brings some kind of formal recognition for Mr. Swanson. Really, he and Devaney deserve a statue right alongside Tom's. That would be fitting. David Thomas, Lawrence, Kansas, GBR!
I was in school when Clifford Hardin was Chancellor and enjoyed the read. Love your column. Don Kleiber, Sky Valley, Georgia