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By Randy York
An iconic figure at three prominent BCS schools – Ohio State, Washington and Nebraska – Tippy Dye died Wednesday at age 97 in Northern California after a short illness. The legacy he leaves at Nebraska: Being the athletic director who “hired” Hall-of-Fame Coach Bob Devaney, the man who jump-started a Husker program which has won more football games than any other Division 1 school over the past 50 years. There’s an historic footnote to that achievement, but let the record show that Dye was so respected and so revered over so many decades at so many schools that even a revisionist bit of information does not impugn the trail he left behind.
Dye was a starting quarterback who led Ohio State to three consecutive wins over arch-rival Michigan in 1934, ’35 and ’36. Seven decades later, another Buckeye quarterback, Troy Smith, duplicated that feat. William Henry Harrison Dye took his name “Tippy” from the “Tippecanoe” reference that emerged from the president he was named after. Though small in stature, Dye also played on Ohio State’s basketball and baseball teams and, in fact, coached the Buckeyes to a Big Ten Conference basketball championship in 1950. Three years later, he was Washington’s head basketball coach when the Huskies made their only Final Four appearance in school history.
Nebraska Athletic Director Tom Osborne got to know Tippy when Dye became Nebraska’s athletic director and Osborne was a young assistant football coach under Devaney. Describing Tippy as “very engaging and intelligent”, Osborne said he was sorry to hear of Dye’s death. Nebraska Sports Information Director Emeritus Don Bryant, a.k.a. “The Fox”, expressed similar condolences. “Tippy was a wonderful, wonderful man. He was a real gentleman at all times,” Bryant said. “He was the guy who hired me at the University of Nebraska. Everyone I know has nothing but good things to say about Tippy.”
Dye left Nebraska in 1967 to become athletic director at Northwestern, where he retired in 1974.
Reluctantly and only when pushed Friday afternoon, Bryant acknowledged that other factors were in play with regard to Nebraska’s hiring of Devaney. Dye’s first choice apparently was the head football coach who reported to him when they were both at Wichita State. Hearing that incensed a member of Nebraska’s Board of Regents, whose name Bryant refuses to acknowledge for obvious reasons. At any rate, that regent approached then Nebraska Chancellor Dr. Clifford Harden, telling him in no uncertain terms that NU needed a head football coach who had experience at much higher levels than Wichita State, especially if the Huskers were going to turn around a program that had won just 15 of its last 50 games.
Harden agreed, so he called Duffy Daugherty, an old friend. When Harden could not convince Duffy even to consider taking Nebraska’s head coaching job, Daugherty suggested Devaney, one of his former Spartan assistants who was doing a solid job of putting Wyoming football on the map. At the time, Bryant was the sports editor of the Lincoln Star and remembers Harden bringing Devaney into Lincoln under the secretive code name of Mr. Roberts. Bryant spent an entire weekend trying, unsuccessfully, to identify NU’s mystery head coaching candidate. Only later did Bryant learn that Devaney was staying at a house located just down the street from where he lived.
Yes, it’s a small world, after all, but not so small that Bryant doesn’t feel compelled to set the record straight. Tippy Dye was an important part of the process of bringing Bob Devaney to Lincoln, but this was one hire that reached higher than the AD. Although Dye became Devaney’s immediate boss, the checks and balances and the wheeling and dealing went way beyond Dye, who does not require a Devaney check mark to earn his rightful place in college athletic history. The truth is, he held a special place there long before that move was ever made.
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