Randy York’s N-Sider
On a historic Saturday for college football, two prominent members of the first-ever College Football Playoff (CFP) Committee paused, reflected and shared their warm thoughts about Don Bryant. Nebraska's legendary sports information director and assistant athletic director died Friday night at Bryan LGH-East of congestive heart failure. College Football Playoff Executive Director Bill Hancock and College Football Hall-of-Fame Coach Tom Osborne, a charter member of the CFP committee, expressed their condolences for Bryant, a.k.a. Fox, on Saturday. He was 85.
Funeral services will be Friday at 1:30 p.m. at Lincoln's Christ United Methodist Church, located at 4530 A St., with Pastor Jim Miller officiating. Visitation will be Thursday from 8 a.m. to 4 p.m. at Butherus, Maser & Love Funeral Home, 4040 A St. Visitation will continue one-half mile away at the Christ United Methodist Church gymnasium, where the family will be from 5 p.m. to 8 p.m. Fox is survived by his wife, Joan "Pedie" Bryant; son Bill (wife Linda) of Panama, Neb.; son Jeffrey (wife Jean); and four grandchildren (Jason Bryant, Jennifer McCormick, Jessica Bryant and Asa Bryant).
Hancock relishes his memories of Fox, who was the Lincoln Star sports editor before becoming Nebraska's sports information director. “For three weeks in 1987, I was his roommate when we were on the staff at the Pan American Games in Indianapolis,” Hancock recalled. “We discussed great books, music and science. Fox was a renaissance man. He helped countless young people through the years – reporters, budding SIDs, television people and players. I loved the man.”
Osborne visited Bryant before flying to Texas, where the 12-member committee met in Grapevine to finalize Sunday’s inaugural announcement of FBS playoff qualifiers Alabama, Oregon, Florida State and Ohio State. “Don was pretty much comatose when I was there, but I talked to Pedie and Bill,” Osborne said Saturday. “I’m really sorry to lose Don. He’s a good friend and was a great sports information director. He was probably as well connected with athletic communications people as anybody in the country. He was very well known and very well liked by everyone. I want to send my sympathy to his family and congratulate him on a life well lived. Don made a great contribution to University of Nebraska Athletics.”
Johnny Rodgers Calls Fox Devaney’s Right-Hand Man
Johnny Rodgers, Nebraska’s first Heisman Trophy winner, was in Houston attending a special event and wanted to share his fond memories. “Fox has to be one of the best media people in the business,” Rodgers said. “He was Bob Devaney’s right-hand man, along with Coach Osborne. Everybody liked Fox. He was just a nice guy and very professional. He had friends all over the country. He played an important role in the reputation we had. He was a primary force who knew how to get the right information into the right hands of the right people. I would not have won a Heisman without his influence and leadership. Coach Devaney had a lot of legends around him – Coach (Jim) Ross, Coach Osborne, Coach (Monte) Kiffin and Coach (Cletus) Fischer, and Fox was one of the leaders. He was top-of-the-line in his profession. He was a great representative for the University. He was an important part of the Game of the Century. He outlined the facts that made that game against Oklahoma what it was and still is. Our 1971 team is still considered the best in the history of college football, and here we are, 43 years later. Fox was a huge part of the impact we had.”
Oklahoma coaching legend Barry Switzer was on the OU staff for the Game of the Century . "When I think of Nebraska, the first people I think of are Bob Devaney and Don "Fox" Bryant," Switzer said. "Bob and Fox are some of the best people I've ever met, and because of their leadership, Nebraska fans are what they are today. Win or lose, Fox always came to see me after the game in our locker room. Fox was a good friend and a class man. Bob and Fox were my kind of people."
Fox had worldwide communications appeal. His media responsibities at three Olympic events are testament to that, and his reputation begs for a nationally prominent perspective, so we reached out to Malcolm Moran, who covered Nebraska’s glory years writing for The New York Times. “I always called Don ‘Mr. Fox,’ except for one time, after he lost weight, and I think I called him Skinny Fox,” said Moran, who is now the director of the National Sports Journalism Center and a faculty member in the Department of Journalism and Public Relations, IUPUI, in Indianapolis. “The best thing about Mr. Fox was the collection of memorable moments, whether they happened to be happy for Nebraska or unflattering. I parachuted into Lincoln often enough to observe both, and report on them all, and Don always seemed to understand that was just part of the job.
“When I was with The New York Times, there were probably occasions when he read things in the paper that he would rather not see. But that never seemed to get in the way of his willingness to provide the type of insight that would help a reporter from hundreds of miles away understand what was happening on his campus,” Moran said. “For me, he came to represent an era I was very lucky to become a part of, a time when Sports Information Directors provided counsel for reporters and columnists. Not for the sake of making excuses for the athletes and coaches he represented, but for the chance to explain their lives to our audience. Some of my most memorable moments in the business had to do with writing about the Huskers, and Mr. Fox had a hand in all of it. And he always made it fun. One night, he made sure to place me at a dinner table next to Bob Devaney, and I will never forget him for that.”
Fox Championed Wonderful, Unique Opportunities
Chris Anderson, Nebraska’s Associate Athletic Director for Community Relations, worked for Fox and appreciated the example he set and the mentoring he provided. “Fox influenced hundreds of student assistants and provided wonderful and unique opportunities for both men and women,” she said. “He was so well liked and so highly respected by everyone. He taught us all to operate with integrity and to be truthful and respectful to all student-athletes, coaches, opponents, media and fans. He expected us to work hard but also recommended mixing in a little bit of fun with the work. He’s a legend in athletic media relations, a wonderful mentor and asked all of us to give our full attention to those we served. We will all miss Fox.”
Tim Allen, senior associate commissioner of the Big 12 Conference, captured the essence of one of Bryant’s greatest strengths when he said: “From a business standpoint it was once said that Fox could get more done with one phone call than most SIDs could accomplish with a week’s worth of work.” Tom Simons, a.k.a. “Mini Fox”, remembers watching Fox do precisely what Allen said. “Listening to him on the phone was the best education I ever had,” Simons said. “If you establish a reputation for honesty and integrity, you don’t have to do a lot of extra work to get people to listen to you.” A January 1970 interview for a job as a student assistant in Fox’s office seems like yesterday to Mini Fox. “Fox put me at ease immediately and took me under his wing,” he recalled. “My work with wrestling became a full-time job that summer. It was an unbelievable experience, especially for a kid from Sparks, Neb. I got to work with the 1971 national champion football team and Johnny Rodgers' run to the Heisman Trophy the next year.”
Fox and Mini Fox became a productive tag team, perhaps because of their differences, even though they were of similar size and shape. Fox was not a nuts-and-bolts SID, although he thoroughly understood the need for careful attention to detail. Mini Fox was and still is a nuts-and-bolts guy, and despite his youth, he picked up quickly on big picture thinking. Cheryl Cook, secretary for sports information at the time, was the one who coined the "Mini Fox" name. To this day, some still delete half the name and simply refer to Simons as "Mini" and that’s just fine with him. “Don was like a second father to me,” he said. “He was the rock that I leaned on for 45 years – my entire adult life. I can't describe how much I will miss him.”
Hancock: There Will Never Be another Fox
Hancock, who will help unveil one of college football’s biggest moments on Sunday afternoon, knows how his close friend “Mini” feels. “Fox had a heart of gold,” he said. “He influenced many people, including me, and thousands of friends all over the country. There will never be another Fox.” Those who knew Fox well would agree. He was a good man, a true patriot, a proud Marine, a loving husband, a caring father/grandfather and a faithful member of the Methodist church choir for five-plus decades with his wife, Pedie. “I’ve gone from singing to lip-syncing, but I still wear the robe and walk down the aisle,” Fox told me with his characteristic wink after a Sunday service a few years ago. I laughed, and he laughed, too, ending the conversation with his famous, extended, ultra-dramatic thumb-up gesture…a thumb, I might add, that was half the size it once was. Bill Hancock is right. There will never be another Fox. In respect of Fox's popularity in Nebraska and across the country, The N-Sider welcomes everyone, wherever you are, to use the link below to share your thoughts on a renaissance man who served the City of Lincoln, the University of Nebraska and a country that he loved dearly with energy, spirit and passion. May Don "Fox" Bryant rest in eternal peace.
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Voices from Husker Nation
You don’t toss around a word like “icon” unless you mean it. “Fox” was a true icon in the sports information business. Colorado and Nebraska were, of course, rivals, but being a young guy in the sports info business, watching our own icon, Fred Casotti (who was known as the “Count”) and Fox interact was truly a blessing. They were best friends in the business, cherished the time they spent together and the stories they could tell were endless. Early on, they taught me that this business is about friendships, not what happens on the field. I was nervous as could be my first trip as SID to Lincoln in 1985 – not because of the game, but because I had to speak to the huge weekly Husker booster gathering, one of the first times I had to speak in public to more than a handful of people. We were playing better, but our last visit there was against NU’s monster ’83 team and we lost, 69-19 (featuring the 48-point third quarter). Fox calmed me down, said to be myself, tell a funny story or two. And it relaxed me. Despite our age difference, he was more than a colleague; he was a friend. I hope Nebraska, if it hasn’t already done so, frames his classic red plaid sports coat for permanent display. I’d love to see it again when we return to Lincoln for a game later this decade so I can be reminded of my fond memories with him. Dave Plati (Sports Information Director), University of Colorado, Boulder, Colorado
Don was old school in every positive use of the phrase. He was the standard bearer in this profession when it was as much about the ability to build relationships and create the most comfortable working environment than how unique your game notes or media guide might look. So many student-athletes owe so many of their honors to Don’s relationships with media who never saw a trip to Lincoln as anything but a highlight of any season. It’s a part of our business that has been discounted far too much in recent times. He also suffered the many missteps of a young, eager student assistant and imparted lessons with advice rather than lectures. When I graduated and joined the staff as an assistant, he gave me the chance to try different things, but also provided cover when those efforts went astray. When the call came from his old friend, Dick Wagner, who was in search of college baseball SIDs to come to Houston and work in the Astros PR Department, Fox was adamant that the time had come to stray from the shelter of familiarity in Lincoln and discover if I really knew what I was doing. Without his help and advice, I’d never have been within a million miles of the chance to be a part of the birth of the Florida Marlins (Editor's Note: Pool created the team's Department of Media Relations). Without hearing of Fox's own experiences, I never would have thought to pursue a chance to work an Olympic Games. When I called to tell Fox I was returning to the SID world in 2006, he cautioned me that it was a vastly different job than the one I had left, but he also encouraged me to follow my dreams. I owe my career to him, and I am one of many. Chuck Pool (Assistant Athletics Director, Athletic Communications, Rice University), Houston, Texas
I appreciated your story about The Fox, or Professor Fox to me. I took his sports information methods class while in graduate school at UNL. Most people in the class had grown up as Husker fans but not me. I spent all my precious 27 years in SEC country. I looked forward to every class of his, learning stories only he could tell. I ended up writing my thesis about him which you can read in the UNL library. Brian Blackwell, Alexandria, Louisiana
Growing up in Kearney (Neb.) during the 1970s, I remember Don Bryant most as this really nice guy who always had something interesting to say about the football team. At the time, I had no idea what a sports information director was. What I did know was this guy seemed as important to a fan of Nebraska football as the assistant coaches. A legend has passed, but his legacy will continue to be a lasting part of what makes Nebraska great. Well done Mr. Bryant! Go Big Red! Don Hoelting, Baltimore, Maryland