Navy's chances are buoyed by DeVoe Winning is old hat to Mids' new coach

November 22, 1992|By Milton Kent | Milton Kent,Staff Writer

In the stacks of mail he has left unopened since taking over the Navy basketball coaching job, Don DeVoe pulled out a gem of a letter from Knoxville, Tenn., the other day.

The letter was from the director of the University of Tennessee's physical plant -- a man DeVoe saw frequently during his 11 years in Knoxville -- who just wanted to wish him well in his new endeavor.

Sliding his glasses up on the bridge of his nose, DeVoe reads, "I look forward with interest to see the line scores of the Navy games this winter. Win or lose, I'm sure it will be a well-coached team."

The letter and the sentiment attached speak to things that are at the core of DeVoe's 19 years of coaching experience: devotion to task and attention to detail.

Now DeVoe, 50, is ready to turn his ideas, his Bob Knight-style man-to-man defense and his intensity loose on a Navy team that could use his help.

"What I'm really most concerned about is that I'm going to give them my best effort and I'm convinced they're going to do the same for me," DeVoe said.

DeVoe -- whose teams at Virginia Tech, Wyoming and Tennessee had twice as many 20-win seasons (eight) as Navy has had (four) -- is no starry-eyed optimist. He couldn't be after what he endured in his last season at Tennessee (1988-89) and the following year at Florida.

At Tennessee, DeVoe's last team went 19-11 and made the NCAA tournament. Then athletic director Doug Dickey fired the coach with two years left on his contract. Dickey, a former football coach at Tennessee, became athletic director in 1985.

DeVoe said he could have understood Dickey's desire to hire his own coach, if DeVoe hadn't racked up a 211-158 record in Knoxville, taken the Volunteers to eight postseason tournament appearances and packed the school's 25,000-seat Thompson-Boling Arena.

"We were fourth and fifth in the nation, respectively, in attendance my last two years, so it wasn't like this program wasn't earning its salt," DeVoe said. "I think it had a lot to do with the fact that the people that hired me retired, and there were new people they wanted more."

Reached for comment this week, Dickey would not discuss the specifics of DeVoe's dismissal, but said: "Don DeVoe was a gentleman that I found easy to work with. I think he will bring out the best in Navy basketball."

After leaving Tennessee, DeVoe made what he considers the biggest mistake of his career: taking the Florida job on an interim basis.

"Accepting a basketball job at a big school like Florida is kind of like going in as a substitute teacher," he said. "People look at you and they really don't take you seriously because they know that you're not going to be there a year from now in all likelihood," he said.

DeVoe said he knew the situation in Gainesville was fraught with peril. After all, Norm Sloan had been fired as coach just two weeks before the start of practice.

As the season progressed, the team kept losing and the players became more and more unmanageable under DeVoe, known for his strict discipline. Center Dwayne Schintzius left the team in a loud feud with DeVoe, and the Gators' season ended in a 7-21 mess.

"I never experienced anything like that before," he said. "I was their coach, but you would have thought I was the visiting coach the way they booed and harassed my family. It just became a tough situation, especially for my wife and children, and when it didn't work out, I said, 'Maybe I do need to step back and analyze this situation a little better.' "

DeVoe stayed out of coaching for two years. He spent the 1990-91 season just taking it easy and watching things at a distance. Last year, he began to think he might want to get back into the profession.

DeVoe said he "became a real student of the game," traveling around the country and observing how other coaches operated. He visited his old friends, Indiana's Knight -- who played with DeVoe at Ohio State and for whom DeVoe served as an assistant at Army -- and Duke coach Mike Krzyzewski, who also coached under Knight at West Point.

"I just learned that coaching certainly was for me," he said. "I had many opportunities to say: 'OK, I've had a good career. Now it's time to do something else.' I just never got to that point. I just knew that this is something that I wanted to continue to do."

When Navy called, DeVoe took the job, even though Navy has won just 37 games in the five years since David Robinson graduated.

The reviews on DeVoe are good.

"He's brought a winning type of confidence, which is something we've lacked the last few years," said senior guard John Haase. "We knew about him before he came, and when I talked to people about him coming here, they would say: 'You guys are really lucky. You're getting a great coach.' "

Navy athletic director Jack Lengyel said: "The depth of his teaching abilities is amazing. He's not out there shouting and screaming, but he's patiently telling them what they need to do to get into passing lanes and to set screens. We're excited about him."

And DeVoe, the disciplinarian, seems to fit in well at the academy.

"You tell these people here that you want something done and there's no grimace on their face, there's no shrugging their shoulders and there's no sign of any disgust," DeVoe said. "They are willing to put everything on the line that you want and that's what makes it so rewarding."

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