A model coach
Most basketball games played by teams in the major five conferences get televised. The players on those squads make the cover of national sports magazines and are glorified on television. While those players come and go, sometimes sooner than later, there is only one constant image with which fans can become familiar: the head coach. Naturally, when he decides it's his last season on the sideline, the nation takes note.
But things are different here in the Patriot League.
The conference will lose the elder statesman of its coaching ranks when Navy Men's Basketball boss and three-time PL Coach of the Year Don DeVoe retires this season. DeVoe bows out after spending 12 of his 31 seasons and earning 182 of his 510 wins in the league - the highest numbers for any coach in PL history. But despite all this, he will likely leave coaching without much fanfare beyond the league's most ardent followers.
DeVoe came to Annapolis, Md. when the program fell on hard times after its glory years in the 1980s. Of all the current PL teams, Navy enjoyed the most success before the league's first basketball season in 1990. The Midshipmen were a national power under former coach Paul Evans between 1984 and 1987, as current Hall of Fame-bound David Robinson highlighted the roster. They came within a single win from the Final Four in 1986 before falling to Duke in the Elite Eight. Longtime assistant Pete Hermann replaced Evans the following year, Robinson's senior season, but the Mids fell in the first round of the NCAA Tournament.
The program endured five consecutive losing seasons and moved to the PL in 1991. Hermann left Navy after its inaugural season in the league. Then came DeVoe to turn the ship around, a task to which he was no stranger.
DeVoe took over a mediocre Virginia Tech program in 1971 and led the Hokies through five seasons without a losing record. His team earned the National Invitational Tournament title in 1973 on a dramatic buzzer-beater and got an NCAA Tournament bid in 1976.
After two seasons at Wyoming, he headed a basketball revival in Knoxville, as he took a Tennessee team coming off a losing season to a Southeastern Conference Tournament title and Sweet 16 appearance in 1979. He coached the Volunteers through 1989, earning six berths in the NCAA Tournament and two in the NIT.
DeVoe did just what he had always done when he came to Navy in 1993. After a losing mark in his first season, the Midshipmen returned to the NCAA Tournament, although the heydays of the previous decade were long gone and they lost as a No. 16 seed. DeVoe then led the program to two more PL Tournament championships, seven more winning seasons, and five more shares of the regular season conference title, achievements that stand alone in the league's young history.
Navy basketball has returned to the hard times it fell on when DeVoe took over more than 10 years ago. The Midshipmen have yet to win a PL game this season, making the coach's final appearance likely to come in the conference tournament the first weekend in March. This, however, cannot diminish what he has meant as the most experienced in the fraternity of veteran coaches that has come to define the league.
As DeVoe's years in the PL passed, coaches with backgrounds like his hit the scene. Former Pittsburgh head coach Ralph Willard came to Holy Cross in 1995. Jeff Jones came to AU in 2000 after winning at Virginia. Most recent, Army landed longtime Evansville chief Jim Crews in 2002.
Perhaps DeVoe's departure would garner more attention had it come when he was at Tennessee in the spotlight of the SEC. But it comes when he's at Navy in a league that gets attention once a year, when its low-seeded representative goes to the NCAA Tournament looking to become more than a flyspeck in March Madness.
In typical fashion, the nation will continue to glorify prominent names like Connecticut star Emeka Okafor and North Carolina head coach Roy Williams, while DeVoe goes out quietly. But that's okay. It's the quiet contributions of people like DeVoe that give the PL success in its own right.