Anatomy of an Era: Gary Fouraker, Part 2
Excerpted from Chapter 84, No Place Like Nebraska: Anatomy of an Era, Vol. 2 by Paul Koch
Anatomy of an Era: Gary Fouraker, Part 2
Q: I was talking to Damon Schmadeke and he mentioned flying back from that game in Tokyo, talking about those big linemen and how they snuck a little guy in between all of them, like a Schmadeke Sandwich…
GF: Yeah. (laughs) Actually, I didn’t go on that one. I had gone the year before to scout the place out. Duke and Clemson were playing over there the year previous, so I went over and went through the whole thing with them just to see how they handled the teams and what the whole atmosphere was like before we actually said, “Yes,” that we’d do it.
Q: Kind of like you were a fly on the wall, huh?
GF: Yes, and of course that year we were going to the Orange Bowl, so I stayed back and tried to get things set up with them before everybody got back from the Tokyo trip.
Q: So let me ask you, Gary, in going to that Tokyo Bowl game the previous year and witnessing how these other teams operated, could you compare or contrast general organizational efficiencies or mannerisms, methods of working with one another? Anything stand out?
GF: Well, (they operated) kind of like a high school. (laughing) They were not very organized. I mean, I sometimes wondered about ours… but in comparison, there was no comparison.
Q: And obviously, with all the hats that you had to wear, you had to have been a very organized guy. It seemed that all staff members -no matter what their department was- that there was some work ethic and pride going on there. Was that something that was preached?
GF: Oh, definitely. I think a lot of it was that we had a lot of Nebraska people. You have the Midwestern people and that work ethic, just very similar ideas about things. Like I said, coming up through the 80’s and such it was like a family, and that’s the way a lot of us felt. We kind of got away from that a little bit, because it used to be when you’d go on an away game with Devaney in the ’80’s everybody would gather in his suite and have a drink and just sit around and share stories and what have you. It was a close staff and a couple of coaches would stop by.
GF: Oh yeah. Charlie, Milt, those guys.
Q: And that was kind of lost later on?
GF: Yeah, and it was that way across the whole thing. It became more pressure, more business, more stress.
Q: And I don’t mean to speak ill of Steve Pederson, but from a leadership aspect -if you could comment or point out- how best would a person aspire to create that atmosphere? A little B.S. session and that type of thing here and there goes a long way, right? Did that mean more, in retrospect, than a guy maybe thought it did?
GF: Well, I’ve been out of there now for over eight years and I’m not sure what things are like, but back then, earlier on, we tried to do things as a group. Whether it was a golf outing with donors or just a cook-out with donors or something, and you have coaches there and some of the staff and you just interacted. I think that led to a lot of it. The last few years that I was there I know Bill tried some of that, but it was kind of going away.
Q: The camaraderie kind of dissipated?
Q: Did you ever happen to cross paths, rub elbows or butt heads with guys like Miles Brand or Walter Byers at the NCAA, people like that?
GF: No, I didn’t.
Q: You just worried about Nebraska and let others worry about that extracurricular stuff?
GF: Yeah, I did represent Nebraska in some things at the conference level, and there was a committee I was on for the NCAA. We met not that many times -two or three times- to talk about financial reporting and those kind of things, trying to standardize some reports and such.
Q: This might be out of bounds, but did it seem like those years -the ’90’s and the national championships- did you ever notice some envy or people trying to bring Nebraska down via off-field mechanisms?
GF: Oh, yeah. (laughs)
Q: In what manner?
GF: Well, I think there were some jealousies there with other institutions and, you know, there was nothing outright, but you always had that feeling that some were saying, ”Aw, you guys have got to be cheating or something,” you know?
Q: I would think the reality was far from it, no?
GF: Yeah, as far as I know.
Q: I just look at that record of sixty wins and three losses in that five year span and just marvel that it was all done the right way, Gary. An organization can cut a few corners here and there and come up with a good season, but looking back on it I don’t think you could do it with much pride if it all wasn’t done with integrity. Trying to operate above reproach, it almost seemed like we were trying to be the model citizen for the NCAA to point to and say, “Hey, now that’s how you do things.” So other teams and schools could model themselves after us…
GF: Yeah, that was definitely true. And there was plenty of that, too. You could look at that in other areas, especially the academic area. We had people coming in wanting to know how we were running things.
Q: Would that be a positive thing when they asked that? Would we usually comply?
GF: Oh yeah. That’s the other thing: you had these rivalries and competition with some of these people on the field, but as far as staffs we shared things. I had no qualms about picking up the phone and calling my counterparts at other schools and asking how they were doing a certain thing, and they did the same with me.
Q: What was good for Nebraska was good for the conference, and vice versa?
Q: So what did you do when there were home games?
GF: Well, for home games I had a manager to run the concession operations but I also kept an eye on things there, was around to handle problems, make sure the money got transferred by armored car to the bank and everything. And Sundays I would go to the bank and be there. They’d hire bank staff to come in –we paid ’em- but they’d come in and count the money and I’d be there to oversee that and do the financial reports on them.
Q: Wow, all those crusty, sticky, old one dollar bills from the concession stands? And I have to ask this more out of curiosity than anything: If I’m a Nebraska fan and I want to ensure the University gets the most bang for their buck in filling the coffers, what am I choosing for my game goodies? Is it a Runza, a hot dog, a Coke or the old Johnny Rodgers Lemonade when they had that going on?
GF: Well, of course our soft drinks were the big money-maker. Hot dogs were probably next. At one time with the additional offerings of the Runza and the pizza and everything else the numbers came down, but we’d sell fifteen thousand hotdogs a game.
Q: Wow, I would think it would be more…
GF: There were times that we would get around 20,000, but that would be the limit.
Q: That kept the boys in Fairbury busy!
GF: Yeah, and they sold out to Wimmers later. It’s still in the state, though, still local.
Q: This is a more cultural question, but going back to the Mike Grant and Tommie Frazier, Trev Alberts and Calvin Jones years, just being in the organization, was there anything from that time period that set it apart from other years? Any recollections?
GF: Well, I think it was just the character. There were some good kids there. Trev, of course, he’s back here with UNO now as Athletic Director. I had him out speaking to our Kiwanis group just a few weeks ago. It was good to visit with him again.
Q: Have you received many phone calls from him seeking your input on a budgetary situation? Anything like that?
GF: No. Not yet. (laughs) But who knows.
Q: I figured you’d be like the wise, old sage on a mountain top. That fellow a guy would have to climb up high to receive some wisdom…
GF: (laughs) I think he’s got a better one that he can call in Tom. I think they visit quite often.
Q: You can’t find a much better mentor than that, huh?
GF: Oh yeah. Mike Grant, he was one of those guys who was always around, too, just stopping in the office. There were just some good kids there.
Q: Whose office was right next to yours?
GF: We were next to Sports Information.
Q: I don’t think I ever once visited your office.
GF: You must not have had any payroll problems…
Q: No, you took care of me, Gary. I could have always used a few more zeros to the left of the paycheck’s decimal point, but you know how that goes.
GF: (laughs) Yeah!
Q: Did you work a lot with Norma Knobel?
GF: Yes, I’d known Norma for years, because back when I first started at the University our group shared an office, and Norma was one of those. She worked for a guy who did the audits and I worked for a guy who did systems analysis and those kind of things -paper flows and trying to figure out more efficiencies- but our two departments were housed in the same office. So I’d known Norma for years. And when I came over, she was my assistant.
Q: Some players bring her name up, “Norma would give me the stipend money.” I guess it’s always a good thing to be on good terms with someone who’s job is it to give you your money, eh?
Q: And tell me, do you have a favorite game or a favorite moment?
GF: Oh man, probably a few. The one I remember especially was down at Manhattan when Tommie was hurt and Brook was hurt and we put in Matt Turman -the Turmanator- and basically all he did was hand the ball off to (Lawrence) Phillips. And Phillips was playing with a broken thumb, if I remember, or a badly sprained one. I mean, there was nothing they could do. They couldn’t stop him. That’s one of the more memorable ones, yeah.
Q: Last questions, Gary. Is there any issue, any fact that the average fan wouldn’t know that would be a peculiar or interesting or unique that might be worth sharing?
GF: Well, I don’t know of anything specific, although we always tried to emphasize -and I don’t know if the average Joe out there might know, but we were always surprised at the comments or questions that we were using tax dollars or something like that, or student fees or what have you- they didn’t understand that we were self-supporting, that we were raising our own money through ticket sales and our participation in conference TV packages and concessions and our donations, that we were paying the bills ourselves. That may not really be the key thing, but there always seemed to be questions out there about that, a misunderstanding that we were using their tax dollars.
Q: Sure, I’m guessing people just assumed that because Nebraska Football represented the state, per se, that the state was paying for it, that we used a nice amount of the citizens’ tax dollars.
GF: Well yeah, we were “a University department, so we must be getting state funds.” I always tried to emphasize that when I had a visit with a reporter or spoke to a group. That always seemed to be out there.
Q: What percentage of major colleges were actually self-supportive, self-sustaining in that era? Any idea what the numbers were, where we fit in the grand scheme of things?
GF: I know one time -out of the hundred and nineteen, hundred and twenty or whatever- there were eight of us that were self-supporting.
Q: Any of the other schools off the top of your head?
GF: I think Texas -Oklahoma at one time was, they are no longer- Notre Dame, and USC was.
Q: Do the Harvards and those guys count?
GF: No. (laughs)
Q: Not the Ivy’s and their billion dollar trust funds and endowments, huh? And hey, sorry Gary, but I lied earlier. I do have one last question: What would you say about Nebraska Football… in what ways did it benefit the University, the general student population and the faculty? Can you think of the myriad ways the average person not in the know, without much forethought, might not realize how they were either direct or indirect beneficiaries of Nebraska Football?
GF: Well, I think there was a lot of background support, financially, for the Foundation and such that came. That was because of the success of the program. I know that because of the national championships and such the Foundation made comments that they were seeing a lot more donations. Not only to the Athletic Department, but to the Academic Department, they thought, because of the national championships. I think from the standpoint of general interest -the publicity nationally- interest of students from other states besides Nebraska increased, also.
Q: Interesting. People like being associated with a winner, huh?
Q: That was my thought as a young kid, anyway. Heck, being around Coach Osborne and the staff, being around Boyd, Francis Allen in gymnastics, Gary Pepin with Track, Terry Pettit with Volleyball, man there were a lot of leaders there, you know?
GF: Yes, a lot of pioneers.
This is a little off the beaten path here, but who would have suspected the Michigan Wolverines were so fond of ducking the Huskers. That, even I was not aware of. But really, who could have blamed them, as Nebraska already had a slight foothold in recruiting some gems from the upper Midwest. Those sure would have been some prolific matchups, though, with Tom Osborne and Bo Schembechler’s legions going head to head on an autumn Saturday. Hopefully these years as a member of the Big 10 Conference will make up for their lack.
Gary’s mention of the intermingling of duties, of hierarchical teamwork, of joining forces and approaching the organization’s concerns from a group dynamic spoke succinctly of the family atmosphere that flourished in that era. Aside from a rare personality quirk or an attempt to grab the limelight for some individual kudos, the notion of stepping on corporate necks as a ladder to advancement just didn’t hold very well under Bob Devaney’s and Tom Osborne’s leadership. As Dave Ellis mentioned earlier, selfishness among the staffers was typically rooted out and everyone joined together as one for the express purpose of elevating the program as the embodiment of unity and purpose. Oh yes, and a watchful eye was always on the NCAA’s rulebooks, too. It was an organization striving in all areas to operate above reproach, despite any and all naysayers who may have voiced opinion to the contrary.
To summarize, college football as we know it is a big business. It always has been, even back to the era that was pre-Memorial Stadium. To suppose that there were purer, long-gone days when strapping, rosy-cheeked boys fresh off the farm suited up in the gridiron leathers, some driving nails through the soles of work boots for a fleeter footing with no other motive than the unadulterated enjoyment of manly sport, you would only be half-correct. To wit, coaches’ escalating salaries have been a divisive campus issue since the first days of Frothingham to Yost, Stiehm to Bible, et al. Yes, there still existed that up-by-the bootstraps spirit of being a Husker even in the 1990’s -especially among the rolls of the walk-ons- but college football’s always been centered around institutional prestige and the ability to provide the best in facilities for the ‘student-athlete,’ however that term may be defined nowadays, for good or ill. Gary had his hands full during and directly preceding those triumphant years of absolute dominance, as a spirit of over-inclusiveness and an entitlement-minded campus provided no succor to the Athletic Department’s self-sufficiency. His ability to feed the many open mouths and still allow for provision of all things necessary for football excellence should not be dismissed, as he was the one man responsible for -as oddly un-Nebraskan as this may sound- always keeping Nebraska Football ‘out of the red.’
Notable quote #2:
Gary Fouraker on the staff’s special dynamic: “I think a lot of it was that we had a lot of Nebraska people. You have the Midwestern people and that work ethic, just very similar ideas about things… it was like a family, and that’s the way a lot of us felt.”
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Author assumes no responsibility for interviewee errors or misstatements of fact.