LINCOLN — At one point between quick sips from his cup of soda and rapid-fire responses to reporters’ questions Wednesday afternoon, the enthusiastic former NFL general manager suddenly discovered yet another item to add to his growing to-do list.
So there he stood in a dim Memorial Stadium hallway, fastened up in a Nebraska pullover while he talked about 40-yard dash times with media members. And Billy Devaney simply blurted out the thought that had entered his mind.
“I want to get with those kids — before Friday,” he said, nodding his head almost to reaffirm the thought.
Three days into his new position, Devaney had just realized how badly he wanted to meet with all the former Huskers who’d be participating in Friday’s NFL pro day. He could pass along some advice. He could provide some firsthand anecdotes. He could calm some nerves.
“I want to meet with those kids.” He said it again to himself as he pressed the down-arrow elevator button, heading for the NU football offices.
This might be how it goes for a while.
Devaney termed himself Wednesday as a “Swiss army knife” for Nebraska football, hired to apply his veteran knowledge to all aspects of the program. He’ll oversee NU’s recruiting department, but it sounds as if he’ll end up being consulted in regard to most everything else.
“There’s a newness to that,” he said. “It’s not like every day you’re going to be walking in and you’re going to be doing the same thing.”
It’s already been a “whirlwind,” Devaney said.
A weekend that had been annually reserved for the NFL combine in Indianapolis was rearranged for a cross-country road trip from Atlanta to Lincoln. His first day was Monday. He’s heard from several NFL colleagues since — and he said they all reacted positively when he outlined his job description.
“Anything that I can pass along from 32 years on the road to help these guys, that’s going to be a big part of my job,” he said. “I think that’ll be neat.”
Yet so much of Devaney’s potential impact at Nebraska remains unclear.
He’s already glanced at a few game clips of current Huskers, but could remember only a few numbers on Wednesday (no names yet). He may have some suggestions to adjust or improve the grading scale NU uses to evaluate prospects — but he’s not yet had a detailed enough conversation with director of player personnel Ryan Gunderson and the rest of the staff.
Devaney will have a big-picture influence as well, said Steve Waterfield, executive associate athletic director for performance and strategic research.
“The plan is for him to see what we have,” said Waterfield, who helps oversee the football program. “Look at the structure — where we’re doing things well, where we can do better — and then see how, organizationally, we can make tweaks, whether it’s changing job duties or focusing job duties in certain areas. We’re looking at where people are structurally.”
Waterfield, in an interview with The World-Herald on Wednesday, stressed that this new position, perhaps one of a kind in college football, was the idea of Athletic Director Shawn Eichorst.
That was a selling point for Devaney. He’s had a long relationship with coach Mike Riley. He has respect for those on the NU staff. And he was impressed by the program-wide environment during a scouting visit to Nebraska in August. All reasons to take the job.
But when your new bosses are the ones who create a position specifically for someone with your skills, that’s an opportunity hard to pass up, Devaney said.
“I should have said that in there,” he said as he stood in the hallway, his eyes darting over toward the room where he’d just spoken at a lectern surrounded by cameras.
He covered most everything else in that seven-minute press conference. Well, as much as he could.
His responsibilities are still being determined. Devaney knows his ability to assess talent will come in handy. He’s been scouting college players for more than three decades. He was the St. Louis Rams’ general manager for three years. He most recently was a scout with the Falcons.
Charley Casserly, a former general manager for Washington and Houston, worked alongside Devaney with the Redskins in the ’80s. They stayed in touch after Devaney took a job in San Diego in 1990.
“He’s an excellent talent evaluator who’s very thorough in what he does,” said Casserly, now an NFL Network analyst. “He has a good instinct for the game.”
Plus, he’s been studying college football players for a living — so he’ll surely be able to share some ideas about development and personnel management, Casserly said.
The Huskers’ goal is to add as many smart minds to their brainstorming sessions as possible.
Riley finished his first year at NU with a 6-7 record, losing five games in the Big Ten West. He compiled a 2016 recruiting class that ranked inside the top 30 — but also revealed necessary areas of improvement.
So he brought in Devaney to help. With everything.
“There’s a short-term benefit I know we’ll realize in the recruiting process with the 2017 class, but it’s more long-term, structural organization,” Waterfield said. “The value he brings will build off the foundation Mike and his staff have built.”
Contact the writer: