Darrell Bevell: through and through, a coach

  • Article by: JUDD ZULGAD , Star Tribune
  • Updated: August 4, 2010 - 10:33 AM

Fate, Brad Childress and Brett Favre have played recurring roles in an interesting career.

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A head coach in the NFL someday? Vikings offensive coordinator Darrell Bevell would embrace the opportunity.

Photo: Jim Gehrz, Star Tribune

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Darrell Bevell wasn't about to let this conundrum get the best of him -- no matter how late the hour.

Sitting in his Winter Park office just past 11 p.m. with other members of the coaching staff waiting, the Vikings offensive coordinator searched for a solution. Finally, success.

Football problem resolved? Not even close.

Bevell had been trying to figure out how to create an origami for his oldest daughter, Kylie. Darrell's wife, Tammy, and Kylie had struggled with the confusing school assignment of folding paper into shapes representing flowers and birds and so they placed a late-night call to the man known around the house as "the homework master."

When Bevell got home, he placed the example on Kylie's pillow as she slept. This not only placed the father of three daughters in the running for parent of the year, it also served as an example of Bevell's ultra competitive nature.

Bevell's boyish looks make him appear younger than his 40 years, and his deep religious beliefs (he's never had a sip of alcohol) and patient nature seem to qualify him for residence in Mayberry R.F.D. But talk to Bevell or anyone close to him and it becomes apparent just how much he likes to compete and how little he likes to lose. It doesn't matter if it's assembling an origami, playing baseball for the Eden Prairie Lions Tap senior team or drawing up the Vikings' offensive game plan.

"He's as competitive right now as he was when he was in high school," Jim Bevell said of his son.

Pat Thompson, who manages the Minnesota Senior Men's Amateur Baseball Association team on which Bevell plays whenever he can, has seen it, too. "Darrell's always got a smile on his face but you can see the very serious side of him and his intensity very quickly when he's competitive," Thompson said. "He can be pretty hard on himself."

His first choice

Sitting beside Tammy at the kitchen table of the couple's home in the western suburbs on a sun-splashed July afternoon, Bevell laughs easily and regales a visitor with stories. He is far different from the guy who seemed extremely guarded when he arrived as Brad Childress' offensive coordinator in 2006.

Darrell and Tammy, who will celebrate their 18th anniversary in December, talk about how they first met on a Mormon mission in Cleveland. Tammy wasn't a fan at first, thinking Darrell was too strict in his duties as a leader of the group.

The couple discusses their various stops on the coaching trail, starting with a one-year stint in 1996 at Westmar University in Le Mars, Iowa. A reporter points out that football program is no more, to which Bevell shoots back: "It's a defunct school. The whole school is gone."

But near the end of the interview Bevell's smile disappears as he's asked if he has gotten past the Vikings' 31-28 overtime loss to New Orleans in the NFC title game. The Vikings were in position to win on a field goal until a series of events that included a 12-men-on-the-field penalty and a Brett Favre interception.

"Nope," Bevell says without hesitation, "I'm not over it. I've watched it, but I'm not over it. The last minute of the game too much happened that just eats at my gut. Obviously, turning the ball over, having 12 men on the field. I don't think we had a 12-men-on-the-field penalty the whole year. Then to have it at that moment is just gut-wrenching."

The pain from that loss doesn't overshadow the fact that there are few things Bevell would rather be doing than coaching. In fact, there might be only one thing.

That Bevell ended up in coaching comes as no surprise. Jim and Donna Bevell have eight kids ranging in age from 42 to 24, and Jim spent 43 years coaching and 38 years teaching at high schools around Scottsdale, Ariz.

Jim's devotion was such that he wouldn't let the district take care of his football field and instead would mow it himself and paint the lines with the assistance of his kids. "We had a lot of gophers [on the field] so we'd go out there and trap them," Darrell recalled. "But he didn't let anybody touch the field."

Darrell was Jim's star quarterback for parts of two seasons at Chaparral High and, according to his dad, the top-rated passer in the state of Arizona as a senior.

That season ended prematurely for Bevell when he split a finger on his passing hand and underwent surgery in which his finger was set bent slightly forward so he could grip a football. That began a long journey that included a redshirt season at Northern Arizona and a two-year Mormon mission, and ended with Bevell starting at quarterback for the University of Wisconsin.

As Bevell talks about his ascension through the coaching ranks -- three college stops followed by six years with the Packers, where he first got an opportunity to work with Favre -- he makes one thing very clear. He would love nothing more than to still be taking snaps.

"There's a lot of times that I wish I could play," Bevell said. "I'm competitive, and I still think I could play and I wanted to play. I wanted an opportunity. Maybe that's the hardest thing for me to get over, never having that opportunity. You start four years in the Big Ten and then you don't get an opportunity. It kind of still sits with me."

Glory days

There was a time that Bevell shared the quarterback spotlight in Wisconsin with Favre. Bevell, who is three months younger than Favre, arrived on the Madison campus fresh off his mission in 1992. That was the same year the Packers acquired Favre from Atlanta. The two met for the first time shortly thereafter.

Darrell and Tammy, who had started dating after their mission, planned to get married in June, but Wisconsin coach Barry Alvarez and Childress, then the Badgers' quarterback coach, urged the couple to put off the ceremony for six months until things got settled.

"Looking back now, I wouldn't have it any other way," Tammy said. "But at the time I was quite bitter and I didn't know. When we went to plan the wedding it was interesting because we had to put two dates [down] because they might have made a bowl game. Everything was doubled up, and so my life immediately began to revolve around football."

Wisconsin went 10-1-1 in Bevell's sophomore season of 1993, winning a share of the Big Ten title for the first time since 1962 and beating UCLA 21-16 in the Rose Bowl. Never known for his speed, Bevell's 21-yard dash down the sideline for a fourth-quarter touchdown against the Bruins remains his most memorable moment.

It didn't take much time for Alvarez to realize he had a potential coach on his hands. "The way Darrell studied the game and picked up the game there was no doubt that if he chose to be a coach that he would very successful," said Alvarez, now the athletic director at Wisconsin.

The Badgers went 18-4-2 during Bevell's sophomore and junior seasons, and he left the program holding 19 school records. But in Bevell's final collegiate game, on Nov. 25, 1995, he suffered a lacerated kidney against Illinois. He tried to play through the pain but ended up spending days in intensive care in a Madison hospital.

Bevell had to skip the college all-star games, losing valuable exposure he would have gotten. He received looks at minicamps with the Dolphins and Raiders, but nothing came of it and Bevell decided he didn't want to drag his wife to Canada or the World League. He turned to coaching.

'Fate' plays a role

Childress' relationship with Bevell goes back to Bevell's high school days. Recruiters from the big schools backed off after the finger injury but Childress, offensive coordinator at Northern Arizona, got in touch with the Bevells and offered a partial scholarship. Bevell never played for the school, and Childress tells an amusing story of not knowing what a Mormon mission was at the time and being caught off guard when Jim told him that Darrell was considering leaving school.

"He said, 'You know, Coach, he's thinking about taking that mission,' " Childress said. "I go, 'I'm glad he's going to take a mission and come up here and be the quarterback.' He said, 'You don't understand. It's a church mission.' "

Misunderstandings aside, a relationship was established that continues to this day.

"If you go back and look at Darrell's life, it has just been planned out," Jim Bevell said. "We are one of those families that believe that fate has its hand in everything and you can look at it and see that pretty much it wasn't meant for him to play. It was meant for him to coach. As hard as that is to say."

Bevell's connection to Childress is what got him to Wisconsin after the future Vikings coach had gone from Northern Arizona to a one-year stop in Utah and then to the Badgers. Childress, by now an assistant with the Eagles, also was instrumental in suggesting Bevell for a quality control position with the Packers in 2000 that eventually landed him the role as Favre's quarterback coach.

When Packers coach Mike Sherman was fired after the 2005 season and Childress was hired by the Vikings, the new coach made a call to his former student. Childress handled play-calling in 2006, making Bevell an offensive coordinator without many of the job's usual responsibilities.

That changed in 2007 when Childress turned over playcalling duties to Bevell. It has been that way since. Bevell, working from the sideline, decides on the majority of plays that are run, with Childress weighing in only at times. That trust is one reason Bevell feels his relationship with Childress has "evolved immensely."

"I think at the beginning of time it was that coach-player relationship," Bevell said. "We had that, and he knew he could coach me hard, he knew how to be able to get after me and he knew how hard he could push me. He knows he can keep his foot on me all the time if he needs, too. But I think once we got here it was still kind of that relationship, even though he was the head coach and I was the coordinator. It's hard not to see the person in that light. 'Yeah, this is my player.' I think over the last five years it has evolved. ... He has full trust in me now."

Under the pressure

Childress agrees that he has grown more comfortable with Bevell and adds that it hasn't been easy for his former pupil in part because his expertise was in offense and quarterbacks -- the same areas Childress coached.

"I'm probably harder on him than anybody on the staff," Childress said. "I don't have any problem saying that. I don't think anybody on our staff would see it any differently. I've started to have to pull back because you can't do that. He's very qualified, he's done a great job."

Bevell's even-keel demeanor means it takes a lot for him to raise his voice on the practice field. He rarely uses foul language -- "I hope it takes you a long time to find someone that says they have heard me [swear]," he said -- and isn't easily rattled.

"He has got an amazing amount of patience, but when he reaches his limit we all run," Tammy joked. "He truly is just so calm, but I think everyone has a breaking point."

Bevell did not have a whole lot to get upset about last season. Benefitting from Favre's presence, the Vikings finished fifth in the NFL in total offense and were second in the league with 470 points. For the first time, Bevell's name came up as a potential head coach. He did not get any interviews after last season, but if the Vikings can repeat their offensive success that might change.

"Would I like to be a head coach someday?" Bevell said. "Absolutely. I think everything that I've built up to to this point has prepared me for it. I think what I'm doing now is preparing me for it, but I want to win the Super Bowl for the Vikings and that's it. I want to do the best that we can here. I thought we had a great shot last year and fell 19 seconds short."

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