To hear all the parties talk about it, organizers for this past weekend's Priory Father-Son banquet had a tough time sealing the deal for this year's guest speaker's slot. The problem: then-St. Louis Rams General Manager Billy Devaney knew he might soon be fired. He could step aside or help find a fill-in, he suggested. But the group of dads persisted, and stuck with their speaker.
Six days after Stan Kroenke officially made Devaney's fears official, there he was, addressing a record-breaking crowd for the Creve Coeur school's annual event at the Westport Sheraton Chalet. He held court and answered questions for more than 40 minutes Saturday night.
Devaney had expected his remarks to touch upon how to deal with disappointment in the athletic realm, but acknowledged, the topic had "kind of taken on a more personal note, if you know what I mean," considering what had unfolded over the past four months. A team with a franchise quarterback, an undefeated preseason, and a promising opening possession against the Philadelpia Eagles finished 2-14, ultimately leaving him and his coaching staff out of work.
RYAN LEAF AND MICHAEL VICK
"You guys are going to go through stuff," Devaney told the audience. "It’s how you handle those thing now that later on, when you face bigger and tougher obstacles, if you handle it the right way, its going to benefit you down the road." Devaney explained how his own career had offered examples of what he meant, long before the disappointment which unfolded for the Rams in 2011. He was part of a San Diego braintrust which drafted Ryan Leaf, knowing that reports told them "This kid has never had to work, never had to face failure," Devaney said, and how unequipped the quarterback was to handle the adversity which came. It ultimately revealed Leaf as one of the biggest draft busts in NFL history.
Devaney was later an executive in Atlanta which saw the best laid plans blow up in its face when Michael Vick was charged in a dogfighting ring. It led the quarterback to prison and the franchise into rebuilding mode, with Devaney left to make a choice about his own future when an opportunity to make a lateral move to St. Louis came up. "My kids were in school in Atlanta. We just bought a house. I said 'this is awful'. I come to St. Louis. Lo and behold, I loved this. I didn’t know anything about St. Louis. I and my family fell in love with this place."
One year after making that lateral move, Devaney, who has lived in University City in his St. Louis tenure, was promoted to become General Manager of the Rams.
Devaney and his wife Dierdre are the parents of a daughter, Kaitlin and a son, Tyler. He told the Priory audience the very personal story about how he and his wife Deirdre were unable to get pregnant after Kaitlin was born. After praying and hoping that would change, the couple considered adoption. One day, a 2 a.m. phone call led to a trip to the hospital to meet the son they would soon adopt, and whie Devaney said he would have loved it if their prayers for pregnancy were answered, "If my wife had become pregnant, I never would have had my Tyler."
What has unfolded in the years since have been special moments like pregame passing sessions on the field between father and son, which this season included road trips at Green Bay and Dallas.
"If you said what happened in 1999 what happened in 2004, what was your record, those things go, those games go, those seasons go, but that time I spent with my son playing catch honest…I wouldn’t trade that time for a hundred of these dog-gone Super Bowls. You can’t replace that. I’ll cherish that forever," Devaney said.
Devaney offered up no hints on which NFL team he'll call home next, but it was clear to the more than 400 in attendance Saturday that he'd made an impression regardless of what had transpired over the last four months or the last six days.
Tomorrow on Patch: Devaney talks about the Rams' future, the NFL draft, and Tim Tebow.