Full Name: Don Veller Born: May 20, 1912 in Linton, In Died: November 10, 2006 in Tallahassee, Fl
|Coaches & Administrators|
|Elected into the FSU Hall of Fame in 1984|
Veller was a brilliant halfback at Indiana University. In his senior year he was a Hoosier MVP and played in the East-West Shrine game. After leaving IU he coached at Hanover College and as an
assistant to Indiana. In 1948 he came to Florida State as head football coach. In five seasons Coach Veller's teams went 31-12-1, a 70 percent victory mark. He gave Florida State its first football
victory, its first winning season and one of two undefeated seasons in FSU history. In his first three seasons in Tallahassee his squads won 24 of 26 games. Veller made the Seminoles a small college
Southern grid power. Later Veller became Seminole golf coach, serving in that post on three different occasions and amassing a 78-23 dual meet record, a winning percentage of .772. For thirty-one
years Don Veller, as coach and teacher, has provided innovation, leadership and service to Florida State University.|
|Fran and Don Veller Obituaries|
Fran Veller, 92, died peacefully Tuesday morning , Oct. 31, 2006 in Tallahassee. She is survived by her husband of 70 years, Don Veller. The service will be 3 p.m. Thursday at Westminster Oaks, with burial at Vevay Cemetery in Vevay, Ind. . Culley's MeadowWood Funeral Home, Riggins Road Chapel (850-877-8191) is handling arrangements. Memorial contributions may be made to Trinity United Methodist Church, P.O. Box 1086, Tallahassee, FL 32302, or a favorite charity. She was the only child of Marion Brindley and Theo McKay Brindley and was born July 13, 1914, in Vevay. Fran graduated from Madison High School in Indiana in 1931. In 1935, she graduated from Indiana University with a Bachelor's of Science in public school music. While at I.U., Frances was a member of I.U. Chorus, Glee Club, Pleiades, Tri Kappa and president of her Chi Omega sorority. After graduation, Fran taught high school for a year at Carthage, Ind. It was while a freshman at I.U. that Fran met and fell in love with the man that she would be with for the next 75 years. She and Don Veller married in Madison, Ind. on Aug. 2, 1936. They moved to Elkhart, Ind. where Don was a teacher and football coach until 1942. After Don's wartime duties, Don took a job as football coach at Hanover College for a year before moving back to I.U., where Don was assistant football coach. After only a year at their alma mater, the Vellers made a decision that would change their lives, and the lives of many. In 1948, Don convinced Fran to move to a sleepy Southern town of 36,000 named Tallahassee to become the head football coach. She came to love the town, and the town loved her. Her grace and wit were her trademarks as she become deeply involved with every aspect of her Tallahassee community. Fran was active in many organizations including the Eastern Star, Camelia Garden Circle, Town Club, FSU Faculty wives, Tallahassee Woman's Club, P.E.O., Trinity Methodist Church Fellowship Class, Circle One, Wesley Foundation Class, Westminster Retirement Community, San Luis Chapter of DAR, Capital City Country Club, Tallahassee Town Club and the Dames Club. Later in life, Fran was generous to Tallahassee Memorial Hospital and to institutions that had been her life, Florida State University and Seminole athletics. The Veller's last gift to FSU golf is honored by a plaque in the golf-teams building celebrating the "mother of FSU golf."
Published in the Tallahassee Democrat on 11/1/2006.
Originally published November 11, 2006
The don of FSU football passes on
By Gerald Ensley
Don Veller, a gentle and hard-working soul who laid the foundation of Florida State's football success, died Friday afternoon. He was 94.
A star football player at Indiana University, Veller was hired as FSU's first full-time head football coach in 1948, one year after the school turned co-educational and took up the sport. Veller quickly established FSU as a small-college power, leading the Seminoles to their first bowl game (1949 Cigar Bowl) and their first undefeated season (8-0 in 1950).
Veller retired from football after five seasons at FSU. But "Dr. Don" - he earned his Ph.D. in the summers while coaching football - went on to teach in the FSU physical-education department for 30 years and coach the men's golf team for 18 years. He also served as the golf columnist for the Tallahassee Democrat for nearly 45 years.
Funeral arrangements were incomplete Friday evening.
Veller's death came 10 days after the death of his wife of 70 years, Frances, 92. The couple donated nearly $3 million to FSU, endowing scholarships in football and golf, helping build the Varsity Club at Campbell Stadium and funding improvements to the Seminole Golf Course. In 2000, the course was renamed the Don Veller Seminole Golf Course.
"No one in our history left the same indelible mark on the foundation of FSU athletics as Don Veller," said FSU athletic director Dave Hart. "He and Fran were such delightful people to be around. We have lost two pillars of this institution."
Veller continued to play nine holes of golf once or twice a week well past his 90th birthday. His decline began in August 2004, when he tripped and fell after a round of golf at Hilaman Golf Course. He broke his shoulder, banged his head and developed problems swallowing.
He recovered and seemed to be doing well, until Frances' death Oct. 31. Friends said he lost interest in eating, drinking and taking medication.
"I've seen it happen many a time; people married that long can't go without each other," said FSU head football coach Bobby Bowden. "Don was such a great, wonderful man. It's terrible he's gone."
Veller was hired as football coach by FSU President Doak Campbell in 1948 at a salary of $5,400. He took over a football program that had gone 0-5 in its inaugural season under physical-education instructor Ed Williamson. He quickly led FSU to success, mounting 7-1 and 8-1 seasons before the unbeaten season of 1950.
Veller coached FSU's first All-American (Hugh Adams, 1948), oversaw the building of Campbell Stadium (1950) and awarded FSU's first football scholarships (1952). He rang up a 31-12-1 record and a .716 winning percentage that is second only to Bowden (.795) among the eight football coaches in FSU history.
Veller was renowned for his emphasis on defense and his insistence on good behavior. Coaching teams composed largely of World War II veterans, he forbade his players from smoking or swearing, and he stopped practices whenever anyone cussed - to make the offender run laps around the goalposts.
"He was a perfect gentleman who was always in control of himself and his football team," said Fred Pettijohn, Tallahassee Democrat sports editor from 1948 to 1953. "He was a wonderful man who was obviously highly intelligent."
Veller was also an admitted worrier, who had the tag "Doleful Don" hung on him by Pettijohn. Before games, he would lie on a couch for hours staring at the ceiling. During games, he paced the sideline nervously. After a game, he was unable to sleep.
"He would never predict victory," Pettijohn said. "If he played Leon High, he would have been an underdog."
FSU went 6-2 and 1-8-1 in Veller's final two seasons. But what drove him out of the sport, he said often, was his distaste for recruiting and what he called the "What Else Boys."
"You'd tell them what you were offering, which was a scholarship as allowed by the rules, and they'd say, 'What else can you give me?'" Veller said. "I didn't want to be a part of that. And I figured that was the way college football was going."
Veller then turned to teaching, spending 30 years as a professor in the FSU Department of Physical Education. He taught courses that led to a minor in coaching - and his first graduate was current FSU President T.K. Wetherell.
"He was really a coach ahead of his time," said Wetherell, talking about Veller's early work in scouting opponents. "When you combine his Ph.D. and his football coaching and his teaching and someone who wrote as prolifically as he did, he was just an amazing person. He was one of the stalwarts of FSU."
Veller coached the FSU men's golf team for 18 years over three stints. He mentored such future PGA Tour players as Hubert Green, Paul Azinger, Jeff Sluman and Kenny Knox. Veller had played golf only occasionally before he became the FSU golf coach at age 41, and yet through furious practice he soon went from shooting in the 100s to regularly breaking 80.
"My specialty in teaching was psychology," he said. "I did not teach how to swing a club as well as I taught how to play as well as you are capable of playing."
When then-Tallahassee Democrat sports editor Bill McGrotha told him in 1960 that local golfers were pestering the paper for more coverage, Veller volunteered to write a column. He would go on to write a weekly column until his 2004 fall; his last column ran Aug. 30, 2004. He often spent hours honing the small poems that concluded his column. In 2000, he published a book of his golf poems, "Fluffs, Muffs and Really Deep Rough."
"I hated to do anything rotten," he said of his writing. "I was like that in all sports. I hated to make a mistake."
Veller grew up in Bicknell, Ind., the second of two sons of a coal-miner father and housewife mother. Neither of his parents went beyond grammar school, but Veller was ambitious early. He recalled he was inspired to become a good student in third grade when he noticed he didn't speak as well as the other children. By high school, he was a straight-A student who starred in four sports, was president of his sophomore, junior and senior classes and wrote a sports column for his local newspaper five days a week.
Veller attended Purdue as a freshman before transferring to Indiana. At Indiana, he was a three-year starter at halfback and defensive safety. In 1934, he gained national fame for returning a punt 82 yards for a touchdown to beat Purdue. In 1935, he played all but two minutes of his senior season. He was chosen the Indiana MVP and played in the 1935 East-West Shrine Game, where one of his teammates was Michigan center and future U.S. President Gerald Ford.
Physically unprepossessing at 5-foot-8, 155 pounds, Veller succeeded by being a quick and intelligent player who worked hard to improve: During high school, he worked at a Pontiac automotive plant, carrying 190-pound motor blocks. As a college freshman, he hauled concrete.
Veller was modest and self-effacing. He rarely criticized others and deflected awkward questions with a chuckle. Yet he never lost the sense of being a little guy from the poor side of town who had to outwork others to make his mark. Of all the comments ever made about him, he was most proud of a description by McGrotha.
"If I were headed west in a covered wagon on a trip of survival, Veller would be a first pick to take along," McGrotha wrote when Veller retired from FSU in 1982. "Veller is pure pioneer stock, with a keen make-do instinct."
Sadly, Tallahassee will now have to make do without Veller.
The Don Veller file
Personal: Married Frances Brindley, Aug. 2, 1936; no children.
Education: Bicknell High (1930), B.S. Education, Indiana University (1935), master's physical education, Indiana University (1938), Ph.D. physical education, Indiana University (1950).
Military: Army Air Corps, 1942-1945; Air Force Reserve (1945-1978).
Career: Head football coach, Elkhart (Ind.) High School (1935-1942); head football coach/director of athletics, Hanover (Ind.) College (1946); assistant football coach, Indiana University (1947); head football coach, Florida State University (1948-1952); head golf coach, Florida State University (1953-58, 1966-67, and 1974-83); professor, Department of Physical Education, Florida State University (1953-1982).
Awards: Indiana University Football Hall of Fame (1978), Florida State Hall of Fame (1981), Florida Sports Hall of Fame (1985), Indiana University Hall of Fame (1986), National Golf Coaches Hall of Fame (1989) and Elkhart (Ind.) Hall of Fame (1999).