WACO, Texas – The winds that blow through the plains of Texas seem to change as often as the dreams of youngsters everywhere.
Grant Teaff, however, was no ordinary youngster.
The dreams Teaff had as a youngster growing up in Snyder, Texas centered around football. And it didn’t take him long to make those dreams become reality.
Teaff paid the dues and rose through the ranks to become one of the greatest coaches in college football history by the time he retired after patrolling the sidelines for 30 years.
Teaff also spent two decades leading the American Football Coaches Association to new heights as that organization provided education to coaches of the sport at all levels.
Teaff took to the game at an early age. He never relinquished the hold the game and he had on each other.
“I loved my coaches … and I wanted to be just like them,” said Teaff, who played at Snyder High School. “They validated so many of the things I believed in and I never varied from that one iota.”
BOXING TO FOOTBALL
After graduating from Snyder High School in 1951, Teaff knew he wanted to continue playing the sport he had grown to become passionate about. He just wasn’t sure where he would land to begin his collegiate career.
Boxing gloves, seldom thought of as a tool used in football, became instrumental in helping Teaff land a spot on the team at San Angelo Junior College after his high school coach, Milton Moffett, a three-year letter winner at Texas Tech, arranged a tryout for his former standout.
More than a half a century ago the recruiting process was far less sophisticated than it is today.
“There I was, with 50-60 other guys for a one-day tryout,” Teaff recalled, “and the coach drags out this big bag and takes out boxing gloves and told us to put them on.”
Teaff said he asked one of the other hopefuls if the gloves would help the coach in determining which player would receive a scholarship to play football at the school.
“I did what I had to do to get a scholarship,” Teaff said without going into much detail on how the gloves were used that day. “The goal then is the same goal as it’s always been, you do whatever you have to get the job done.”
After completing his career at San Angelo JC, Teaff wanted to continue his playing career. Texas Tech, Texas A&M and Hardin-Simmons were among the list to become the next landing spot for Teaff, who played tackle on offense and linebacker while on defense back in the day before platoons became a staple of football.
In the end it was McMurry College, located in Abilene, Texas, that won out and set in motion another relationship with a coach that paid huge dividends for years to come.
Wilford Moore, the McMurry coach, was a World War II veteran and had surrounded himself with a staff of assistants that were also veterans, according to Teaff.
“They instilled a philosophy of hard work, commitment and dedication,” he said. “It was a philosophy that I had already learned and one that really shaped who I was and who I had become. They just reinforced those beliefs.”
It wasn’t always rosy as Teaff and Moore butted heads on occasion.
“There were some things he did that I did not agree with,” Teaff said, “but there was no doubt he was tough and hard-nosed and really knew how to prepare for a game,” Teaff said.
Whatever differences between coach and player was superseded by a deep bond of respect that had been quickly formed.
START OF COACHING CAREER
So deep was that respect that when Moore left McMurry to become the coach at Lubbock High School in 1956 Teaff, who had already obtained a master’s degree, went along to join his college coach at LHS and continue to fulfill his coaching dreams.
Like a few years earlier when boxing gloves proved to become a turning point, binoculars would become a key for the rest of Teaff’s life soon after his arrival in Lubbock.
“I bought some binoculars and was planning on going to Texas Tech games on Saturdays and learning everything I could about football,” Teaff said.
It was a good plan. On the surface.
What the future college coaching legend saw through the binoculars was a Texas Tech cheerleader leading the team onto the field for the season opener. The cheerleader would eventually become his wife when they married a short time later.
“She was the most beautiful woman I had ever seen,” Teaff said. “I didn’t watch much football that day … but I did learn a lot more about cheerleading than I knew before that day.”
After spending just one season coaching high school football in Lubbock Teaff began a three-year stint as an assistant coach at McMurry University in Abilene (1957-59). He was elevated to the head coaching position in 1960 and remained in that capacity for six seasons. During his time at the school the War Hawks compiled a 23-35-2 (.400) overall record.
Teaff returned to Lubbock and worked as an assistant at Texas Tech before becoming a head coach for the second time in his blossoming career on the sideline. In three seasons at Angelo State, which had become a four-year school in 1965 following Teaff’s junior college playing career, he guided the Rams to a 19-11 (.633) in three seasons before taking what would be his last coaching assignment.
A LEGACY SECURED
Teaff inherited a Baylor program mired in uncertainty and quickly transformed Baylor into a contender in the Southwest Conference.
Baylor had posted a dismal 7-43-1 record in the five seasons before Teaff’s arrival on the banks of the Brazos River. As if the record was not bad enough, Rudy Feldman, who had been hired prior to the start of the 1972 season quit after just one day on the job and leaving the job to Teaff.
And what a job he did.
Teaff led the Bears to eight wins in 1974, just his third year at Baylor, and his team won the Southwest Conference championship for the first time in half a century. Along the way the Bears stunned rival Texas by rallying from a 24-7 deficit at halftime on the way to a 34-24 triumph over the Longhorns.
It was the first Baylor win over the rivals in 17 years and became know as the “Miracle on the Brazos” and Teaff was named the national coach of the year by the American Football Coaches Association.
The turnaround wasn’t easy by any means, according to Teaff.
“We had to be specific in our recruiting,” Teaff said. “The first thing we had to do was recruit students and we put a great emphasis on the academic side of things and we had high expectations for our student-athletes. We wanted people in our program who were of good character … because if you have character in the classroom you will have character in the fourth quarter.”
“We also made sure the faculty all knew that we were on side,” he added. “Our players were expected to sit in the front row of their classes and we had few academic problems over the years.”
Recruiting is far from an exact science and recruiting in the Southwest Conference was a challenge all in itself. And Teaff was well versed in both of those aspects.
The Southwest Conference seemed to be often riddled with recruiting scandals among some the schools in the league. Those problems were often generated from overzealous boosters and has been well documented over the years.
“There were a lot of strong feelings about who was going to be the best in the league each year,” Teaff recalled, “and we had to make sure we were able above the fray.
“My commitment was to do the best I could to run our program within the rules,” he added.
A little-known player from Worthing High School, in inner-city Houston, had caught the eye of the Baylor coach. It was not until Teaff signed him that other schools suddenly became interested.
Mike Singletary and Teaff were both deeply religious people and that common thread helped develop a mutual respect that carries over to this day.
“I watched two series of Mike Singletary on film and knew right away I wanted him to become a part of our program” Teaff said. “I went down to Houston the next day to visit him and sign him.”
It turned out to be Teaff’s first big-time recruit.
The qualities of character that had mold Teaff in his youth and in his coaching career were evident in Singletary, the legendary coach said.
“He was very smart,” Teaff said of his new recruit. “He had this incredible intensity and desire to be successful and left no doubt as to who was in charge on the field.
Singletary was a two-time All-American (1979-80) while with the Bears. He established a team record 232 tackles as a sophomore in 1978 season and averaged 15 tackles per game that season. Included in his record-setting performance were 35 tackles in a game against Arkansas and 31 tackles against Ohio State.
Behind Singletary’s leadership on defense Baylor won 10 games in his final season of 1980. It marked the first time Baylor had won 10 games in a season in school history.
He was a three-time all-Southwest Conference selection and won the Davey O’Brien Award twice as the outstanding player in the Southwest. That award has since been changed to a national quarterback trophy.
“Mike Singletary became a great leader and a great family man,” Teaff said. “He was an amazing player and an amazing man … and still is.”
Four other Bears earned All-American honors under Teaff’s leadership. Roger Goree (1972), Gary Green (1976), Thomas Everett (1986) and Santana Dotson (1991) also earned that distinction. Everett and Dotson were unanimous selections, as was Singletary in 1980.
Teaff, who is considered the architect of the Wildcat formation, would spend 21 seasons as coach at Baylor. His teams finished with winning record in 12 of his 21 seasons at the school.
During that time his teams appeared in eight bowl games and captured a pair of Southwest Conference championships before he retired following the 1992 season in which the Bears finished with a 7-5 record. Baylor defeated Arizona 20-15 in the Sun Bowl in Teaff’s final game as a college coach.
Baylor managed a 10-11 record against Texas during Teaff’s time at the school and brought the longstanding rivalry some credibility. In the 15 seasons before his arrival and the 15 years after leaving the school the Bears were just 1-29 against the Longhorns.
Teaff’s teams compiled a 128-105-6 (.548) overall record during his time at Baylor. His 128 wins are the most in history at the school. Morley Jennings is a distant second in wins at the school after compiling an 83-60-6 (.577) record in 15 seasons (1926-40) leading the Bears.
Teaff was 170-151-8 (.529) in 30 seasons as a college head coach.
AFCA & CFHOF
Teaff became the executive director of the American Football Coaches Association a short time after his retirement from coaching. He held that position from 1994 until 2004.
One of the first things on his agenda after taking on his new role was the move the national headquarters to Waco, where it remains today. He also oversaw the growth of the organization to become one of the greatest educational tools for coaches at all levels of the game.
The legendary coach was inducted into the College Football Hall of Fame in 2001.
“Honestly, it’s not something you can expect,” said Teaff of his inclusion among the game’s greats. “There have been so many other coaches who had quite impressive careers. To be considered being among them is a humbling honor, to say the least.”
Oh, remember the binoculars that proved vital in 1956?
Teaff and his wife, Donel, will celebrate another wedding anniversary later this year at their home in Waco.
A native of Bismarck, N.D., Ray is a graduate of North Dakota State University where he began studying athletic training and served as a student trainer for several Bison teams including swimming, wrestling and baseball and was a trainer at the 1979 NCAA national track and field championship meet at the University of Illinois. Ray later worked in the sports information office at NDSU. Following his graduation from NDSU he spent five years in the sports information office at Missouri Western State University and one year in the sports information at Georgia Tech. He has nearly 40 years of writing experience as a sports editor at several newspapers and has received numerous awards for his writing over the years. A noted sports historian, Ray is currently an assistant editor at Amateur Wrestling News.