“I don’t want to wear out, I want to burn out,” former BU coach says

Grant Teaff. (Photo by John Carroll/file)
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WACO, Texas (KWTX) Just a few great individuals come our way in a lifetime and even fewer stay around, but a man like that came to Waco 45 years ago and brought the world stage with him.

Grant Garland Teaff is such an individual, set aside his accomplishments before coming to Baylor, while he was coaching at Baylor, in the years afterwards when he guided the American Football Coaches Association, by any measure he is a great man.

Teaff was born November 12, 1933 in Hermleigh, Texas, in the same bedroom where his grandfather had died one month to the day earlier.

“He’s where I got my love of Indians and World War I and World War II, because of his service as a captain in an Arkansas regiment during the Civil War, though Teaff never knew him.

Shortly thereafter the family moved to Snyder, just 11 miles down the road, where Teaff later attended Snyder High School where he played football.

He played football at San Angelo Junior College (now Angelo State University), and later at McMurray College in Abilene.

He would later coach at both.

His coaching career started in 1956 at Lubbock High School as an assistant to Head Coach Wilford Moore, who had earlier been Teaff’s coach at McMurray.

It was while he was in Lubbock that he met his wife Donnell.

“I had a friend who told me she wanted me to meet a girl, and she said if I met her, I’d marry her,” Teaff said.

Adding that was the farthest thing from his mind.

“I wasn’t thinking about marriage or a family, I just wanted to coach football.”

It turned out that same friend told Jane Donnell Phillips the same thing.

Then on a Saturday when Texas Tech was playing a home game, he went to the stadium.

“I had my notebook and my binoculars and I got to my $1 seat so I could learn something about college football,” Teaff said.

But when the Red Raiders took the field, led by the famous Masked Rider, the cheerleaders followed and Teaff got his first look at Donnell, who was head cheerleader at the time.

He admitted that during the game he watched the cheerleaders more than he did football.

A short time later he went to a campus dormitory to pick up a date for the evening, and when he walked in the door he saw this beautiful blonde working to the reception desk.

“I told her I was there to pick up a date and I waited by the elevator for her to come down,” Teaff said.

“Then I thought, that’s Donnell,” and it was, working behind the reception desk.

“She came around to the elevator and asked me if I was Grant Teaff, I said yes and asked her if she was Donnell, and she said yes,” Teaff said.

Teaff said he was supposed to take his date for supper and a movie, but begged off and only took her for a coke.

“Then when I took her back to the dorm, I asked Donnell if she’d like to have a Coke and she said yes,” and that’s where it all started.

That was in August and the couple married the following November.

Teaff returned to McMurray from 1957 to 1959 as an assistant coach and in 1960 Teaff was named head coach at McMurray.

In 1965 he went to Texas Tech as an assistant and in 1969 took the reins at Angelo State.

In 1972 he came to Baylor and since then he’s never been able to wash the Brazos River out of his veins.

Maybe it was simply the larger venue, maybe it was the better known school, maybe it was just luck, but it was in Waco, at Baylor, where he was able to make that little light of his shine.

But he almost never came to Baylor in the first place because his plan was to stay at Texas Tech.

“I had no interest in Baylor,” Teaff said.

“I’d been to their stadium, I knew what they had and they had nothing.

“There was no weight room, the locker rooms were horrible, the stadium seats were wooden and had splinters in them,” but most of all it seemed like the Baylor ball team had forgotten how to win games.

Teaff said Baylor’s athletic director, Frank Patterson, was burning his phone lines up asking Teaff to come to Waco for an interview, but Teaff stayed fast, expressing no desire to come to Waco.

But then Teaff heard on a sportscast in Lubbock that Baylor had hired Rudy Feldman, a coach from New Mexico and “I thought thank God, they’ve got a coach,” Teaff said.

Feldman’s tenure lasted less than 24 hours before he backed out and went back to New Mexico, Teaff said.

Teaff said his wife told him not to agonize over the Waco job when one night she said to him “You’re going to coach at Baylor,” Teaff said.

Within a couple of days Patterson was back on the phone with Teaff to relent and at least come to Waco for an interview.

“I finally said send an airplane to Lubbock and Donnell and I will fly to Waco to talk with you,” Teaff said.

“Patterson said Baylor couldn’t send an airplane, but if I wanted to charter one, they’d pay me back.”

So that’s what Teaff did.

“While we were talking this feeling came over me that Baylor is where I was supposed to be,” Teaff said.

Baylor offered Teaff $25,000-a-year to coach and demanded all of his assistant coaches draw half that salary.

Teaff and his wife found a nice home in West Waco overlooking the lake and settled in quite well since they live there still today.

Within two years Teaff’s Baylor Bears won a Southwest Conference football title for the first time since the mid-1920s and in 1980 did it again.

He started the comeback by molding a winning football team out of one with an at best mediocre past, turned them into champions and positioned Baylor athletics to be able to survive the dissolution of the Southwest Conference and the move into the Big XII.

He remains the most successful football coach in Bears’ history and doesn’t regret any part of the decision, except, “They never paid me back,” for the airplane charter.

He solidified Waco’s position in the football world when he took the helm at the American Football Coaches Association and later formed the American Football Coaches Foundation to pay the bills.

And at every turn, with every controversy, with every win and every loss, with every honor and every accolade he became a bit more of a statesman, a bit more of a mentor, a bit more of an example for all.

But Teaff’s success story is not all about football, rather about success, itself.

Football happened to be the road to success for him, but under it all he said he believes the keys to success are four.

“First is attitude,” Teaff said.

“I wanted to figure out how I was going to face life and it had to be positive,” Teaff said.

Teaff went on to list total effort, self-discipline and control and finally to develop a capacity to care about other people and things around you.

A high school coach he had named “Mule” Kizer was a great mentor in his early years, Teaff said.

Mule also was Teaff’s math teacher and Teaff related a story about a math test that was an awakening for him.

“We had a math test that had 10 questions on it, and I answered the first nine real quick,” Teaff said, “but that tenth one I just couldn’t remember the answer to.

“I sat there until about 10 minutes left in class and got up and turned in my test,” Teaff said.

“Mule just looked at me, and then down at the test paper,” Teaff said.

When class let out, Mule motioned with his finger for Teaff to come to his desk.

“That’s something you never wanted to see,” Teaff said.

“He said ‘You quit!’” Teaff said.

Mule said: “You had 10 minutes left and you could have answered that question, but you quit.”

Teaff said Mule told him something that made a lasting impression on him.

It was: “Grant, your greatest assets are not your athletic skills, but your mind.”

Teaff said he realized he needed to control his mind and use it to achieve success.

“That’s the thing I came away with. If I had no control, I was of no value,” Teaff said.

Teaff has an incredible work ethic.

He has little sympathy for people today who say they can’t find a job, feelings his father instilled in him at an early age.

Times were tough during and right after the Great Depression, but his father did what he had to do to support him, his sister and his mother.

“He worked seven days a week for 10 years, never took a day off,” Teaff said.

Teaff remembered a time when his father needed a job and he went to a car shop in Snyder when it opened one day, walked inside, grabbed a broom and started sweeping up.

When the business owner showed up and saw a man he didn’t recognize sweeping up the place, he walked up and asked who the man was.

Teaff’s father told him and the owner asked who had hired him.

“No one,” Teaff’s father said, “but you will when you see how hard I work.”

Teaff’s father got the job and soon was managing the dealership.

“If you’re willing to work, you can get a job,” Teaff said.

The elder Teaff worked full-time until he was 89-years-old and he died at 92.

His mother died just six months short of her 100th birthday.

“I knew when I was 14 or 15 that I wanted to be a football coach in the Southwest Conference,” Teaff said.

His senior year annual names him as the future coach of the Texas Longhorns, he said.

His intent never wavered, he said.

It was coaches and teachers early in his life that put him on a path to success.

“My coaches and teachers crystallized my thoughts about how I would live my life,” Teaff said.

“It was part of God’s plan for me that I was going to be a builder.”

“The ‘can do’ mentality I got from my mom,” Teaff said.

He said his parents, after he took the job at Baylor, came to almost every home game in Waco and “they never thought we were going to lose any game,” Teaff said.

The good times at Baylor were extremely good, but there were deeply sad times, too, Teaff said.

Kyle Woods, a former Baylor defensive back, was injured during a practice in 1979 at Floyd Casey Stadium that left him a quadriplegic.

As a 19-year-old sophomore Woods was a member of the defense working against the second team offense and while making a tackle, Woods fractured his neck and severely damaged his spinal cord.

Woods was an inspiration to his teammates during the 1979 Peach Bowl championship season and the next season’s undefeated 1980 Southwest Conference championship run.

Woods died of a heart attack in March 2005.

"Kyle Woods for thirty years has inspired us all and was the catalyst for an outpouring of love that made us all better from the experience," Teaff said at the time of Woods’ death.

Then on Sept. 14, 1990 offensive lineman John Pershing Karkoska, 19, collapsed on the practice field and eight days later he died.

Karkoska suffered kidney and liver failure after his collapse and Baylor team physician Dr. R.W. Covington said the stricken player's condition deteriorated rapidly the next day.

Covington said Karkoska suffered from a total, 'system failure.'

“Donell, at the hospital with Mrs. Karkoska, made the call to me,” Teaff recalled in a 2013 article.

“I decided not to tell the team until after the game.

“There was no celebration over a football victory. There was pain and many tears over the loss of their teammate. The team quietly dressed and made their way to the hospital to be with Mrs. Karkoska,” Teaff recalled.

The team and coaching staff attended the funeral in Houston.

“John had been a quiet, but strong Christian influence on his teammates,” Teaff said at the time.

“After the funeral, on the way back to Waco, 20 members of the team either accepted Christ or rededicated their life, because of John’s influencen,” Teaff said.

Teaff’s lifetime record is 170-151-8, 121 of those wins came at Baylor where his teams won two conference championships and played in eight bowl games and he was named coach of the year in the Southwest Conference six times.

Teaff was inducted into the College Football Hall of Fame as a coach in 2001.

Accolades didn’t stop when he left Baylor and took over at the AFCA, but those things don’t occupy his mind much.

He retired from the AFCA in 2016.

His home office is filled with Indian art, statuary, beads and thousands of chert projectile points, all mounted in frames.

But there not a single football, sports trophy or framed jersey; nothing to indicate he’d ever stepped on a football field.

“Those are team awards,” he said, “there where they belong … with the team.”

Teaff may have retired, but he hasn’t quit.

Last week he and Donnell traveled to Salado for grandchildren's events, then to Fort Worth on Tuesday for an AFCA event, to Austin on Wednesday for an engagement and back to Fort Worth on Thursday

At 83, now Teaff is facing his own mortality, but he’s doing it in a fashion anyone who knows him would understand.

“I don’t want to wear out, I want to burn out,” he said.

Grant Teaff in Snyder High School letter jacket. (Courtesy photo)