Standing together

March 14, 2011
Standing Together - Grant Teaff

For many people, Grant Teaff is synonomous with Baylor. During his four-decade relationship with the university, the Baylor icon has seen the Baylor family rally around one another time and again when need arises -- on and off the gridiron. After he ended his career as Baylor's winningest football coach in 1992, becoming Executive Director of the American Football Coaches Association in 1994, he decided to move those offices from Orlando, Fla., to the edge of Baylor's campus -- probably so he could better keep his eye on things.

When writing about Grant Teaff, one could fill volumes with stories of his Southwest Conference championships, his national coaching awards, his integral leadership in the lives of student-athletes, his and his wife Donell's widespread and faithful service to Baylor, and their current place on the President's Scholarship Initiative Steering Committee.

But this is a story about something Coach Teaff holds dear -- Baylor students past, present and future. And when a man who has been bronzed into a life-size statue and is enshrined in eight different Halls of Fame feels strongly about a topic, it's best to let him speak for himself; his thoughts appear on the following pages.

I have never for a moment regretted taking the Baylor job.

It was a very difficult job, but we were able to do something for Baylor through our football program that needed to be done. I think that's the reason that we were called here. As most folks probably know, I had many, many opportunities throughout my coaching career to leave Baylor and go to other places, major schools. But the same drive that drove me here in the first place kept me here for more than two decades.

And so when I ultimately left Baylor and took over at the AFCA, I was really driven to bring it here to Waco. And so we did that. My wife Donell and I came back here and we have, through all the years, tried to do whatever we felt that we could to help Baylor.

I have never refused Baylor on any request that they've ever asked of me. My wife served nine years on the Board of Trustees, so that, in itself, was a family gift because of the time commitment and the effort that she made. We have a very, very deep feeling about the university itself, the reason for the university, and the history that's tied into this great university, and then to see what has taken place at the university through the years, that has been very, very, very pleasing.

Baylor people always respond when there is a dramatic need. Now is one of those times. We have beautiful buildings. We have great professors and staff and great leadership in administration. But, as the cost of higher education continues to rise, young people who are qualified academically can't come here to be beneficiaries of this great education. And if they cannot come for financial reasons, then somebody needs to do something about it.

And that's the reason that we're involved in the scholarship initiative, which President Starr has put as his top priority since coming to Baylor. Donell and I certainly agree that it is the most important issue of the day. You can have the greatest educational opportunities in the world, but if young people are denied the opportunity to receive that education, for whatever reason, then that is a huge, huge loss of wonderful Christian educational resources.

Our family's interest in scholarships goes back to the 1980s when I was the athletic director and the head football coach and trying to get gender equity issues with women's athletics up to par. That's when Donell and I gave our first scholarship, an endowed scholarship for women's athletics. More recently, we decided that we wanted to do something for the football program, so we've given an endowed scholarship for football.

And when I was asked by President Starr's office if I would speak to a group of donors down in Houston, I told him I'd do whatever they asked me to do. I expressed to those folks in attendance that our family's motivation for giving an endowed football scholarship was that we totally supported President Starr's initiative for scholarships.

One hundred million dollars' worth of scholarships is, I think, essential and foundational, so from our standpoint we're very excited that the initiative's been put forward. Serving on the steering committee for this initiative is something Donell and I are very, very happy to do.

One of the things that I see in this initiative is that this will benefit such a broad array of students. That is something that I think the Baylor family can truly get behind. I think it's motivational to all of us who maybe don't have the wherewithal to build a building or contribute largely to a building, but can, in this way, have an ongoing opportunity to help young people to get the Baylor education.

I think one of the great examples of what Baylor people can do and will do when there is a clearly defined need is a situation that began in August of 1979 with one of our football players from Dallas, a redshirt freshman, 19 years old at the time, Kyle Woods.

And Kyle made a tackle. He was in a scrimmage on a Saturday night. It's about a week, 10 days prior to the opening game with the University of Georgia. He broke his neck in the contact and was paralyzed from the neck down. He instantaneously became a quadriplegic, which is such a tragedy for a 19-year-old. And for his teammates and the program and Baylor people, and Baylor University, it was just one of those tragedies that loomed so large and could have had such a negative effect on people.

But what I saw coming out of that was one of the reasons that I personally love Baylor so much. The Baylor family always responds in the most positive way to any adverse situation that happens. And I've seen it over years and years through different areas.

At the time Kyle was hurt, his family lived in Dallas, in the projects. He was a kid from a tough financial background, had earned a scholarship to Baylor to get his education so he could really better himself and better his family, and then in one fell swoop that was taken away with an accident on the football field.

But what transpired after that is a magnificent story that's been told and retold and carried on over 30 years. The first thing that we did was start a trust when there was no money for him at all. In fact, the insurance money was limited at the time; it was about $60,000, and that barely got us out of the hospital. With no money to help him with the plight, he was gonna live with his family in an upstairs apartment.

He went to rehab for several months up in Dallas, but we knew when he got out of rehab he was gonna have to have a place that he could get around in. So I started a trust and just started contacting folks, not all of them Baylor people, but a lot of Baylor people jumped in to help in this issue.

We raised enough money in a very short span of time to buy him his initial home up in Dallas. And we had it redone so it could, as best a reconditioned house could do, be handicap accessible.

When I moved him into that first house, he said, "Coach," and he kinda teared up. And he said, "Coach, I'm not crying 'cause I'm sad. I'm crying 'cause I'm happy." And I said, "Well, I'm so glad you're happy." He said, "Coach," he said, "you don't know the story." And I said, "Well, what is it?"

He said, "Well, when I got out of high school, I wanted to come to Baylor to get an education so I could do something special, maybe play football but especially to get an education so I could get my mom and dad a house to live in." And he said, "This isn't the way I wanted to do it, but today my mom and dad are moving into this house."

Over the years, that trust fund continued. Donell and I donated a lot of money, a lot of coaches that worked with me were involved, business people, just folks made contributions. And you have to remember that when you have a trust for an individual, there's no tax write-off. So everything that was given over all those years had no tax write-off to it. And we built the fund big enough that he could live on it and that he could, ultimately, continue his education. He got his degree up in Dallas and became a counselor to handicapped students who wanted to attend college.

Throughout all that time, we kept that fund strong so that he could live, pay his expenses and have a decent life. His teammates and his coaches got together and bought a handicap-ready van so that he could get around. That received a lot of publicity, and so other people looked at that and said, "Hey, here's some folks that are taking care of their own. We want to help them."

And so money came in from sources outside the Baylor family because they could see his coaches, his teammates and a lot of people were making the effort to do something special. About five years ago, maybe six, we decided that he'd reached about all the use he could get out of the first house, so we bought land and started building a home for him up in Cedar Hill.

Dr. L.M. Dyson [BBA '71, MS '72], who's a Baylor professor and a builder, took on the chore of being a pro bono contractor; he and his wife gave thousands of hours. We got the word out and the Baylor family from across the board responded again, donated without any tax benefit. And, overall, we put in somewhere in the neighborhood of about $800,000 in the land and the home, fully furnished, fully equipped in every possible way for a handicapped person.

One of the great things, it had television cameras so he could see who was at the front door. He could automatically open the door if he wanted them to come in. Big-screen TV, lift over his bed that took him to the bathroom at night so he didn't have to bother anybody, a rehab pool out on his back deck with a lift that took him right out to it. And so it was really a special, special building.

We had the dedication of the home and gave him the keys, and it was one of those really special times. It was heavily covered by the TV stations up in Dallas. Dale Hansen, the TV announcer up there, did several specials on it. And it was just a neat time when he came in and saw the house for the first time and I gave him the keys.

We were in the living room, he's facing the television cameras and big crowd of people there, a lot of his teammates and coaches. So I'm making the little presentation giving him the keys to the house. And I look down and he's crying. Tears were running down his cheeks.

And I said, "Stop it, Kyle, 'cause you're about to make me cry in front of these people." So anyway, after the presentation, I said, "Kyle, why are you tearing up? This is great." He said, "You know how much mother loved getting in that other house." And I said, "Oh, yeah." He said, "I can just imagine now, how they would feel about living in this house as well."

But you probably know the story; he lived there for a little over a year. I called him on his 49th birthday, after he'd been in it for about a year, and I said, "Kyle, how you doing?" He said, "Oh, I'm doing great." He said, "Coach Teaff, you gotta know that this is the happiest year of my entire life." And he said, "Just to know the love of the Baylor people and my teammates and my coaches and others just have cared." He said, "The house is fantastic, but knowing that is what really makes a difference in my life."

Sadly, three months later, he had a massive heart attack and died. So the essence of that story, to me, is how the Baylor people can unite when there is a cause. And when there is a cause great enough, they see to it that that cause is fulfilled. If it's financial need or it's other types of needs, the Baylor family responds.

And so I think the big thing about this initiative for scholarships to help young people become educated is one that the Baylor people will really grasp and that they will feel strongly about it, just like Kyle. One of the great assets he had was going on and getting his education. He was able to do that because he was supported by people who cared about him.

And that's basically what Baylor's about, really and truly. We have so many successful people that have been through here, received their education. Many of them received it through athletic scholarships or other kinds of grants or scholarships. Baylor's always been great about scholarships and grants and helping students afford a quality education. But my concern is, as we look forward to the future, the costs are only going to continue to rise.

We've had other scholarships created, and they are essential, but now is the time for Baylor to take that leap forward and create a real endowment for scholarships.

I've been blessed to be around close by, since I can look out from my office and actually see the university. But remaining involved in the university and supporting the university has, I think, given Donell and me a pretty clear insight as to what is going on at Baylor. Her having served on the Board and been involved in much of the building that's taken place in the last decade has really been a great joy for her and for me as well. I just look across the campus and see what's taken place in the last 10 years, and it's truly phenomenal.

But without quality students and student athletes to fill these hallowed halls and to enjoy each of the buildings... You know, we created wonderful structures. But the heartbeat of any institution is those people who are committed to it, through being faculty or staff, and then students that come.

And I think that's what really tugs at me right now, having been involved in the university for a long, long time, first as an employee and then as a supporter. I know thousands of success stories, literally thousands of young people that we've known who have come here and gotten their education and gone on to be extremely solid citizens and contributed to their community and to America and the world.

That's the thing that I think motivates me -- to know the quality of the education that can be received here. And then to have a real strong passion about the fact that, as a people, as folks that support this educational wonderland, so to speak, we have to rally around the concept of a real concern: the financial cost of the university now and in the future.

How can we help allow qualified students -- who otherwise could not afford to be here -- how can we allow them to have the opportunity to receive that Christian education? In my mind, to start, Baylor folks have got to rally around these students in order to give thousands more a chance to tell their Baylor success stories -- to give good folks like Kyle Woods a chance to get a great Christian education, and further, to become part of the Baylor family.

You, too, can help support Baylor students in their pursuit of a Baylor education. Regardless of the amount, your gift is important as we work together to support Baylor students of today and tomorrow. To find out more, contact University Development at 254-710-2561.