Grant Teaff calls it the toughest thing he has ever done. Not rebuilding a football program that won seven games in the five years prior to his arrival. Not dropping a worm into his mouth prior to the 1978 Texas game--a 34-14 Baylor win. Not turning down his alma mater Texas Tech three times. Not walking away from the coaching ranks after the 1992 season.
It was the morning of Sept. 23, 1990. Much like every Sunday morning during his tenure as Baylor’s head football coach, Teaff taught a college Sunday school class at First Baptist Church-Waco. He never missed the class--regardless of the previous day's game result, regardless of how late into the night (or early morning hours) return travel may have lasted, regardless of anything.
But that Sunday morning was unlike any of the others. His Bears defeated Sam Houston State 13-9 the previous evening in the season's first home game. The Bears left the stadium that night with heavy hearts, but not because of the game's final score.
Ten days prior to that game, redshirt freshman John Karkoska suffered a heat stroke. Karkoska died minutes before the game.
Despite being overrun with emotion and fatigue that Sunday morning, Grant made his way to First Baptist Church because he had made a promise to the students.
"One of the things I told the class was, 'No matter when I get in from a ball game, no matter what's happened, win or lose, I'll be here Sunday morning for this class; therefore, I expect you to be here,'" Grant says. "The thing that I wanted out of that was to teach those students that when you have an obligation and have a commitment, you stick to it. I've heard from many of them that had an impact on them, particularly facing them after I'd just lost a player."
It was that sense of caring with compassionate and determined loyalty that made the Teaffs arguably Baylor's greatest mentors for more than two decades during his coaching career. It has continued since Grant's retirement from the sidelines, serving as American Football Coaches Association executive director since February 1994. He took the job with the condition that he could move the AFCA offices to Waco, partly because it had become home for his three daughters, but also because the Baylor community had become home for he and Donell.
"We honestly wanted to be in a position to continue to help Baylor University and make the university better in whatever way we could," Grant says. "We've been able to do that."
Donell, a founder of the American Football Coaches Wives Association, served 10 years as a Baylor Regent. She also was president of the Baylor Round Table, and she was president, sponsor and advisor for the Baylor chapter and past national officer of Delta Delta Delta sorority.
Neither Grant nor Donell attended Baylor, but they have been Baylor Alumni-By-Choice since 1986. All three of their daughters are Baylor alumnae, and several other family members also are graduates. Included in that list is their grandson, Josh Bookbinder, BA '09, who is linebackers coach at Liberty University in Lynchburg, Va.
"One of my great joys is just seeing the relationship the two of them have," Donell says. "They get on the telephone, and they'll talk, talk, talk, talk football."
Donell also learned from other coaches' wives how to be a coach's wife--and, admittedly, how not to be a coach's wife. Those experiences have helped her influence younger women in her former shoes through the AFCA program.
"It's like you drop a pebble in the water, and it begins to spread," she says. "They support each other. Camaraderie becomes important for all of them because it's not always easy being a coach’s wife for many reasons. But when you have somebody else that you feel like is in the same situation, you see situations and how they've handled it."
Famously, Donell never missed a practice during Grant's tenure -- she says for several reasons, but the biggest of those reasons was the players.
"They felt like somebody was there and somebody was interested," she says. "I enjoyed the players and getting to know them. It just makes my heart feel good that even now there are a lot of them that still call me mom."
Grant's tenure with the AFCA comes to an end in February 2016, but Donell says the word "retire" is not in his vocabulary. He has positioned the AFCA to continue having an impact on young persons' lives for years to come through joint efforts and involvement with groups such as the Cal Ripken Sr. Foundation, Rachel's Challenge and Fellowship of Christian Athletes.
"I'll continue to do what I've been doing with different organizations and corporations--selling the point that we all have to work together to make a change in our society," he says. "We won't change. We won't slow down. We'll just shift gears."
Grant spent 21 years at Baylor. He will have spent 22 years with the AFCA. Donell says Grant--a man of goals--has a plan for the next 20 years. "I just hope I can live long enough to see what he's doing at age 100," she says.