Fred Akers always had a plan. He wanted to be the head coach at the University of Texas.
“Sometimes when you’re young like I was and thought I knew it all, you make some outrageous statements like that,” he said earlier this week. “They are the truth; they’re just not believable.”
For Akers, though, reaching that lofty destination was going to require stops along the way, and one of those brought him to the Hub City for a one-year coaching stint at the helm of Lubbock High.
The experiences of that 1965 season have never left Akers, who went on to replace legendary Longhorn head coach Darrell Royal.
“Once a Westerner, always a Westerner,” Akers said earlier this week. “I still preach that message.”
Akers is one of many football coaches to spend time in Lubbock before enjoying even greater success later in their coaching careers. The Lubbock Independent School District board hired Akers in January 1965 to replace the departed Carl Spoonemore. Akers, who is now retired, came aboard with an annual salary of $10,100, the most ever paid a Lubbock prep coach at the time, according to an A-J article.
“They were great people, and by that I mean they were easy to be with,” Akers said of West Texans. “They didn’t make you think they always had some other motive they were hiding. They were upfront. They were proud of who they were. I thought they were great people then and still think so today. I’ve told people all over the country how the people of West Texas are a breed apart.”
Akers, who came to the Westerners after coaching at Port Arthur and Edinburg, said Westerner tradition and Pete Ragus, former longtime Lubbock Independent School District athletic director, were primary reasons he decided to move to Lubbock.
“It was a big decision for me,” he said. “I had most of the guys coming back at Edinburg, and I’d been there three years. I had to give it some thought, but I chose Lubbock, and I’ve never regretted it. We had some guys (at Lubbock High) who were hungry, and I added my way and got them hungry in a different way. I enjoyed it thoroughly.”
Akers got immediate results, leading the Westerners to a winning record. The success, coupled with Akers’ desire to move to the college level, resulted in offers from Texas and Oklahoma to be an assistant coach. He chose the Longhorns, left to become head coach at Wyoming and was named to replace Royal in December 1976.
Akers wasn’t the only soon-to-be Southwest Conference coach to earn his spurs, so to speak, at Lubbock High.
Grant Teaff, a Snyder native, was an assistant for the Westerners in 1957 and later a member of longtime Texas Tech head coach JT King’s staff. Teaff, whose wife, Donell, is a former Red Raider cheerleader, left Lubbock to be head coach at Angelo State University, then went to Waco, where he crafted a national reputation as Baylor’s head coach.
“I made a lot of deep friendships among the people I was associated with on the staff at the university and in the community,” said Teaff, who now is the executive director of the American Football Coaches Association. “Polk Robison was athletic director at the time, and he became a great mentor.”
Teaff, who was on the Raider staff from August 1966 to January 1969, coached offensive ends and oversaw recruiting. He said the learning opportunities he had at that time in his career prepared him for challenges he would face later.
“When I came in at Baylor, we were downtrodden by Texas and everyone else, as a matter of fact,” he said. “My experiences at Tech, where we had beaten Texas two out of the three seasons I was there, was part of my mentality coming in. Really, I had no idea what I was getting into. I just had a real confidence, and some of that stemmed from my experience and knowledge at Tech.”
For Teaff, the experiences in Lubbock, which included meeting his future wife and getting married here, represent a special time in his life. As proud as Teaff is of his on-field achievements, he said he was equally proud of helping launch Tech’s chapter of the Fellowship of Christian Athletes during his time on the South Plains.
“The people there are special, and it has always been that way, which is one of the reasons I am so deeply committed to Tech,” said Teaff, who was named national coach of the year following the 1974 season in which the Bears won the Southwest Conference. “It is a special place. Even though Tech and Lubbock have grown, there is still a feeling of small-town camaraderie and closeness that I always found to be very special.
“I learned so much there, not only from folks outside the athletic department, but from within the athletic department. (Former assistant coach and athletic director) John Conley was a tremendous mentor to me. Some of the stuff we did at Tech in terms of offense, we were able to magnify and use at Baylor.”
Fred Akers, center, talks with Joe Boener, left, and Larry Lott in this 1967 photo. Akers, a former Lubbock High coach, was an assistant coach at the University of Texas at the time.
While Akers and Teaff moved from the high school level to college coaching, another coach who enjoyed success at Tech and other college career stops was Jim Carlen, who led the Red Raiders from 1970-74 and directed the team to an 11-win season in 1973.
“I liked Lubbock,” said Carlen, who came to West Texas following a successful stint at West Virginia. “I know some people complained about the dust, but I said if it wasn’t dusty, we’d have too many people here. We had a healthy atmosphere there, and the players we recruited were great. We went 11-1 in 1973, and if I’d done a better job of coaching, we would have gone undefeated.”
Carlen said being an assistant coach at Georgia Tech and then serving as head coach at West Virginia helped him prepare for Tech and for his ensuing job at South Carolina.
“I learned a lot about good people in Lubbock,” said Carlen, who is among this year’s Tech Hall of Honor inductees. “They were very kind. I was successful because one thing I could do was hire good coaches and support them. My basic fault is that I want to get something done yesterday instead of tomorrow. I still have a lot of great friends there.”
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