Inside the Hash Marks: Dear Coach Teevens
Dartmouth long snapper Josh Greene ’23 reflects on the tremendous impact that former Robert L. Blackman head coach Buddy Teevens ’79 had on Big Green football.
I compiled stories and experiences from Dartmouth football players past and present to try to illustrate the impact that Coach Teevens had on all of his players. To describe an indescribable man with words is an impossible task, but I’m going to try my best. This is a letter to thank him for changing all of our lives.
Dear Coach Teevens,
Simply put, you were the best of us.
From the start, you had us hooked. The moment you walked into our homes or the Floren lounge with your patented grin and an outstretched hand, followed by your watch set five minutes ahead, us high schoolers began our journey to becoming men of Dartmouth, like you. You made us and our families feel as if we were the most important people in the world during those first conversations, and that’s because you always gave your full and undivided attention to whoever you were speaking with. Although you were a larger than life presence — presidential, some would say — you never acted as if you were above anyone.
Oh, and what a salesman you were. All of our parents were hooked the moment you started describing what your alma mater would do for their son. “Your son will be a great football player when it’s football time, a great student when it’s academics time, and a great person all of the time.” Sold. Our parents were so eager to ship us off to college, not because they couldn’t stand us, but because they knew who they were sending their son to play for.
We all remember the first time you made us stand up in front of the team for public speaking. What kind of football coach cares enough about his players that he helps them overcome one of the average person’s greatest fears because he cares about their future? A one-of-a-kind coach. You. “So and so, tell us about the latest Supreme Court decision.” “So and so, have you met anybody new on campus this week?” “So and so, name all of the offensive linemen.” “Know your teammates.”
You knew that only families could win championships, so you made it your mission every training camp to get us to learn each other’s names as quickly as possible so we could turn our focus to winning football games. Not even COVID-19 could stop you from being attentive and witty. How did you notice on the small computer screen each time someone got a haircut? You even noticed if we were in a different location from the previous week’s Zoom call! You saw these things not only because you were a curious soul, but because you cared about where each of us was in life, physically and otherwise.
The practice field transformed when you strode onto it with your majestic jog. Hat and glasses on, small ringed notebook and dulled pencil in hand. You demanded a lot from us, but you led by example. Most programs have interns to pick up pads and store equipment away after practice, but you took the time everyday to do these exact tasks. You weren’t afraid to do the dirty work, and you showed us that we shouldn’t be, either. The feeling that a quarterback got from hearing you utter “nice shot” after a precise throw or “put it on ’em” after an errant one worked in tandem to drive the desire for greatness. I mean, no former QB threw a tighter spiral in one-v-one sub-in duty than you.
We loved how you got a little crazier and crazier as the game week progressed. The magical intensity that you brought to every meeting and practice taught us how to be locked in all of the time. Everything mattered. To be a S.T.A.R. (smart, trained, aggressive and relentless) you had to operate at your peak 24/7. And that you did. Your Thursday pre-practice speeches at the end of the team meeting had us eager to run across New England and play anybody at the drop of a hat. You always had us ready to play our hardest for you because we knew you lived your life working the hardest for us.
And gamedays: All of our favorite days because we got to activate that controlled insanity together. When you would step out of the hotel and onto bus #1 for away games, gray suit, khaki pants, white shirt with no tie, shades on … Oh yeah, the guys on that other sideline were going to get hit. Hard. In their own house. You didn’t speak much on days leading up to the game. We knew how anxious you were. Not simply because you had been physically buzzing since Friday, but because we knew that you had an entire community on your back. Even in defeat, you never let them down.
There are some things in this letter that we want to thank you for, but we don’t want the whole world to know about them. The intimacy of those pregame speeches is one of those things. We will say this, though, things went from 0 to 60 very quickly in the locker room once you got going. When you stood up to address us, you had a miraculous way of inspiring us to fight for each other and fight for you. Your froth-flinging words might have sometimes been indecipherable and scrambled, but we were not going to leave that locker room without having the same steely-eyed look as you.
During our games you did a masterful job of staying in the “high red.” When times got tough, you leaned on your staff and on us to aid you in fighting the battle. You were never too busy to take a seat on the bench next to one of us to check in and help us clear our heads. We know that sometimes you just wanted to come chat, even though you somehow remained locked into what was happening on the field. We also may have overheard you muttering a few choice words into your headset from time to time (with that same headset being thrown across the sideline later in the game), but we never doubted the direction in which you were leading us. As the ultimate competitor, we admired the self-control you possessed in order to be gracious in both victory and defeat. No matter what you thought about the opposing team’s coaches, players or even mascot, you were always a humble superstar, shook hands and rejoined us on our sideline to sing the “Alma Mater” — another way you showed us how much you loved and respected your school. You knew we hated singing the “Alma Mater” if it wasn’t going to be followed by the “Football Medley” in Leverone or the locker room, but some things are bigger than the game. Whether we won or lost, you reminded us that we are a family, men from the woods, and we will remain bound, arm in arm, whether the score was in our favor or not.
Wow — we feel as if that is saying a lot about you, and we haven’t even come close to describing the man you were and what you did for us. Some things have been well documented: how you shoveled snow off of the D at midfield before we would even arrive for 6 a.m. workouts in the middle of the winter, how you would personally wait for the young guys in the library to make sure they were all at study table, or even how you would always make sure that we thanked the dining hall staff for cooking our meals with a round of applause before we started eating. But the small things you did for us are what will stick with us forever.
You showed your commitment to us at all times; even checking in with us former players to ask if you could help connect us with anybody in our desired professional sphere … on the sideline during a game! It was also amazing how you remembered such minute details from conversations in passing, how you really listened to everything that we said. Even if we weren’t the closest, you were great at recalling a lot of seemingly insignificant moments and conversations we had that us players might have forgotten about. But, because you were always listening, apparently these chats left an impression on you, and you poured this compassion into post-graduation recommendation letters. You also remembered if we loved hunting, or if we were a part of an advocacy group on campus. You loved showing interest in our passions by passing down an old MPA hat — if you thought it would help keep us camouflaged while doing that hunting — or an old electric watch, to keep the time to make sure we weren't late for that advocacy group’s debate in Rocky. In your later years, this might have been the most grandpa-like tendency of yours, but, more importantly, it showed your zest for life and how much you loved being a part of our’s.
(And maybe this is the time for us to tell you how impressive your woodcarvings are and how delicious your sourdough bread is. That one hat carving in your office always fooled us, and we know you are up there perfecting your bread recipe as we write you this letter.)
Unfortunately, as you know, life isn’t all fun and games. You understood this just as well as anyone. Throughout the years, we’ve had to deal with lots of difficult times. It’s hard for us to think of someone who was more gracious at handling losing a loved one than you were. For the people you knew personally, you made sure to be at their sides everyday toward the end; for our legendary equipment manager, Steve Ward, you ribbed him about the Red Sox or filled him in on what was going on at practice. You brought light into the room for those who would have, otherwise, been in their darkest times, and you encouraged us to remember the light of someone’s life and carry that forward instead of dwelling on the end. You didn’t just do this on a team level, though. You helped us individually when we lost friends and family members back home. The advice you gave us is the exact advice we keep reminding ourselves of now that you’re gone. You are such a relentless and passionate servant of others that, even in death, you are helping us mourn you.
All in all, we could go on for 117 more pages (one for each win you earned as our head coach), but we will begin to wrap things up here. When we think of the individuals who have impacted our lives the most, it’s difficult to find many, if any, people to place above your name. We don’t think that any of us were ready to witness your infectious, commanding aura; an aura that demonstrated that:
Nobody wore a Dartmouth green sweater and khakis like you.
Nobody rolled the bill of a D cap better than you.
Nobody elevated the energy in a room faster than you.
Nobody spoke better with their eyes than you.
Nobody appreciated a moment of silliness, especially during training camp, more than you.
Nobody was quicker to pause and acknowledge quality humor even at the most intense moments than you.
Nobody out-conditioned their players better, just to set the bar where it should be (beyond our reach) like you.
Nobody was more on time than you.
Nobody lit the fire pregame better than you.
Nobody got people on board like you.
Nobody knew better than you that digging it out of the dirt through blood, sweat and tears was the only path that mattered.
Nobody made it less about themself than you.
Nobody understood the pure essence and value of collegiate athletics better than you.
Nobody was a mentor without even trying like you.
Nobody had parents hooked in a first meeting faster than you (even before the “front of the classroom” speech).
Nobody assessed people better than you.
Nobody understood the inherent need for people to respect one another better than you.
Nobody appreciated the simplicity of dominant power football like you.
Nobody fostered camaraderie among the staff better than you.
Nobody empowered players to take ownership like you.
Nobody had a bigger heart than you.
Nobody saw and embraced the value of diversity of thought and differing perspectives more than you.
Nobody embraced innovation more than you.
Nobody loved more, or more unconditionally, than you …
Because of all that, and everything else, we know that we can never love you enough back, and this hole in our hearts will always be there. However, the fact that this hole exists at all means that we have the memories of breathing the same air as you, walking the same halls as you, balling out on the island with you to begin with, and these memories will always serve to patch that hole up. Thank you, Coach. We love you.
Forever in your debt,
Your Dartmouth Football Players