Jeff Grimes told me a story once about the way he became a football coach.
He took the long way — a route that eventually went through BYU twice and now, as of Monday, is taking him to Baylor, where he’ll hold the same position he held at BYU — offensive coordinator. He’s psyched about coaching the Bears — “I am absolutely fired up,” he says — but BYU fans shouldn’t take any offense.
The man’s going home.
Here’s the backstory:
Grimes was living in College Station, Texas, in the early 1990s, his wife attending school at Texas A&M, and, after working as a substitute teacher and a forklift operator, he was selling advertising coupons and calendars to fast-food restaurants and other small joints that usually had neither the inclination, nor the means to give him the money for which he was pitching.
He had a job offer — selling insurance — back in El Paso, where he had played football at UTEP, an endeavor he had already attempted to prolong professionally by trying out for the then-Los Angeles Raiders and an outfit called the San Antonio Riders.
Grimes was cut each time.
So, he said, he sat behind the wheel of his beat-to-hell ’79 Chevy Blazer, stuck in traffic at a railroad crossing, sweating through his clothes at the end of the day in the cruel-hot Texas sun, watching the waves of heat coming off the hood of his beater, wondering what in God’s good name he was doing with his life.
Turns out, he wanted to be the OC at Baylor, as mentioned, a job he just now accepted, after assistant coaching stints at assorted stops, such as Rice, Texas A&M, Boise State, Arizona State, BYU, Colorado, Auburn, Virginia Tech, LSU, BYU again, and now for the Bears.
Grimes had always been a religious man, a Baptist from birth, and he stares now at doing what he’s been doing for the Cougars for Baylor, the Baptist school in Waco.
The notion that came to him, though, on that steamy day lacked that kind of specificity. The bolt out of boiling blue, he said, hit him hard as the train blew on by and it went like this:
“‘You would really enjoy being a football coach.’ … I sat there, sweating my tail off, and it hit me just like that.”
Grimes had loved playing football, loved the physicality and brutality of it, despite his strong religious beliefs. The former offensive lineman — who played at 300 pounds in college, back before that was commonplace — had a firm gridiron-battle background, steeled by playing high school ball in Garland, near Dallas. He remembered getting thrashed playing the game he loved, hurling his guts out after practices, to the point of loving it so much he wanted to quit, but he never did. A coach reminded him about the fortitude of his Biblical hero.
“When Jesus walked on this earth for 33 years,” the coach told him, “he never had an easy day.”
That was good enough for Grimes. He was built on football, fought through football, was made better by the game. And years later, he didn’t want to leave it behind.
But he was also built on having a tight-knit family and knew coaching would test that, what with its long and varied hours and demands.
That’s one of the reasons he came to BYU the first time, from ASU, where he had been working relentless — and sometimes ridiculous — hours. When he was offered the assistant position with the Cougars in 2004, he was told he could carve out the time necessary to spend with his wife and then-young kids.
The time spent with his family energized him and his approach to coaching, enabling him to see success with his offensive line at BYU, then at all those other places.
“I have a standard that I will not change,” he said back then. “Everyone stays tough, everyone plays hard on every play. That’s what I ask, that’s what i want.”
That’s usually what he got.
Grimes progressed through his coaching stops, including leading BYU’s offense this past season in a most proficient way. He benefited from having Zach Wilson at quarterback, but the attack, all around, was solid. He also had talented coaches working alongside him — Aaron Roderick and Fesi Sitake, each of whom had a huge hand in the Cougars’ success.
Those guys are some of the reasons BYU won’t miss Grimes as much as you might think.
He’ll move on to Waco now, back to Texas, his original digs. He liked working at BYU and enjoyed the atmosphere there. But between the fully congruent religious aspects of Baylor’s environment and the fact that he’s a Texas boy, home is home.
“There’s tremendous alignment between what Baylor University stands for and who I am at my core,” he says. “I can’t wait to get back home to the great state of Texas and begin working with the tremendous student-athletes and coaches in the Baylor program. Sic ‘em.”
And that’s all good.
GORDON MONSON hosts “The Big Show” with Jake Scott weekdays from 2-7 p.m. on 97.5 FM and 1280 AM The Zone.