On a blustery spring day in April, Coach Bill McMahan ’67 presided over a Middle School track meet against crosstown rivals GPS and McCallie as his final official athletic event of a 47-year teaching and coaching career.
As field events were wrapping up, his long-time friend and colleague Austin Clark appeared and commandeered the public address system, highlighting McMahan’s career and asking the small crowd to show their appreciation with applause. Following the ovation, Clark returned the mic to McMahan, who promptly went back to business by announcing the “third and final call for the 100-meter hurdles!”
It was the perfect response for a coach whose team-oriented T-shirt slogan – It’s not about ME, it’s about the ‘B’ – has become part of the Baylor lingo. “Yeah, I just dreamed that up one day,” he laughs. “But it is the way I coached. There were three things that I asked of each kid. One, make a commitment to being the best you can be. Two, give a great effort and know that I will accept nothing less. And three, be a good teammate and put the team’s success ahead of your own.” McMahan followed his own lead, committing and working hard to understand the team aspect of a sport that relies mostly on individual performances.
One, make a commitment to being the best you can be. Two, give a great effort and know that I will accept nothing less. And three, be a good teammate and put the team’s success ahead of your own.
“I remember standing with him – he did not sit – while he shared with me his carefully constructed line-ups for region and state meets,” recalls Heather Ott, head coach of Baylor girls’ cross country team for 31 years and an assistant track coach for every year of McMahan’s tenure. “He gathered so much reconnaissance on teams around the state that he had figured out exactly how we could score the most points and have our best chance at a championship. And he was right every time.”
McMahan’s opponents also noticed his prowess at positioning his teams. Jeff Gaither, who coached at Baylor from 1987-1990 and returned in 2018, was the track coach at GPS for over 20 years. “Bill always got the best out of his athletes, and his teams always performed their best at the end of the season,” says Gaither. “In my opinion, Bill saved his best coaching job for his last season as Baylor’s varsity coach. His girls’ team was state runner-up in 2018 when, on paper, they should have been no better than fourth place. He won more than his share of championships over the years, but I think getting that last team to over-perform was a fitting way for him to end his varsity coaching career.”
“I’m sure there were kids wondering why I was putting them in a certain event or telling them to win, but run slower, but they bought in,” smiles McMahan. “Nobody ever questioned me.”
And nobody should. In 28 years as head coach, which ended after the 2018 season, McMahan led girls’ teams to seven state championships and 20 region titles. Baylor’s boys’ teams won two state championships and were runners-up twice. All this success came while McMahan was still coaching the Middle School team.
“When I asked him to become the new varsity track coach in ’91, I told him we would find a new coach for the Middle School team,” remembers Clark, who was Baylor’s athletic director at the time. “But he wanted to keep coaching both teams. He was thinking of the kids, their development as athletes, and the good of the team. I thought that was special. He wanted to instill, in the younger kids, the work ethic he would expect of them later as varsity athletes.”
It took me a while to learn that what’s important at Baylor is the relationship between coaches and athletes and teachers and students.
While those expectations were a formula for athletic success, they also helped form lasting bonds between McMahan and so many of his former athletes, bonds he maintains, largely through more than 300 Facebook friendships. “I don’t get on Facebook to gossip and all that stuff; I do it for these connections,” McMahan says. “I, actually, rarely post anything on my page. Mostly, I respond to what they post about their lives. It’s fun to keep up with them, and I think they appreciate it. And in the end, they may think, ‘You know, he really did care about me when I was at Baylor, as a person, not just an athlete.’ It took me a while to learn that what’s important at Baylor is the relationship between coaches and athletes and teachers and students.”
Ott has been an eyewitness as those relationships blossomed between McMahan and Baylor students. “He was always tough, but it was his singular version of toughness. It’s born of the absolute honesty, generosity, and integrity that he lives – every day. He walks his talk. He shows up in the lives of kids while they are here and in the years and decades beyond.”
Ott and Clark agree that McMahan’s love of the team and relational aspects of sports is one way he expresses his love for Baylor. “He teaches kids and colleagues that to give yourself to a sport, a team, a job, or a relationship is to put the self aside,” Ott says. “Bill has done that every day of every year of the 47 he has been here. I cannot imagine this place without him.”
8th Grade Civics: 1974-1980
Physical Education/Health/Wellness, Upper/Middle School: 1981-2021
9th Grade Football: 1974-1976
8th Grade Basketball: 1974-1975
Varsity Track (assistant coach): 1974-1981
Varsity Football (assistant coach): 1977-2007
Lower School Wrestling: 1976-1986
Lower/Middle School Head Track Coach: 1982-2021
Varsity Head Track Coach: 1991-2018
Lower/Middle School Athletic Director: 1993-2021