Staff drawing by Mark Wiedmer / Bill McMahan is retiring as a teacher and coach after 50 years — all but three of those at Baylor School — in which he developed a reputation for expecting the best of his students and athletes while also giving his best to help them succeed.

It probably seemed like a good idea at the time.

After all, when you were the father of one of 42 Baylor School ninth-grade football players in 1974, and the Red Raiders had just won the city's ninth-grade championship — which meant they had still yet to taste defeat as Baylor students after going undefeated in seventh and eighth grade — well, such excellence called for something special.

"So when we got back to the locker room," recalled Doug Dyer, one of that team's best players, "one of the dads had bought us a case of champagne to celebrate with. Well, we started popping open those bottles and spraying each other, and that locker room looked like we'd just won the World Series."

Only trouble was, all 42 of those exceedingly young men were well under the legal drinking age. And while none of those fathers would be held accountable for such behavior, first-year coach and Baylor civics teacher Bill McMahan was.

"My dream job," said McMahan, who graduated from Baylor in 1967. "And I was going to lose it after just three months."

There were, indeed, consequences for all concerned. Any boy who actually drank so much as a drop of the bubbly got a three-day suspension, including Dyer, who said of his unpaid vacation: "I didn't even get a drink. I tried. Unfortunately, when I raised the bottle to my lips to have a sip, it was already empty. But since I wanted to take a drink, I took the punishment."

As for McMahan, he got a stern talking-to from Herb Barks, Baylor's headmaster at the time. But he got to keep his job.

And last Thursday, during a faculty reception to honor McMahan's 47 years as a Baylor teacher and coach before he officially retires for good this coming week — he gave up varsity track in 2018 but kept coaching middle school athletes — one Baylor administrator said: "Bill's not only taught and coached the parents of some of the students he's had the last few years, he's been here so long, he's coached some of their grandparents."

McMahan exits at the tender age of 73, having coached and taught for 50 years total, the first three of those at Tyner Junior High School.

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Staff file photo / Baylor football players Brent Blalock, center, and Peter Serodino get direction from running backs coach Bill McMahan during a practice in August 2007.

Asked if he changed over the years, McMahan replied: "As I've gotten older, I've learned that winning or losing is not the most important thing. It's the relationships that you build with your coaches and, more importantly, the kids. I didn't always understand that. But in 2009, my daughter and wife got me to join Facebook. Now some of the greatest joy I have is seeing kids I coached send me a picture of their wedding, their new baby, stuff like that. Those relationships are what really matters."

Those relationships have always mattered to his students, whether McMahan realized it or not.

"His civics class is why I got into government," said longtime Tennessee state representative Bo Watson, who was in the first civics class McMahan ever taught at Baylor.

"In fact, I still have my civics book from his class. I think one thing that's made Bill so special over the years is that he's changed his craft as the times have changed. He adapted. And while I'm happy for Bill to be able to spend more time with his family, him retiring is kind of sad, too. He is really the last link to my generation of students."

Adapting is one thing. Selling your soul is another. Even today, as he walks away from a career that may never be duplicated, McMahan says "I coach hard."

To that end, a few years ago Dyer found himself on Baylor's campus eating lunch with his daughter Rachel. He asked her who the toughest teacher in school was.

"She immediately pointed at Bill," Dyer said with a chuckle.

Yet there is also a difference between between being stubborn and being smart. Dyer recalled that in that ninth-grade championship season, he and a couple of teammates weren't allowed to start one game because they'd dogged it in practice.

"At halftime we were down 14-0," Dyer said. "We started the second half and won."

McMahan had been told before the season that Dyer's bunch had never lost a game, with the implication being he wouldn't be expected to lose one either.

"I believe in discipline," McMahan said, "but I'm not stupid."

What he's always most believed in is getting the best out of his students while giving them his best, which is just one reason he won nine total boys' and girls' state championships in track and field.

"Track was my favorite sport, and Coach McMahan was definitely the reason why," said former Baylor star Willie Idlett, who won numerous state track events and later played football at Wake Forest. "If you were slacking off, he'd kick your butt. But if you were doing what you were supposed to do, working hard, doing things the right way, he'd leave you alone. Just him trusting me meant so much."

Added Hannah Jumper, who was a part of four girls' state championships at Baylor before graduating in 2011: "He's such a role model. He'd push us so hard. He had that old-school edge about him. But he really cared for us. He made running track so wonderful."

McMahan's daughter Allison, who was also a track star under her father, hopes his retirement will be wonderful. That he'll finally get a chance to visit Alaska and Ireland. That he'll have more time for her and her brother Knox and her mother Debbie, his wife of 48 years. That his grandchildren will get to experience his coaching genius, because, in her words, "He is so unique."

He is so unique that on his last day as a teacher on Friday, Baylor softball coach Kelli Smith, who has shared an office with McMahan the past two years, watched him "teach and coach his P.E. class until the final bell. There will never be another Bill McMahan. I've not seen anyone love Baylor the way he loves Baylor."

For that alone, but also for so much more, Baylor alumni the world over should raise a champagne flute as soon as possible to toast their retiring legend. At least all those alumni of legal drinking age.

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Mark Wiedmer

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