After all the seasons, 22 of them separated by a dozen years elsewhere, it was odd not to see Buddy Teevens on the Dartmouth sideline for last weekend’s opener against New Hampshire.
Everyone knew that he might never coach again after the horrific March bicycle accident in Florida that deprived him of a leg and damaged his spinal cord.
But Teevens had brought his alma mater’s football program back from the depths not once but twice. Was it fantasy to think that he might defy the odds one more time?
Finally, though, his injuries were too much to overcome, and Teevens died Tuesday at 66. The ultimate Dartmouth Guy never got to go back home.
Teevens had worked in Greencastle, Ind., Boston, Orono, Maine, New Orleans, Urbana-Champaign, Ill., Gainesville, Fla., and Palo Alto, Calif., but his natural setting was in Hanover in the New Hampshire hills.
Once he returned there in 2005 after being dismissed from Stanford, it seemed unlikely that Teevens would ever leave again. The lure of the place is that strong.
“It is a small college,” old boy Daniel Webster said, “and yet there are those who love it.”
Dartmouth is the smallest of the Ivies and the most remote, and yet more decades than not its football varsity has dominated the league. Teevens quarterbacked the 1978 team that won the league title, and after he took the head coaching job in the wake of a mid-1980s slump, he produced two more crowns.
Teevens could have had lifetime tenure then but opted to decamp to Tulane.
“I was very ambitious my first time through,” he said. “I had ambitions to coach at the highest level. I didn’t appreciate it as much as I should have.”
When Teevens returned for his second stint, the Green hadn’t had a winning season in seven years and were coming off a 1-9 campaign. The challenges, he knew, were structural.
Dartmouth was still small, still remote, and still had a staggered year-round academic schedule. The league’s academic index made it more difficult to admit players. And Davis Field House, built in 1927, was still in use.
“Some people who come back don’t appreciate that things have changed so substantially,” Teevens mused. “They say, ‘Why can’t you do it like it was before?’ There are multiple reasons for that.”
His reentry was exceptionally rough — five straight losing seasons, including the first winless year in school history, and a record 17 straight defeats.
The losing streak ended in 2009 with a homecoming victory over Columbia.
“To see the sheer joy on some of the faces was priceless,” Teevens said.
Thus did the upturn begin. What helped enormously was the $20 million investment in a new field house with a spacious locker room, state-of-the-art meeting and study areas, and a modern strength training center.
“The best times are coming,” Teevens promised.
It took a decade to rise from the bottom with years of what the coach called “tangible gains without the satisfaction of victory.”
But Teevens’s persistence and persuasiveness paid off. Nobody was better at selling four years among the pines. He could tell whether a recruit was a Dartmouth Guy in just 10 minutes, he reckoned.
“If we can just get them up here to visit,” he said, to stroll around the Enchanted Village that is the campus and get a taste of the outdoorsy spirit. Just get them to venture a couple of hours north of Boston and you had a chance of hooking them.
It helped that the coach had worn the green jersey himself, that he knew the words to “Dear Old Dartmouth,” that he’d been a member of the Sphinx, the 19th-century senior society. He’d been through the bad times and had kept both his enthusiasm and his ethics.
The best times arrived in 2015 with the first Ivy title in nearly two decades, and others followed in 2019 and 2021. The Green resumed beating Harvard, Yale, and Princeton. What had been true more years than not since 1956 was true again. If you wanted the trophy, you had to go through Dartmouth.
That was why Teevens came back for a second go and why he stuck around through the barren years. His standards and expectations for the program never changed. His players loved him, his peers respected him. You never heard a bad word about Buddy Teevens. He coached the game the right way.
He relished competing in a league that had become more balanced from top to bottom, where four teams had a chance at the championship on the final Saturday.
Teevens was an innovator and a vocal advocate for player safety, banning tackling in practice. So it was a tragic irony indeed that he reportedly was bicycling without a helmet or illumination when he was struck by a truck.
His recovery and rehabilitation likely would have taken long enough that his coaching days were over. Still, his passing came as a shock to those who considered the man indomitable. Nothing ever kept Buddy Teevens down.
He could have stayed on the sideline for another decade had he cared to. That had been his spot for so long that one couldn’t imagine anyone else in his place. The stadium has been called Memorial Field for a century. Perhaps now they’ll name the gridiron for Teevens, who made it his own.
John Powers can be reached at email@example.com.