Related Biography: Coach Jake Gaither
Born April 11, 1903, in Tennessee, Alonzo Smith "Jake" Gaither grew up to become a teacher and coach at Henderson Institute in North Carolina. He became an assistant coach at Florida A&M in 1937 and was head football coach from 1945 to 1969. He led his teams to six National Black Championships, won twenty-two conference titles, and produced thirty-six All-American players.
"I like my players mobile, agile, and hostile," Gaither once said, according to a writer in Contemporary Black Biography. However, he balanced this aggressive view with a softer side. Gaither also said, "Kindness is the universal language that all people understand." His players responded to this kindness. Bob Hayes once said that Gaither was "my father, my coach, my friend, my mentor."
Gaither was also innovative on the playing field, elaborating on the T-formation by splitting the offensive line. With his coaching associates, he wrote a book on his tactics, titled The Split Line Offense of Florida A&M, published in 1963.
Gaither was named Small College Coach of the Year three times. He retired in 1969, remaining as athletic director until 1973. In 1975, he became the first coach from a largely African-American college to be inducted into the Football Foundation Hall of Fame.
Gaither died on February 18, 1994 in Florida.