In the introductory hours of May, the University of Tulsa unveiled a tribute to its past and opened the doors to its future.
After joining in a salute to longtime TU team physician Dr. George S. Mauerman one night, Dr. Derrick L. Gragg settled into his new role the next morning as the director of Golden Hurricane athletics.
Two men from different generations, who walked similar yet divergent paths to Tulsa, suddenly found themselves in companion spotlights.
The presence of one was scripted. The presence of the other carried an element of surprise.
Gragg’s arrival on campus had been the result of a national search to fill a vacant position.
Mauerman has been a familiar figure on campus for more than four decades. A humble man with a quiet demeanor, he knew nothing of the ceremony in which he was to be honored.
On the night that TU was celebrating the achievements of its senior athletes, the school announced that the Athletic Performance Center in the Reynolds Center was being rededicated as the George S. Mauerman Sports Medicine Center.
“Flabbergasted,” is the word Mauerman called upon to describe his reaction to the announcement.
Hours later, Gragg began his first official day as TU’s director of athletics.
Mauerman is 76, a native of the Wisconsin farmlands.
Gragg is 43, a product of an urban background in Alabama.
Mauerman received his medical degree from Columbia University in New York City. He completed his internship and residency in New York and Memphis.
Gragg received his doctorate in higher education administration from the University of Arkansas. He honed his administrative skills at universities in Missouri and Michigan.
Yet the one common bond that linked Mauerman and Gragg before they stepped into the Tulsa spotlight was Vanderbilt University football.
Mauerman attended Vanderbilt on a football scholarship, with the sole intention of studying medicine.
Gragg attended Vanderbilt on a football scholarship, fully expecting to study law.
Mauerman was a two-way lineman for the Commodores from 1956 to 1958.
Gragg was a wide receiver for the Commodores from 1988 to 1992.
While Mauerman followed his first instinct, Gragg changed directions at the suggestion of his coach, and ventured into sports administration.
The two former Commodores, two generations removed, met for the first time on the night of the unveiling of the George S. Mauerman Sports Medicine Center.
In the days that followed, their paths did not cross again.
Gragg was involved with meetings on campus and off, 36 in all over a five-day span. Mauerman was traveling to New York for a class reunion.
Still, even chance meetings in the corridors of the Reynolds Center or walking across what Gragg refers to as “a great, great aesthetically looking campus,” the two will quickly turn a conversation toward Vanderbilt football.
But for a moment or two on a recent afternoon, Mauerman was pressed to discuss the appearance of his name on the east side of the Reynolds Center, above the entrance to the Sports Medicine Center.
“Such a big, big honor,” he said. “I am very humbled.
“(School officials) kept it a secret. A very big surprise.”
A framed tribute to Mauerman inside the training facility cites his combination of “practice and service” to the university and its student-athletes.
Further, Mauerman, who graduated Vanderbilt Magna Cum Laude, is hailed for “setting a standard model for the practice of sports medicine.”
The center, complete with all the training staples, in addition to weight and exercise equipment and a core of athletic trainers, is a top-drawer facility.
Mauerman laughed when he remembered the TU “training room” he encountered when he arrived in Tulsa in 1970 to join Eastern Oklahoma Orthopedic Center, of which he became a partner two years later.
Dan Howard, a former TU footballer, was the designated football trainer and oversaw a piecemeal weight room tucked away under the west stands of Skelly Stadium, Mauerman said.
TU did not enjoy a true training room, Mauerman said, until the late 1990s.
The emergence of new and improved athletic facilities in the last decade, in addition to the overall reimaging of the TU campus, attracted Gragg to the position of director of athletics that became vacant during the winter.
“I always had my eye on this job because of several things,” Gragg said recently.
“It’s a lot like the institution that I graduated from, Vanderbilt. Very similar institution. Great academics. Also, a very high level of athletic achievement.
“I was also attracted to the president who is here, President (Steadman) Upham,” Gragg said. “The president is the most important person in any athletics director’s life, outside of his or her’s family.
“I knew about Dr. Upham. I knew about his reputation for being a great leader and leading this institution to where it is today. I was really, really stimulated by that.”
In his final year of eligibility at Vanderbilt, Gragg played for coach Gerry DiNardo.
“He helped me a great deal in my career,” Gragg said. “He pushed for me in getting my first job, back at Vanderbilt as academic counselor.”
When DiNardo moved to LSU as head coach, Gragg again sought his advice. “I thought I wanted to coach,” Gragg said.
DiNardo urged Gragg to remain in athletics administration.
“He said that I could become an athletics director some day. It had never occurred to me that I could become an athletics director until he said that. I took it to heart, and after that things began to change drastically for me.”
Gragg eventually moved to the University of Arkansas and spent most of his six years as deputy athletics director or senior associate athletics director under Frank Broyles.
“A great gentleman,” Gragg said of the Hall of Fame coach.
“He was a great mentor. A great southern gentleman. He is someone I learned a great deal from.”
After seven years at director of athletics at Eastern Michigan University, Gragg landed the TU job.
“It is a wonderful opportunity to lead a program of this caliber,” he said. “The university’s combination of academic and athletics success dovetails perfectly with my own personal and professional core values.”
It also presented an opportunity to develop and nurture a relationship with a fellow Vanderbilt grad and football alum.
One has built a legacy within the University of Tulsa athletics program.
The other will, in time, become the face of the same program.
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