Alonzo Smith “Jake” Gaither was born in Dayton, Tennessee in 1903. As a young adult, Gaither played football at Knoxville College, where he earned his undergraduate diploma in 1927. Soon after his graduation, he began coaching high school football. Ten years later, in 1937, Gaither continued his educational endeavors, earning a master’s degree from Ohio State University.
In 1938, Gaither served as an assistant under Coach William “Big Bill” Bell at Florida A&M College. The FAMC Rattlers finished their 1938 season undefeated and also claimed their first Black College National Championship.
In 1945, Gaither was hired as the head football coach at Florida A&M College. Through his unparalleled dedication, he established an effective recruiting network. By the 1960s, Coach Gaither did not even bother recruiting potential players from states other than Florida.
In 1969, Gaither retired from coaching. By then, he had earned a 204-36-4 record and a .844 winning percentage. Over three dozen of Gaither’s players earned All-American titles and 42 of them played professionally after college.
During his 25 years as FAMU’s head coach, his football teams won 22 Southern Intercollegiate Athletic Conference Championships and six Black College National Championships.
In 1971, Coach Gaither was inducted into the Tennessee Sports Hall of Fame. Four years later, he was inducted into the College Football Hall of Fame and received the Amos Alonzo Stagg Award.