LAWRENCE — Coaches are full of motivational tactics, but Frank Beavers probably never imagined one of his sayings would carry a young player through his athletic career, into a 40-year broadcasting career, through a battle with cancer and into a college classroom.
But that’s what “one for the Coyotes,” a Texas high school football mindset, did for Al Wallace. Now a University of Kansas adjunct instructor in journalism, he shares his four decades of experience with his students. “One for the Coyotes” is also the title of his new book that tells the story of his life, work in sports media and connections that go beyond the games.
Wallace, in his first semester of teaching Journalism 540: Sports, Media and Society at KU, tries to balance his professional experiences with the lessons of why sport, media and society are connected and why they matter. As a long-time Kansas City broadcaster, he had spoken to former journalism professor Max Utsler’s class on previous occasions. When Utsler retired, Wallace was invited to make the transition from broadcasting to teaching.
“Without apprehension, I said yes, sure. I’d talked with Max’s class, but this is the first time I’ve done it with so much on the line,” Wallace said. “Sports, media and society is an even split between the three and media is the connecter. People consume their sports now in a way that is much more efficient, but I also think with less carefulness. I think the foundation of those three topics is people and how they come together. Sports are just games.”
While Wallace says he tries not to lean too much on his personal experiences or “I was at that game” moments in class, they can be instructive and lend credibility. Those moments are peppered throughout “One for the Coyotes: How I Survived 40 Years of my Dream Job in TV News (and Cancer Too),” but not simply in reminiscing about who won or lost. The book, written with David Swale, tells the story of his life from his childhood in a military family to playing in high school football-crazed Texas to landing a job in TV broadcasting and overcoming cancer as well.
The title comes from Wallace’s high school coach at Mineral Wells, Texas. The school’s rival hailed from Wichita Falls, Texas, where the Coyotes had won numerous state championships over the years. Mineral Wells players were told if they wanted to win, they had to work just as hard as the Wichita Falls players did and give something extra. Whether lifting weights, running laps or doing drills, doing one extra repetition — or “one for the Coyotes ” — was necessary, the coach preached.
Wallace details how that philosophy drove him throughout life. The son of a sergeant in the US Army and one of eight kids, Wallace tells how discipline and teamwork were constants throughout his childhood in the 1960s on a German Army base and moves throughout the United States. As a student at Texas Tech, he landed a job at a local TV station, which helped provide the focus and teamwork he had become disconnected from after high school.
“I didn’t just have a game on Friday nights, now I had a game twice a day,” Wallace said of the station’s two broadcasts. “That’s how I fell in love with TV.”
The book follows his journey from Lubbock, Texas, to Las Vegas to Kansas City to his “ultimate goal” of covering sports in Dallas, what he always considered to be home growing up.
However, after 13 months and 39,000 miles on his car, Wallace came back to Kansas City and WDAF, which he realized was now home. “One for the Coyotes” outlines his Kansas City sports broadcasting career, including covering three World Series and nine Final Fours and relationships with coaches, players and larger than life personalities like Kansas City Chiefs hall-of-famer the late Derrick Thomas.
However monumental for the players and fans, those sporting events are all just part of a larger history, Wallace writes. While many will remember games such as the 1991 football game between Kansas and Missouri in which KU running back Tony Sands set a then-NCAA record with nearly 400 yards rushing, Wallace primarily remembers it as the day he met his wife at the game, he writes.
“It’s not a book about sports. It’s not a book about TV. It’s a book about me. But you can’t talk about my life without sports or television — they were a major part of my life,” Wallace said.
Wallace’s dedication to his work and family were evident, KU basketball coach Bill Self writes in the book’s foreword. Those coaches gave him not only material to report on, but lessons to apply to life, work and family, Wallace said. That was perhaps most apparent in his fight with cancer in 2011.
A routine physical caught the presence of prostate cancer early, and a successful surgery helped him survive the disease without experiencing chemotherapy or radiation. The “one for the Coyotes” mentality also drove him during his recovery and quest to return to work, which just happened to come on the day of the last regular season basketball game between heated rivals KU and Missouri.
“I wrote in my diary during recovery ‘I’m going to be at that game. Not even cancer can keep me away,’” Wallace said.
The lessons he learned in an ever-evolving and ever-demanding field not only fill the pages of his book, they form his approach to teaching.
“One thing about being in broadcasting for 40 years and sports for 38 is being around a lot of coaches and getting their life lessons that they have to share,” Wallace said. “I learned that it’s OK to be uncomfortable sometimes and to challenge yourself. I don’t want any of the students to think ‘this guy is coasting.’ They may have good or bad opinions, but I don’t want anyone to think he’s coasting.”
Photo credit: "One for the Coyotes: How I Survived 40 Years of my Dream Job in TV News (and Cancer Too)" by Al Wallace and David Swale