This is my first blog. Thought I would give you a run down of my career in writing. For your perusal. Thanks. After majoring in European History at Vanderbilt University and having a big time as a Phi Delta Theta, I graduated in 1984, and started working for the Reagan-Bush campaign for President from June through November. As you all know, the old guy won by a landslide.
It became more of a fraternity party than a campaign at the end because Reagan had thoroughly smoked Walter Mondale in debates and in the polls. He was a highly popular president and his optimistic view of the economy and his hard stance against the Russians and the emerging Middle Eastern terrorists had endeared him to the American people. Don’t get me wrong, we worked long and hard hours during the campaign, but by mid-October, Reagan’s election was inevitable.
After the election, I had an opportunity to work at the White House, but forewent that for opportunities in Birmingham. I interviewed with a family business, the highly successful O’Neal Steel, and was hired as an aluminum salesman. I would start after I took a trip around the world.
After my trip, which was filled with some eventful times including climbing a mountain in Nepal; going to the Greek Island of Mykonos–one of the most chic places in the world; playing rugby in Australia; and catching loads of trout in New Zealand, I came back to the real world in June of 1985 and started work in the warehouse at O’Neal.I enjoyed work in the plant and kind of wanted to stay out there, but was called in to sales.
I had a terrific boss in sales, Gene Pruitt, who took out a lot of his time to train me, drive with me to suppliers and customers and be tough with me when necessary. One of the guys I worked with, Doug Cleckler, was a character, hooting turkey calls throughout the day and cracking people up throughout the office with his various idiosyncrasies.
It was a good experience, but I found that I wasn’t cut out for the steel business. I wasn’t that proficient at it like my cousin and my brother-in-law were; and I loved sports. I was more of a man of letters than numbers.
I then moved on to Tuscaloosa, Alabama in August of 1986 and began working at a radio station reporting on Alabama football. I started writing for Bama Magazine, and got a chance to cover the University football and basketball teams extensively. I really enjoyed working with Kirk McNair, the editor and publisher of the magazine, and had a chance to interview the flamboyant Wimp Sanderson, a fun guy and a very good basketball coach. I also interviewed Bill Curry quite a bit and talked to some outstanding football players including the great Bobby Humphrey. I started as an inexperienced cub writer, and left with some skills.
I matriculated to Chapel Hill, North Carolina in August of 1988 and started working for Carolina Blue Newspaper, a weekly covering University of North Carolina Sports. It was somewhat of a rah-rah newspaper, but my experience with my editor, John Kilgo, was invaluable. Kilgo was a tremendous writer and a demanding editor who taught me the skills of interviewing and writing interesting stories.His columns were filled with color and interest and I learned many things from reading his writing: how to use the dash, how to pace yourself and how to analyze clearly and coherently.
The stories were supposed to be pretty long and I wrote my first story on the center of the Carolina football team. It took me from four in the afternoon till midnight to complete that story.We would write seven or eight features a week and then we’d write game stories on the weekends. I improved immensely in that year in a half, and got to cover now Texas coach Mack Brown, who was the head football coach at the time, and the legendary Dean Smith. I talked to some basketball greats: Michael Jordan, Bobby Jones, Kenny “The Jet” Smith, Walter Davis; huge names regionally and a couple nationally.
From there I matriculated to the Durham Morning Herald covering high school and college sports. There were some classic times going to towns that were in the sticks, then after the game, trying to figure out how to send my stories into the paper.
It was somewhat a series of misadventures. These were country people who could care less about writers. I was more of a nuisance and they let me know it. Writing stories in small coaches offices that sometimes had phone lines and sometimes didn’t created some challenging situations to say the least.
One time I had to roam through a neighborhood to try to find a phone, and was chased by a dog who wanted my leg as an eleven o’clock snack. I climbed a fence throwing my computer over it. I felt like I was escaping a prison camp. I finally found a house with a phone. The owner was thinking about shooting me, but let me in and somehow I made my deadline. That’s the way it was in small town North Carolina. I covered the former Hall of Fame Bowl game in Birmingham when Duke played in it. Steve Spurrier was coaching Duke and was putting them on the map with upset after upset including one over the powerful Clemson Tigers under Danny Ford, one of the best coaches in the game at the time. Spurrier would soon become an elite coach at Florida.He was always a fun guy.
When Ron Morris, my editor, and I were trying to break the story that Spurrier was leaving Duke to become the head coach at Florida, we met Spurrier in the Raleigh-Durham Airport after his trip to Gainesville. He kept calling Ron “Mo-Mo.” He was really a funny guy.
I came back to Birmingham in 1990 and worked for the Birmingham News then the Birmingham Post-Herald until 2005. The News was challenging as I worked for the demanding Ron Ingram. Ron was a great guy away from the job, but he was highly intense and demanding on the job. He expected the story to be turned inyesterday when he assigned it–deadlines were sacred–and he would not tolerate mistakes. It was another valuable experience and pressure filled. I also worked with Rubin Grant at the now defunct Post-Herald. Rubin was a good guy and a nice writer. He and Ron teamed up on a book a couple of years ago.
I left the News and moved over to the Over the Mountain Journal in 2005. The OTMJ is a bi-weekly covering suburban Birmingham schools in all sports. I worked there until this year. The editor, Maury Wald, was an easy guy to work for, and the sports editor, Lee Davis, and I established a great working relationship.
In 2004, I published my first book, Leadership Lessons for Life, a book on 46 of the best high school football coaches in the state of Alabama. I traveled 4,500 miles throughout the state and into Georgia to talk to these classic coaches.
My favorite may have been Jamie Riggs, the legendary coach at T.R. Miller in Brewton. Jamie wasn’t too sure what I was doing when I came down to the South central Alabama town about 45 minutes from Destin. In small town Alabama, they didn’t know or care that much about writers. But Jamie was a terrific guy and an outstanding interview. He was so likeable, but obviously focused when he needed to be. He told me his players were glad to get to the military after high school football; it was easier. “I want them to leave here knowing they did something tough,” Jamie said. “They’ll be better men for it.”
His approach obviously worked and still works today as his multiple state titles attest to. There were other great ones: Joey Jones, Buddy Anderson, Bob Newton, Waldon Tucker and Robert Higginbotham among others. It was a pleasure working with all of these fine men.
I published my second book in December of 2007, Shorty: A Life In Sports; a book on the life of Coach George “Shorty” White, a legend in Alabama high school football coaching. White won three state championships at Banks High School in Birmingham in 1965, 1972 and 1973. After14 years at Banks as head coach he was hired as running backs coach for “Bear” Bryant at Alabama. As coach at Alabama, he recruited and coached quite a few players who were a major part of the national championship teams in 1978 and 1979.
At Banks, he could have won at least two or three more state titles if it hadn’t been for key injuries at bad times or an early loss in the late 1960’s that prevented his teams from reaching the playoffs. The playoffs were hard to make in the late ‘60’s, as only four teams would qualify to play for the state title. By the end of the ’67 and ’69 seasons, White felt like he had the best teams in the state.
White’s teams went 35 games in a row without a loss from 1972 to 1974. In 1974, they played the greatest high school football game of all time in Alabama to this date in front of 42,000 fans at Legion Field. Banks versus Woodlawn in November of 1974 pitted the great Jeff Rutledge of Banks against the highly decorated Tony Nathan of Woodlawn, both high school All-Americans.
Banks was 8-0 and Woodlawn was 9-0. The winner was probably going to win the state championship. Banks won 18-7, but White said that game was the hardest hitting game he has ever been a part of and crippled his team with injuries causing them to not be able to win their third straight state title. They lost Rutledge at the end of the season with an injury–which killed their chances. But it was an amazing run and White was recently inducted into the Alabama High School Hall of Fame, a much overdue honor.
Coach was a pleasure to work with and we’re good friends to this day.
It’s been a great ride both in journalism and in book writing. This is my first novel and I hope you enjoy it.
Thanks for checking me out.