By Shannon J. Allen/Sand Mountain Reporter
“Learning to play the Wallace Way” or “Winning with the Wallaces” might work as new slogans for the Sardis High School basketball program.
The Etowah County Board of Education last week approved brothers Zach and Josh Wallace as the Lions’ new varsity boys and girls basketball coaches, respectively.
The school’s former junior varsity boys coach, Zach succeeds Tracy Cheek as varsity boys coach. Josh coached the Lions’ seventh- and eighth-grade girls teams last year. He replaces Scott Sandlin.
It is the first time in Sardis High history that siblings have served as leaders of the school’s basketball program.
“I never dreamed it would happen,” Josh said. “It’s a blessing to be able to know who you’re working with. We’ve played ball together, we’ve done everything together our whole lives. I think it’s just a blessing from above that we get to do this together.”
Josh graduated from Crossville in 1997 while Zach graduated in 1999. Both of them were starters and key members of the Lions’ football, basketball and baseball teams. The brothers played football for Chris Garmon, who later served as Sardis’ head coach from 2003-09.
“It’s something we had talked about, maybe coaching together, but we had never really looked at both of us being head coaches at the same school,” Zach said. “It’s probably something that we never imagined, but it is a dream come true.”
Josh said, “There’s been times that some other opportunities had arisen where we discussed me going as an assistant for him or him coming as an assistant for me, because there’s nothing like being able to trust the person who’s there with you.
“And full-hearted trust, knowing that he’s not going to do anything to hurt me. He’s for me, and the feeling is mutual. I’m for him as much as he is for me. I want to see the boys program win every game.
“I really feel like we feel that way about every sport here. We’ve got kids on the girls side that play every sport. It’s real important for us that not just basketball (is successful) … we’re here for Sardis.”
Zach Wallace spent the past three years as Sardis’ junior varsity boys coach while also serves as the school’s junior high head football coach. He coached and taught at White Plains High School for one year before spending six years at Guntersville, where he assisted with football and baseball.
Zach was a staff member for the Wildcats’ 2006 Class 4A state football champions.
Wallace left GHS and spent a year in the insurance business before returning to the education field at Sardis.
His new job is his first as a varsity basketball coach.
There are only two players on Wallace’s team he didn’t coach the last two years. One of them is senior Jesse Hubbard.
“It’s a familiar face, and they kind of know what to expect,” Wallace said of the program’s transition. “We’re going to work hard and do the right thing the right way 100 percent of the time. You either get better or you get worse – there’s no in between. A lot of those guys have heard that, and they’re going to hear it some more.
“Jesse probably understands a little bit, because he’s played football and been coached by Josh, and we have a lot of the same coaching philosophies. The kids around here are exceptional at accepting things, rolling with it and working hard. I’ve been at three different places, and at this place – as far as from (grades) seven through 12 – kids are going to work hard. You don’t have to stay on them about working hard. They just work hard.”
Josh Wallace is the Sardis varsity girls’ sixth head coach since the start of the 2007-08 season. He follows Corey Head (2007-08), Devin Smith (2008-09), Ryan McCoy (2009-11), Matt Lofthus (2011-12) and Sandlin (2012-14).
“I feel like I can bring that stability throughout the whole program,” Josh said. “I have been able to coach the junior high girls for two years. Those girls I started as seventh-graders are coming into the ninth grade, and they’ve had two really good years as seventh and eighth graders. I feel like the stability has started, so it just has to be maintained in the older levels.
“A lot of those younger girls have an idea of how I am, so it’s not a shock to them.”
Wallace combined with Lofthus to coach the varsity girls for about five weeks last season when Sandlin was sidelined by health issues.
“I’m old school,” he said. “It’s not going to be easy. We’re going to try to have fun but we’re going to work, and that’s the only way I know how to be successful in life. I’m not 6-foot-5. I’m not the strongest, not the fastest and not the smartest. Dad taught us, ‘Hey, just work.’”
Wallace is excited about what he’s witnessed from his players since taking charge of the program.
“For example, I had a text message on Saturday night at 10:30. One girl texted me and said, ‘can you open the gym on Sunday,’” he said. “I take this from my basketball mentor, Tracy Hulgan (his coach at Crossville). If we wanted to be in the gym, we were in the gym. If we wanted to go, he’d ride his bicycle or drive his truck in the rain or snow to open the gym. I told them that’s a philosophy of mine. If you want to be in the gym, I’m going to open it for you.
“From one text message, I had 12 girls come and play basketball Sunday afternoon. That just doesn’t happen. They’re just a bunch of sponges right now and they want the opportunity to be in the gym to play and become better. That’s not something you have everywhere.
“While I was at Asbury, the girls really wanted to improve, and they did work hard. There are very few places like that now, and this is one of them by far. The kids want to be good.”
Josh Wallace launched his teaching and coaching career at Crossville, where he served as junior high girls basketball coach and worked as an assistant for the football and baseball programs. Josh was varsity girls basketball coach at Asbury from 2005-10 before stepping down. He transferred from Asbury to Claysville Junior High School, where he planned to just teach.
“I was going to take a break,” Wallace said. “I put a lot into my first head-coaching job. I had some success at the end. It was a brand new program, and the kids out there and the community members out there were wonderful to me.”
Brock Rutledge was Sardis’ interim head football coach for the 2010 season and enlisted Wallace to serve on his staff. Gene Hill became the Lions’ head football coach in 2011, and he asked Wallace to remain a part of his staff. Wallace became a member of the Sardis High faculty in the 2012-13 school year.
“The girls at Sardis are willing to get their noses dirty,” Josh said. “That’s the way we’re going to play. We’re going to try to be more physical and tougher … that’s the only way I know how to coach.”
The Wallace brothers expressed their gratitude to Sardis High principal Wendy Gibbs and the board of education for the confidence they exhibited in their abilities to lead the Lions program.
“I appreciate the opportunity Mrs. Gibbs and the board has given me. I thank God for the opportunity,” Zach said. “To say that I have sat down and thought about being a head coach before, it really had never crossed my mind.
“I was always happy in the position where I was, and I wanted to help make the kids as successful as I could make them. It was never about me – it was always about them.
“When the opportunity presented itself, I had to do some praying and some thinking about it. I do appreciate the opportunity, and I’m very excited about the future of the boys program, what we’re going to have and what we’re going to do here.”
Josh said, “I live in this community. I live a mile and a half from the school. The opportunity Mrs. Gibbs, the board and (Superintendent) Dr. (Alan) Cosby has given me and my brother is appreciated. I feel like the community is going to be very supportive, and they are in all sports. I do appreciate the opportunity to really try to see these girls be successful and be able to watch my brother be successful on the boys side.”