Coyote Tales 

By all accounts, 1983-84 was a so-so season for the San Antonio Spurs. Although George Gervin was named an NBA All-Star for the eighth-straight season and Artis Gilmore led the league in field-goal percentage, the Spurs posted a ho-hum 37-45 record, finishing fifth in the Midwest Division and missing the playoffs. Two months into the campaign, Bob Bass replaced someone named Morris McHone as head coach. In retrospect, other than the presence of the Iceman, the most significant events of that season included the retiring of James Silas’ #13 jersey to the smoker-friendly HemisFair Arena rafters, and the introduction of a furry icon who is now synonymous with the Spurs.

Trinity University alum Tim Derk’s Hi Mom, Send Sheep: My Life as the Coyote and After freshly chronicles his 21 years behind the mask, an impressive tenure that stretched over 1,110 games and countless community appearances. As the Coyote, Dirk gutted out a broken nose, an exploded bursa, a torn meniscus, a torn hamstring, a cracked rib, two torn rotator cuffs, a boutonniere deformity on the pinkie finger of his dunking hand, a bruised kidney, a rare case of pneumonia, and a massive stroke. There was also the ever-present dehydration, which still prompts him to confess, “I’ve been thirsty since Nixon was president.”

“I started out in the old days,” recalls Derk. “There was the Phoenix Gorilla, which `was` a different gentleman than the current gentleman. There was the San Diego Chicken. He was sort of the Coca-Cola of the mascots. But it was really just the three of us. A mascot back then was thought of just this side of a mime. Now, here we are in 2006, and we’re having mascot conventions and rookie mascots are coming in with a briefcase under one hand and a rubber chicken under the other. They’ve got their laptops and their Blackberries and comedy is a serious business. It’s gotten so even funeral homes have their own mascots.”

Regarding injuries, Derk says, “It’s just part of the job, and you just learn to get along with it occurring. The trick is to schedule your surgeries or your extreme need for rehab in the summer if you can, in the non-NBA-game months … The stroke was one of the ones that I had during the season that I couldn’t put off until June. The trick was always to perform and look like you were having a fantastic time, when some nights you had salt in your left eye, your pinkie was swollen and your hamstring was torn. Still, the Coyote always felt great, but Tim Derk might have had some trials and tribulations there for a while.”

It was in the midst of the Spurs’ 2003 championship run that Derk suffered the stroke that ultimately caused him to relinquish his duties as the Coyote, a character he created and says he modeled after the wily animated antagonist. Although the stroke and his successful recovery play an integral and inspiring role in Derk’s memoir, he insists the focus is a lot broader.

“We all have our problems,” he says. “We all open our cards, fan our cards, and think ‘Wow, these are horrible cards.’ The point is, they’re your cards and you have to decide how you’re going to play them.”

Derk’s sharp and accessible writing makes for a great weekend read that will hold Spurs fans over until training camp begins next month. He is currently the Spurs’ Manager of Mascot Development, or “head goofball,” charged with training the latest incarnation of the Coyote, along with the Silver Stars’ Fox and the Rampage’s T-Bone.

“I find myself enjoying it, and, for the first time, getting to see the public react to the Coyote,” says Derk of his new role. “I never saw that, because I had no peripheral vision and I was inside the head. I did things that I felt were funny, but I couldn’t see if anybody was laughing or not. Now I can see how much joy the Coyote, the Fox, and T-Bone bring, and it just fills me with pride.”

Tim Derk will be signing copies of Hi Mom, Send Sheep: My Life as the Coyote and After on Saturday, September 23, at 3 p.m. (Barnes & Noble Fiesta Trail, DeZavala at IH-10), and on Saturday, September 30, at 1 p.m. (The Great Read on Houston Street), and 4 p.m. (Borders Books, Alamo Quarry Market.

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