Eighteen-time track and field All-American and football wide receiver Al Coffee is a member of the 2023 LSU Athletics Hall of Fame induction class and will be formally enshrined at 6:30 p.m. on Friday, September 22, at the Manship Theater in downtown Baton Rouge.
The other members of the 2023 class are legendary women’s golf coach Karen Bahnsen; three-time women’s tennis All-American and SEC Player of the Year Megan Falcon; NCAA discus and shot put champion Danyel Mitchell; volleyball All-American Nyla Shepherd Moore; Jim Hawthorne, the “Voice of the Tigers” for over 30 years; and Dr. Sam Nader, who worked as LSU Football’s recruiting director and supervisor of operations during a brilliant 46-year career.
Champion. All-American. Captain. Serviceman. Volunteer.
All five words describe Al Coffee, but they only scratch the surface. The star athlete accomplished a feat that very few can: he won an SEC championship in two different sports. Even still, that is only a small piece of his story.
On the football field from 1970-73, Coffee played wide receiver, helped bring home the 1970 SEC Championship Trophy and contributed to two Orange Bowl appearances throughout his tenure. However, the Baton Rouge native was even more impressive on the track, specializing in the sprinting events of the 100-yard dash, 220-yard dash, 440-yard dash, 440-yard relay, 880-yard relay and one mile relay. For his efforts in these events, Coffee was named to Track & Field News’ World Top 20 on 13 separate occasions.
The three-year captain won a total of eight SEC titles between the indoor and outdoor track & field seasons, just one shy of the all-time record for total SEC championships claimed by an LSU athlete. His 440-yard dash time from the 1969 SEC Championships, a race in which he won, is still in LSU’s Top 10 performances all-time. That same year, Coffee led LSU’s one mile relay to a national title, then repeated the feat in 1972.
Coffee’s additional accolades include being the recipient of the 1970 SEC Most Outstanding Track & Field Performer and garnering a total of 18 All-America honors from Track & Field News, the NCAA and the U.S. Track & Field Federation.
Beyond his athletic prowess, Coffee is a devoted serviceman and volunteer. He served honorably in the National Guard for six years, and he assisted the Louisiana State Police in rescuing trapped individuals in New Orleans after Hurricane Katrina.
“Being an athlete and a part of teams, you naturally want to give back to other people,” said Keith Ballard, one of Coffee’s best friends. “Once you stop competing, you have to find somewhere else to put that energy. Al has always been kind. He loves to help people.”
Last year, Coffee was the keynote speaker at the Diversity and Race Symposium at Caneview K-8 School in Port Allen, La. He joined at the event his former teammate, Tiger All-American sprinter Lloyd Wills, who in 1969 became the first Black student-athlete at LSU.
Laree Taylor, the principal at Caneview, described the interaction of Coffee and Wills with the school’s fourth-graders this way:
“Mr. Coffee spoke of his acceptance of, and friendship with, Mr. Wills, at a time when Black athletes were rare in collegiate athletics,” Taylor said. “It was obvious that Mr. Coffee had a profound impact on our students, helping them to be empathetic to the experiences of others. Our students were able to make connections from the lives of these heroes to their own lives. Mr. Coffee and Mr. Wills were living examples of the importance of acceptance and diversity, thereby increasing our students’ cultural competence.”
The students at that time were working on a writing project about Wills’ 2021 induction into the LSU Athletics Hall of Fame, and although it may have been special for the kids to meet someone as accomplished as Coffee, the experience was even more meaningful to him.
“Giving back to the kids was Al’s Hall of Fame experience,” Ballard said. “He told me it was the greatest experience of his life.”
Caneview fourth-grade teacher Tara West said Coffee made a significant impact upon her students with his message of fairness and respect for others.
“The visit with Mr. Coffee and Mr. Wills lasted for 90 minutes without me having to give one reminder about paying attention, or sitting respectfully,” West explained. “The students were simply enraptured with what these two gentlemen had to say. To each inquiry, Mr. Coffee was patient and explanatory. His honest and detailed reasons why he chose to live with respect and integrity will remain with the children and continue to impact their lives.”
Al Coffee’s commitment to excellence and athletic prowess brought him championships at LSU, and it is that same dedication and heart for others that now inspire the next generation to do the same.