Dennis Wagner is entering his fourth season at the helm of the Catamount Football program. Named WCU's 12th head football coach all-time on December 31, 2007, Wagner, who was previously serving as the offensive line coach at the University of Nebraska, was formally introduced at a press conference held in the Ramsey Center on Jan. 4, 2008.
On March 15, 2010, the Western Carolina University board of trustees unanimously approved a one-year contract extension for Wagner who turned down a position at the University of Kansas to remain as the Catamounts' head football coach. With the contract amendments approved by the WCU board, his employment agreement is extended through January 2014.
Wagner came to Cullowhee with more than two decades of coaching experience including previously being a head coach at Wayne State College in Nebraska. In his first two seasons at WCU, he also served as the offensive line position coach, relegating that responsibility to assistant coach Jeremiah Ross in 2010 before taking over as the running backs coach in 2011.
Over his first three seasons, Wagner and his staff have worked to rebuild the Catamount Football tradition both on and off the field. His tenure has been highlighted by two, nationally-ranked FCS recruiting classes which included bringing in the 2009 Southern Conference Freshman of the Year, Michael Johnson, and transfer linebacker Adrian McLeod who earned second team All-America honors from The Sports Network in 2009.
Combined, six different Catamounts have garnered All-Southern Conference with eight earning All-freshman plaudits.
In his first season at the helm, Wagner helped snap two losing skids; a 14-game road losing streak and a 20-game Southern Conference losing skid which was the third-longest such drought in conference history. He guided WCU to three victories in his first season in Cullowhee, the most victories for a Catamount team since 2005. Two Catamounts - defensive lineman Jeff Bradley and defensive back Mitchell Bell - earned All-Southern Conference accolades in Wagner's inaugural season, while four - Blake Cain, Zack Jaynes, John Julien and Quan Warley - were all named to the SoCon All-Freshman team.
Wagner saw three players garner All-SoCon plaudits in 2009 including linebackers Chris Collins and McLeod, as well as the aformentioned Johnson, while three earned All-SoCon recognition and three all-freshman honors following the 2010 season.
Prior to coming to Cullowhee, Wagner spent four seasons at Nebraska leading the Cornhusker offensive linemen during the program's transition from the option-based offensive attack to the West Coast offense. In his first season in Lincoln, Wagner's protégés cleared the way as the Husker offense averaged 176 yards rushing and 187 yards passing per game in its first season away from the option ground attack.
In 2005, the Nebraska line made significant gains in setting up the passing game. It helped first-year quarterback Zac Taylor set Husker records, including single-game passing yards (431) against Iowa State, while Kurt Mann was a second-team All-Big 12 selection. A year later, in `06, the `Huskers experienced a resurgence on offense, ranking 14th in the nation in total offense while also ranking 23rd in both passing and rushing offense behind Wagner's line.
During Wagner's tenure on the staff at Nebraska, the Cornhuskers went to a pair of bowl games, including winning the 2005 Alamo Bowl. He additionally coached two All-Big 12 linemen (2005 &'06) and three players who went on to the NFL.
Before his successful stint at Nebraska, Wagner served as assistant head coach and offensive line coach for seven years at Fresno State. He helped the Bulldog's offensive line become one of the top units in the country as his O-line was ranked among the top 10 in 2002 by The Sporting News. His offensive linemen helped NFL No. 1 pick David Carr post record-shattering passing numbers in 2001 (4,299 yards, 42 touchdowns passing), while running back Paris Gaines rushed for more than 1,000 yards and the team averaged 501.6 total yards per game.
In each of his last two years at FSU, one of his linemen earned first-team freshman All-America honors, including tackle Logan Mankins (an eventual NFL first-round selection) in 2002 and center Kyle Young in 2003. Wagner helped head coach Pat Hill lead the Bulldogs to bowl games in each of Wagner's last five years (1999-2003).
A native of Waverly, Iowa, Wagner was the head coach at Wayne (Neb.) State from 1989 to 1996, leading the Wildcats to a 44-37-1 record while guiding the team from NAIA to NCAA Division II classification. He quickly turned around a program which had lost 12-consecutive games just prior to his arrival and had only won two of its last 29 games overall. For his efforts, Wagner was inducted into the Wayne State College Hall of Fame in 2005 and was twice named the Nebraska Coach of the Year by the Omaha World-Herald in 1990 and 1993.
In his last four seasons at Wayne State, the Wildcats finished no lower than third nationally in total offense, leading the nation with 581.5 yards per game in 1993.
Before his eight-years as the head coach at Wayne State, he coached four seasons at St. Cloud (Minn.) State from 1985 to 1988, serving as offensive coordinator and offensive line coach, while also overseeing the strength and conditioning program at SCS. He has also served as an offensive line coach at Luther College in 1980; served on the UNLV football staff in 1981 and 1982 where he coached the tight ends and offensive line; was the head track & field coach at William Penn College in 1983; and served as assistant strength coach for UNLV's PCAA and California Bowl championship team in 1984.
Beginning his collegiate playing days at Drake in 1976, Wagner transferred to Ellsworth (Iowa) Community College where he was a JUCO All-American and team captain as a center. He finished his playing career as a team captain his senior season at the University of Utah, earning All-Western Athletic Conference (WAC) honors and honorable-mention All-America honors as an offensive guard.
Wagner earned his bachelor's degree in psychology from Utah in 1982 and his master's degree in athletic administration from St. Cloud State in 1987.
He and his wife, Cyndi, have a daughter, Whitney, who is a sophomore at Francis Marion University in Florence, S.C., where she runs cross country and a son, Joshua.