Western Carolina played Chattanooga Saturday afternoon as the Catamounts honored their seniors and the three newest members of the WCU Athletics Hall of Fame.
Mark Speir, who has spent much of his 21-year coaching career at the NCAA Football Championship Subdivision (FCS) level, was named head football coach at Western Carolina University as announced by Director of Athletics Randy Eaton during a press conference held in the Ramsey Center on Dec. 22, 2011.
Speir (pronounced "spear"), who got his coaching career start at Western Carolina under former Catamount head coach Steve Hodgin from 1991-96, becomes the 13th head coach of the WCU football program all-time.
"When I stood at my introductory press conference last week, I told the Catamount nation that I was looking for four main attributes of our next head football coach: a love for the student-athlete and an unwavering commitment to their success, both on and off the field; a track record of success at the FCS level; pre-existing relationships with local and regional high school coaches; and someone who is a `fit' in the athletics department, on campus and in the community. I have found all four in Mark Speir," said Eaton.
Speir returns to Cullowhee after spending the past nine seasons at Appalachian State where he was a part of three-consecutive FCS National Championships from 2005-07, serving as the program's recruiting coordinator since 2004 while also most recently coaching the inside linebackers. He has also coached the Mountaineers' running backs (2003-04), defensive line (2005-08) and defensive ends (2009-10).
In 2009, Speir was tabbed as the NCAA Division I FCS Assistant Coach of the Year by the American Football Coaches Association (AFCA). The award has been handed out every year since 1997 at the five levels of football including the NCAA Football Bowl Subdivision (FBS), FCS, Division II and III, as well as NAIA levels.
Prior to Appalachian, Speir also made coaching stops at both at Presbyterian (1997-99) while the Blue Hose were a NCAA Division II member institution, and at Elon (2000-02) the year after the program made the transition to a NCAA Division I school.
A native of Kannapolis, N.C., Speir broke into coaching while an undergraduate at Clemson University, working as a student assistant from 1986 through 1989, helping the Tigers to three Atlantic Coast Conference (ACC) Championships during his four years. Following his graduation with a bachelor's degree in secondary education in 1990, Speir landed on Hodgin's staff in Cullowhee, first working with the running backs from 1991-93, then the linebackers in 1994 before coaching the defensive line and serving as the program's recruiting coordinator from 1995-96.
Throughout his collegiate coaching career, Speir has made a name for himself through the recruiting process. He has held the title of recruiting coordinator at three NCAA FCS institutions (WCU, Elon and ASU), most recently organizing the efforts that landed Appalachian State six-consecutive crops of freshmen that have been widely considered to be among the top in NCAA Division I FCS recruiting classes and that helped the Mountaineers to three-straight national titles.
On the field, Speir has coached multiple All-Southern Conference selections in five of the past six seasons. In all, he has coached nine all-conference honorees that have earned the distinction 13 times in his nine seasons on staff.
Six of Speir's position players have garnered All-America honors during his tenure at ASU including the most recent recipient, linebacker Jeremy Kimbrough, who was selected to the second team by The Sports Network. Additionally, defensive ends Jabari Fletcher, Jason Hunter, Marques Murrell and Gary Tharrington and defensive tackle Anthony Williams combined for All-America honors a total of six times.
Speir's most notable pupils, Hunter and Murrell, tied for the SoCon lead with 13 sacks apiece and accounted for six defensive touchdowns between them in 2005. Murrell also led the nation with 13 sacks in `06. Both have enjoyed productive NFL careers, with Hunter entering his sixth pro season this year with the Denver Broncos.
Off the field, Speir is involved in many charitable causes. He has raised more than $30,000 to help rebuild the Memorial Christian Hospital in Bangladesh by training for and participating in the 2008 Music City Marathon in Nashville, which he finished in 4:01; the 2009 Boston Marathon, which he completed in 3:59; and the 2010 Flying Pig Marathon in Cincinnati. In 2009, he traveled to Bangladesh to provide much-needed medical supplies and volunteer at the hospital for 10 days.
In 2011, Speir turned to organizing and participating in motorcycle tours as a way to continue to raise funds for the worthy cause.
Jerry Moore, the head coach at Appalachian State where Speir has worked the past nine seasons, praised WCU for its decision. "Western Carolina is very lucky to get Mark. He is a perfect fit; he knows Western Carolina and knows it well. WCU is very, very fortunate to get Mark Speir. He is a great coach, and a better man; he is the kind of guy that you would love your son to go play for."
Former Catamount football standout Brad Hoover, who went on to play nine seasons in the NFL with the Carolina Panthers, credits Speir as "... one of the main reasons I went to WCU."
"It was because of the level of Mark Speir's sincerity and his positive attitude during my recruitment experience with him that drew me to commit to Western Carolina," said Hoover.
Stacy Searels, the offensive line coach at the Univ. of Texas, described Speir as a "... a self-starter, a real go-getter and a relentless recruiter who will do a great job for WCU," while Daryl Dickey, the head coach and director of athletics at the University of West Georgia characterized him as "...a hard worker who is passionate about and loves all aspects of the game of football."
Speir is married to the former Paige Holt of Pickens, S.C., and the couple has two sons -- Zeb and Jackson.
SPEIR AT A GLANCE Coaching Experience 1986-89: Clemson (Student Assistant) 1991-93: Western Carolina (Running Backs) 1994: Western Carolina (Outside Linebackers) 1995-96: Western Carolina (Defensive Line/Recruiting Coordinator) 1997-99: Presbyterian (Defensive Line/Strength and Conditioning) 2000-01: Elon (Running Backs/Special Teams/Recruiting Coordinator) 2002: Elon (Defensive Line/Recruiting Coordinator) 2003-04: Appalachian State (Running Backs) 2005-09: Appalachian State (Defensive Line) 2004-11: Appalachian State (Recruiting Coordinator) 2009-10: Appalachian State (Defensive Ends) 2011: Appalachian State (Inside Linebackers) Alma Mater: Clemson, 1990 (Master's -- Western Carolina, 1994) Hometown: Kannapolis, N.C. Wife: Paige (Holt) Sons: Zeb and Jackson