Dec. 31, 2007
Cullowhee, N.C. - Western Carolina Director of Athletics Chip Smith today announced the hiring of Dennis Wagner, former offensive line coach at the University of Nebraska and head coach at Wayne State, as the 12th head coach of the Catamount Football program.
Wagner, who has seven years of head coaching experience, will be formally introduced at a press conference scheduled for Friday, Jan. 4 at 2:00 pm to be held in the first floor Hospitality Room of the Ramsey Center. The event is open to the public. Wagner replaces former head coach Kent Briggs who was reassigned within the University in mid-November following the 2007 season finale against Furman.
"I am excited about being the next head football coach at Western Carolina University," said Wagner by phone Monday afternoon. `Now is a great time to take over the Catamount program with the commitment that has been made by the administration. I am looking forward to working with our current players - they do not just want to hear about the future, but what we are going to do now. So, I am looking forward to getting there, rolling up my sleeves and getting to work."
Wagner comes to Cullowhee with more than two decades of coaching experience.
"This search process has been both intensive and extensive," said Smith. "From the beginning, it was our goal to find an experienced head coach, someone who had the ability to build and maintain a quality football program and who was a proven winner. Dennis Wagner fits that description perfectly. His background as a coordinator, head and assistant head coach, as well as his experience at the University of Nebraska - one of the nation's most storied football programs - makes him perfectly suited for taking on this responsibility."
"(Dennis) is a hard worker and an excellent recruiter. Teams with which he has been associated have been very productive offensively and exciting for the fans. This is truly a new beginning for the Western Carolina Football program," Smith added. "He and his family, wife Cyndi, daughter Whitney and son Josh, will be great additions to the Western Carolina University and the entire community. I am pleased that they will be joining the Catamount family and very excited about the future of Catamount Football."
Wagner spent the last 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.
Two seasons ago, 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.
Prior to his stint at Nebraska, Wagner served as assistant head coach and offensive line coach for seven years at Fresno State. He quickly 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.
He and his wife, Cyndi have a daughter, Whitney, and a son, Joshua. 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.
The Wagner File
Date and Place of Birth: Born on March 9, 1958, in Waverly, Iowa
Family: Wife, Cyndi; daughter Whitney (16); son Joshua (9)
Education: Utah, bachelors in psychology, 1982; St. Cloud State, masters in athletic administration, 1987
Playing Experience: 1976, Drake; 1977, Ellsworth (Iowa) Community College; 1978-79, Utah
Coaching Experience: 1980, Luther College (assistant coach/offensive line); 1981-82, UNLV (assistant coach/tight ends); 1983, William Penn (head track and field coach); 1984, UNLV (assistant strength coach); 1985-88, St. Cloud (Minn.) State (offensive coordinator/offensive line); 1989-96, Wayne (Neb.) State (head coach); 1997-2003, Fresno State (assistant head coach/offensive line); 2004-2007, Nebraska (assistant coach/offensive line)