Bobby Wilder tried to listen patiently Friday morning as Old Dominion University athletic director Jim Jarrett described his offer to become the Monarchs’ first football coach since 1940.
But he couldn’t contain himself.
“I interrupted and said, ‘Dr. Jarrett, you don’t have to explain; I accept the job,’ ” Wilder said from his home in Orono, Maine. “I couldn’t get the words out of my mouth fast enough.”
Wilder, the University of Maine’s associate head coach, and offensive coordinator agreed to a six-year deal that he and the university say gives him enough time to take a program that doesn’t even own a football or a pair of cleats and craft it into a national power at the NCAA I-AA level.
“I looked into President (Roseann) Runte’s eyes and Jim’s eyes during the interview when they told me they wanted a perennial top-10 program, and I knew they meant it,” Wilder, 42, said. “And what impressed me most is that they want to do it the right way.”
Sources close to the hiring process say Wilder has a package that – including base salary, radio-television stipend, an annuity paid by ODU’s Intercollegiate Foundation, and camp income – is valued between $170,000 and $190,000 a year.
He is to be introduced at a news conference Monday afternoon at the Constant Center, then will return to the arena the next night to meet the crowd at ODU’s basketball game against Hofstra. By then, he said, he plans to have made contact with students, alumni, high school coaches, and potential major donors to the program.
A star quarterback during his playing days at Maine, Wilder has just finished his 17th season on the coaching staff. He was chosen for the ODU job from a pool of about 80 candidates. Jarrett said Friday night that each of the four finalists possessed superb football minds; what set Wilder apart was his plan and personality.
“Bobby has a tremendous ability to relate to people,” Jarrett said. “In all of my years in athletics, that has proven to be very important and very valuable when it comes to building a program.”
As she and Jarrett reviewed recommendations from ODU’s search committee this week, Runte became increasingly enamored with Wilder’s insistence that the program is built with players who are good students and quality people.
“Mr. Wilder’s ethical approach to athletics and his philosophy, which includes a strong emphasis on academic achievement, combine with a congenial personality for a commitment to team-building and successful competition,” Runte said.
Wilder spent the last six seasons as Maine’s offensive coordinator; during that time, the Black Bears were 43-28 and won two Atlantic 10 championships.
His experience in that league should serve Wilder well. In 2007, the teams in the Atlantic 10 will move into a newly created Colonial Athletic Association football league. Old Dominion is already a member of the CAA in all other sports.
The Monarchs won’t put a team on the field until 2009 and won’t be eligible to compete for a CAA title until 2011, but Wilder and two assistant coaches who will be named in the coming weeks will have plenty to do. They’ll have input into every aspect of ODU football, from the playing surface at Foreman Field to the design of the uniforms and the equipment that will need to be purchased.
“While we won’t have a team for the first two years, it is an incredibly important time for the growth and building of our program,” Jarrett said. “You want somebody aboard who is totally committed, and Bobby exemplified that better than anyone.”
Several coaching friends told him about ODU’s plan to start a football program, and he was immediately intrigued because he and his family had vacationed in Virginia Beach several times and liked the area.
“Everybody I heard from about this program and what it offered told me that it could be top-10,” Wilder said. “But I didn’t apply right away because I had to ascertain two things first: One, it had to be a great situation for my family, and two, the president and the athletic director had to be completely supportive.
“When I became convinced of those things,” he said, “I felt as if this was the job I’d been preparing for all these years.”
Wilder said he used ODU’s athletic legacy of 28 national championships in various sports as further proof that the school was serious about football.
“If they support all of their programs well enough to win 28 national titles, you know they’re going to support football to the same extent,” he said. “It was obvious to me that their commitment was there.”
Wilder won the position over William and Mary’s assistant head coach Bob Solderitch and Central Florida’s David Kelly. Virginia defensive coordinator Mike London, also a finalist, withdrew earlier this week.
Posted on: Feb 09, 2007, at 12:00 am