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A Tale Of Two Coaches (12/03/14)

Written by: on Sunday, December 7th, 2014

(Dave McClaine – Clarion Sports Zone – www.clarionsportszone.com)
This past football season saw the Clarion Area Bobcats reach several milestones: Running back Ian Corbett became the first player in Little 7-12/KSAC history, which dates back to 1951, to rush for 2000 yards; the team recorded the 475th victory in the program’s history; Coach Larry Wiser became the All-Time Little 7-12/KSAC Coaching Career Victories leader.

bri-keystone002-csz-300x200

(Photo by Bri Nellis – Bri Nellis Photography) Coach Wiser being carried off field by players after win number 184.

Coach Wiser, who now has a record of 190-89-1 (.680 winning percentage), broke the conference record, with a victory at Keystone, on Autumn Leaf Thursday (September 25). The win was Coach Wiser’s 184th, moving him past the late Union legend Rich Vidunas, who had a career mark of 183-72-7 (.708 winning percentage).

A look at both these fine coaches’ careers shows some very interesting similarities and also gives some insight into what it takes to have a successful program.

Each spent their entire head coaching career at only one school. Both coached in four different decades. Coach Vidunas’ head coaching tenure at Union lasted from 1957 through 1985. Coach Wiser has been at the helm at Clarion from 1988 through 2009 and from 2011 to the present. Both coaches went undefeated, through the regular season, four times.

Both men are members of the Pennsylvania Scholastic Football Coaches Association (PSFCA) Hall of Fame, Coach Vidunas was inducted in 2003 and Coach Wiser was a member of the Class of 2011.Union1984-Little-12-Champs--300x234

(Photo courtesy of Union High School) Coach Vidunas being hoisted by players after 1984 Little 12 Championship win

The two are in the top five All-Time in District Nine Coaching Victories. Coach Wiser is 3rd on the list and Coach Vidunas is 5th. (Coach Wiser passed Smethport great, Carl Defilippi, for 3rd place with the Bobcats victory against St. Marys on October 17th.)

The District Nine Top 5 in Career Coaching Victories are Tim Janocko – Clearfield at 238-102-3; Paul Simcoe – Coudersport at 204-78-8; Larry Wiser – Clarion at 190-89-1; Carl Defilippi – Smethport at 186-37-2; and Rich Vidunas – Union at 183-72-7.

It is interesting that each of these coaches is a member of the PSFCA Hall of Fame and that each one’s head coaching tenure was at, or is at only one school. Coach Janocko and Coach Wiser are still active.

Coach Vidunas had 22 winning seasons and only 5 losing seasons with two .500 seasons, in 29 campaigns. Coach Wiser has had 19 winning seasons, only five losing seasons and one .500 season, in 26 campaigns. Both Coaches had a number of championship teams: Coach Vidunas’ teams had eight outright conference championships and shared another. Union won or shared five Clarion County Championships. There were no District Championships then.

Coach Wiser’s teams had three outright KSAC Championships and shared two others, before the conference went to Big School – Small School format. Since the change Clarion has won all five of the Small School Championships, four of them under Coach Wiser, the other under Coach Judd Allen.

Coach Wiser’s Bobcats won three District Nine Titles and advanced to the PIAA State Semi-Final in 2014. His teams participated in 11 District Championship games.

Both Coaches have had players go on to D-I football programs : from Union: Mark Gallagher – Syracuse, George Shaffer – Richmond, Tom Sherman – Penn State, Mike Walters – West Virginia, Dean Greenawalt – Duke, Paul Vidunas (Coach Vidunas’ son) Pitt; from Clarion: B. J. Spozio – Navy, Tyler McMeans – University of Miami and T. J. Armstrong – Old Dominion.

Each has had a player make it to the pro ranks, Tom Sherman from Union and Tyler McMeans from Clarion. Sherman was with the Cincinnati Bengals, Boston Patriots and Buffalo Bills while those teams were still in the American Football League (A.F.L.), the New York Stars and Charlotte Hornets of the World Football League (W.F.L.) and the Calgary Stampeders of the Canadian Football League (C.F.L.). McMeans was a free agent for the Chicago Bears of the National Football League (N.F.L.), making their practice squad and also played for the Berlin Thunder in N.F.L. Europe.

Each have had players selected to Statewide All-Star Games: Union’s George Shaffer – 1963 Big 33 and Clarion’s Kyle Cathcart – 2002 East /West Game and Nate McClaine – 2004 East/ West Game.

Both coaches also had a number of players named to All-State Teams and a number of players who received the top conference awards. Both have received a number of coaching awards in their careers.
Both have had assistant coaches who have stayed on long term. Coach Vidunas had Bill Eustice and John Harris at his side for years. Coach Wiser had Alex Arth, George White and Kevin Fitsimmons and in recent years long term assistants include Lee Weber, Scott Miller, Todd Smith and Nate McClaine. Trainer and conditioning coach Keith Murtha and equipment managers Kevin Slike and Vance Slike have been around for years.

Schools sticking with coaches for the long haul and long term coaching staffs are keys to coaching success. Community and school district support and athletes buying into the program are two others. Both coaches had that.

After winning number 184, Coach Wiser said, “It’s another week for me. But to reflect back on all the guys that have played for me and have coached with me, I want to take a moment to thank them for getting me to this point.

“It was and will always be a team effort and I’ve been lucky enough to surround myself with good people…
“I think about Alex (longtime line coach Alex Arth) and guys who are no longer with me; George (longtime assistant George White) and others who have done a great job with me and also all the teams. There have been a lot of fun moments, over those years. And obviously agonizing losses at times, but those were always things that kids learn from.

“Also the community has been very supportive of Clarion Football over the years, from our Golf Outing to our Booster Groups. They’ve pretty much given us the kind of things that we needed to put a good program out there.”

Though Coach Wiser didn’t get to compete head coach to head coach against Coach Vidunas, he was Clarion’s defensive coordinator during a number of the years Coach Vidunas led Union. He considers Coach Vidunas to be an idol.

He had this to say, “Rich was just from a competitor standpoint, it was always he had that neat little twinkle smile on his face, when he did something to you. But those were always great games between Union and Clarion, when I coached against him.

“If Rich was sitting here today, he would be talking about John Harris (longtime Union assistant) and all those guys that coached with him, that got him to where he was.

“(My) idol no question.

“I’ve been fortunate, in my own situation to surround myself with some good coaches. If Rich were alive today, I think he’d say the same thing. You know, (Bill) Eustice and (John) Harris and you go down the line, he had a pretty good coaching staff.

“He was definitely an idol of mine. You heard about him because of his quarterback (Tom Sherman) going to Penn State.

“In one of my early games, when I was coaching with Ray (former Bobcat Head Coach, Austin), thinking I was a pretty good defensive coordinator. I went down there and got a great education one night. He was running a screen and he was running a guy behind the line and was picking our guy off, the end. I complimented him on his offensive prowess. He kept it simple. But that night he put another wrinkle in for me, that definitely hurt us that night.

“It was kind of neat that I was able to go down and see him inducted into the (PSFCA) Hall of Fame, and his entire family which must have populated the entire town of Rimersburg at one time. They maybe still do down there.

“But great coach and great program down there for years.”

(Congratulations to Coach Wiser for his fine accomplishments and to the Vidunas family for their father’s great career!!!!)

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