A half-century at Lycoming

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Steve Wiser has been Lycoming's defensive coordinator since 1977.
Lycoming athletics photo

By Joe Sager

In 1970, a gallon of gas cost 36 cents. The Beatles disbanded. The infamous Apollo 13 mission blasted off. The first jumbo jet went into service.

And, Steve Wiser joined the Lycoming football program

While many things have come and gone since then – Wiser has not. After his four years as a standout linebacker, he joined the Warriors’ coaching staff. That’s where he remains today, celebrating 50 years with the football program.

“It’s been fun. Wow – 50 years – it’s hard to believe when I look back at it all,” he said. “I’ve been fortunate and blessed to still be able to do it. I love what I am doing. I’ve enjoyed it all 50 years. Hopefully, I have few more years left.”

As far as Lycoming is concerned, Wiser’s not going anywhere else.

“Lifetime deal, man. He can be here as long as he wants,” said Lycoming head coach Mike Clark, who is the college’s director of athletics as well. “There’s so much to him as a person. He’s great to be around. He loves the college and loves our kids. He’s invested so much of his life to Lycoming football; he can be here as long as he wants.”

Wiser began as the program’s linebackers coach and took over as defensive coordinator in 1977. While he remains in that position today, he picked up the title of assistant head football coach along the way as well.

As defensive coordinator, he helped the program win 15 MAC titles in the last 40 years. Lycoming led the nation in total defense twice (1975, ’83) while he was coaching and his defense topped the MAC 18 times and has posted 66 shutouts.

“It really takes a community. I’ve been successful because I’ve had a lot of good assistants and players who make you look good,” Wiser said. “As long as I enjoy it and I am effective, I want to keep doing it. I made up my mind that, when I stop learning, it’s time to step away from the game.”

Wiser’s whole career has been about learning, though. He’s witnessed football evolve throughout the last five decades, especially offenses. And, he’s had to learn how to shut them down.

“I can remember in the 1970s, it was run, run, run, run the ball. In the ’80s, you could see it start to change and there were more formations. In the ’90s you had the run and shoot and really had to change some of the things you were doing,” he said. “Now, we’re seeing a lot of RPO (run-pass option) offenses and that’s even more of a change.”

The different looks don’t faze Wiser. He’s seen it all before.

“Football is very cyclical through the years. Steve has been here and seen a ton of it,” said Clark, who played at Lycoming from 1989-92, said. “At the end of the day, he can draw from a number of examples throughout years. What are people trying to do? How can we make them do what we want?”

Saturday’s wild 43-42 win over Widener this past Saturday was an example of that. The Warriors rallied for 20 points in the fourth quarter to take the win.

“We were losing (28-16) at halftime and they were really beating us up through the air. At halftime, he said that we had to make them run it. In the second half, we did a much better job; we limited them to 14 points and those came off turnovers by the offense, really,” Clark said.

Perhaps Wiser’s best ability is adaptability – on and off the field.

“It’s remarkable. The longevity of one person, especially in today’s society and culture where you have someone like him who has been at one institution for 50 years – it’ll rarely be done, going forward, just because of the times,” said Lycoming eighth-year linebackers coach Chris Kish, who was one of Wiser’s recruits and a four-year letterwinner at linebacker. “I think even more remarkable than the longevity is his ability to relate to all the generations of kids and people he has come across. I am telling you, he could run for mayor of Williamsport and win. Just the positive impact he has made on people is incredible.”

Steve Wiser, left, with longtime Lycoming head coach Frank Girardi, in a 1979 file photo. Girardi finished with a lifetime mark of 257-97-4.
Lycoming athletics

“He is a really good coach, but an even better person. That’s the part of it that makes it work so well,” Clark added. “He is super knowledgeable, but his ability to relate to people of all different ages – he finds way to communicate with the kids, coaching staff and people in the community, He is just a real genuine person.”

Another part of football evolution is the way in which players are recruited. So, that means Wiser has had to learn how to use social media as a recruiting tool.

“Emailing and texting has helped in so many ways,” Wiser said. “I do a lot of our fundraising with our golf outing and we used to do it just by calling. If you called and got a busy signal, you could be on the phone forever. Now, I can send text messages.

“Now, there is Instagram, Twitter and Snapchat for recruiting players. I have had to learn those. Twitter, I am OK with. The hardest part of the job has always been recruiting, but it’s also the most important. As hard as it is, I enjoy it.”

“Recruiting is different now, but, at the heart of it, his passion for our institution and football program, the kids see it and love it,” Clark said. “He is relentless. If you tell the guy there’s something he is not able to do, he will find a way to do it. I think the kids love that about him.”

Wiser takes great pride in the way he values his players.

“We let the kids know we care them about them and about being successful on and off the field,” he said. “The family dynamics have changed a lot over the years. You spend more time over the years counseling these kids. They struggle being away from home or dad’s not around or a parent has passed away. Kids come and talk to us about their problems. We want to help them to be successful in any way we can. The kids know that we care about them as people and not just football players.

“They are all important, no matter where they are on your depth chart.”

That fact is not lost among the Warriors.

“We just love the commitment and dedication he gives his players,” Lycoming senior cornerback D.J. Boyd said. “He is not thinking about just the football aspect of being at college. He is thinking about the learning process and each guy getting an education and doing better at things. That’s something that really sticks out about him and all our coaches. They give so much time and effort that we want to give back each week.”

A social studies teacher at Williamsport Area High School from 1974 until his retirement in 2006, Wiser has a story for seemingly every situation.

“In terms of football stories he has seen and went through, it’s really extraordinary. It’s like he’s a living legend. I want to soak up everything,” Kish said. “He always says that, if we’re not having fun, then why are we doing this? He makes practice so much fun. His communication with the kids is great. They love him. It’s really is awesome. The kids are his fuel. He does it for the kids. If it was purely an X’s and O’s thing, he would have probably walked away by now.”

Wiser still gets a special feeling each Saturday.

“I am a competitor; I like to compete. I really enjoy the kids. The kids keep you young. I really enjoy seeing them be successful. That’s why Saturday was so fantastic. Seeing those kids jump up and down after we won – that’s the bonus in coaching, even if it maybe took a couple years off my life. Overall, seeing them come in and mature over their four years – they are like your own kids.”

He hopes to keep walking the Lycoming sidelines and “adding to his family” for many years to come.  

“It’s a great run and I hope I can continue to take this ride,” he said. “We’re looking for some good things this year. The kids have some mental toughness and perseverance now. I think they believe what they can accomplish. That’s a lot of it – being mentally tough.

“Football teaches a lot of lessons and I’ve seen a lot of good things over the years.”

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