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Aggies Sports

OPSU Football and Mike Wyatt

- 2010 Season
Posted Friday, January 07, 2011 by Mike Wyatt
By Scott Puryear of OPSU Sports on 12/28/2010 Goodwell, Okla.

In the early evening of December 8, this writer was at the football stadium on the Oklahoma Panhandle State University campus, along with several hundred other people. It was not to enjoy an Aggie victory (and the final home game had been a wild 21-20 win over Bacone College four weeks earlier)—it was a memorial service for OPSU head football coach Mike Wyatt.

 

William Michael "Mike" Wyatt passed away on the morning of December 5th of a heart attack at 55 years of age.

Winter's chill was setting in on the night of the service and up high and directly behind the speakers giving testimonials given to Wyatt, there was a beautiful Panhandle sunset. There were tears and smiles from the speakers and the sun was also setting for the last time on the career of Mike Wyatt as the leader of the OPSU football program.

I first met Wyatt in late 2006 when he was interviewing for the head coach position on the OPSU campus. A big man with a strong handshake, a booming voice, and a broad smile . . . . He was an easy guy to like.

Wyatt earned his degree from OPSU in 1982 and served as an assistant coach for the Aggies as he completed his education. In the next quarter century Wyatt, went on what he called his "Coaching Adventures" and ran football programs at the high school and college levels, worked at and ran many clinics, and developed into an excellent public speaker. He also spent a decade coaching in Europe and served successfully, in this country, as a head coach in arena football. At the time he officially became the head football coach for the Aggies, his career record was 222-77-2. Plain and simple . . . Mike Wyatt was a winner.

Quickly, he and I developed a professional working relationship and we would eventually become very close friends. The OPSU football program that Wyatt inherited was credited with a grand total of one win in each of the two previous seasons, and he was determined to correct that–not only in the win column, but in the overall attitude and perception of the football program in general. For his first season, he was also determined to stand or fall with freshmen he had recruited as well as many other untested undergraduate football players.

In his first fall (2007) as the OPSU head coach, the very young Aggie team showed some spark several times, but ended the season winless in ten games. He told me, "Sometimes we look like a football team, and other times we look like the Keystone Kops, but we are going to build a football program here." He was very proud of the way his first recruiting class performed during that first season, but an 0-10 campaign was not something he had any intention of passing around positive comments about.

The 2008 season began with great deal of optimism, and on September 20, the Aggies got their first taste of victory in two years with a 34-26 win over a good team from Southern Nazarene. Always a clever and innovative coach, Wyatt was never afraid to take chances, and the winning touchdown in the game came on a fake punt that left the Southern Nazarene players stunned.

The Aggies earned two more victories in 2008 and finished the campaign at 3-7. However, Wyatt simply shook his head when he heard others say things like, "We won more games than we did last year." To him, since the Aggies lost more games than they won-plain and simple-that equated to a losing season (regardless of the successes that were realized in several area). Mike was not a good loser and readily admitted to that.

Anyone watching practices prior to the 2009 season could tell that the Aggies were going to be a lot better. The exchanges were smoother, the ball carriers were running harder, and the hits were crisper. The season underway, the Aggie goal of a winning season was on track through nine games, but losses in the last two games left their mark at 5-6. However, there was something about the team that people liked and responded to, and even though the goal of the winning season remained elusive, more and more people also knew that they liked Mike Wyatt.

It was between the 2009 and 2010 seasons that the friendship between Mike and I began to flourish. We met once each week for lunch, and Mike always spoke fondly of the many young men who had played football for him over the years and he had an address book in his computer containing an unbelievable number of names. Often, when I visited him in his office, he would be talking to a former assistant coach or player who had called him for advice.

However, our conversations were not always about football. Mike was very proud of his daughter (Brandi) and spoke of her often. I, in turn, spoke of my son, daughter, son-in-law and grandson. Yes, we were two middle-aged men bragging and we both enjoyed it. Mike was also a well-read man and we shared many discussions concerning the writings of Ernest Hemingway. Hemingway often wrote of the strength of the human spirit and many times Mike and I shared thoughts of how important the human spirit is when it comes to success on the football field.

The Aggies opened the 2010 season with great anticipation and team members were not shy about stating their confidence of earning the first winning season since 2004. They opened, at home, against a highly regarded Colorado State-Pueblo squad. The Aggies stayed in the game all the way and played hard, but came up short, 26-14.

The following Saturday, they traveled to Winfield, Kansas for a game against Southwestern College. Though they did not play particularly well, they did what they had to do at the right time and evened their season at 1-1 with a 32-27 victory.

On September 11, following a special ceremony observing "9-11," the Aggies took the field and earned a methodical 14-6 victory over New Mexico Highlands.

The following Saturday, they traveled to Jefferson City, Missouri to face Lincoln University. The Aggies played their worst game of the season and Lincoln edged them 23-22.

The following week back in Goodwell, the Aggies went up against a good team from Langston. The lost 30-14 and their record fell to 2-3.

The Aggies did not play another game for three weeks, but practices were no vacation. Wyatt challenged his team and especially the 16 seniors that their future was "Now." The team responded with a pair of home field wins on successive Saturdays–23-14 against Texas College and 35-31 against Southwest Assemblies.

Sporting a 4-3 record on the season, the Aggies traveled next to Bethany, Oklahoma for a night game against Southern Nazarene, a team that featured a good defense and a high powered offense. The Aggie defense bent, but did not break and their own offense played their best game of the year and they nailed a 34-31 victory and boosted their season record to 5-3.

On October 30, the Aggies visited Alva to face NAIA powerhouse Northwestern Oklahoma State. They never seemed to get on track on either side of the ball and with Northwestern's 31-7 victory, the OPSU season record stood at 5-4.

The next week, back in Goodwell, the Aggies faced the Warriors of Bacone. It was "not over until it was over," but the Aggies left the field with a 21-20 victory, a 6-4 season record, and the winning season was assured.

They closed the season a week later in Beaumont, Texas against an up and coming NCAA Division I program—Lamar University. The Aggie defense played reasonably well, but the offense did not and Lamar won the contest 44-6, and the Aggies ended their season at 6-5.

Not quite two weeks later, on Friday, December 3rd, Mike and I spent most of the day together working on several projects in his office. We reflected on the season just finished and we spoke of the future. Mike was excited about the recruiting season that he and his staff were embarking on.

Speaking to the issue of recruiting, Mike and I had many discussions on that subject. We arrived at the term "CHARACTER RECRUITING" and we based a good deal of our thoughts on a program developed by the late John Wooden called "The Pyramid of Success." Wooden was arguably the greatest college basketball coach of all time.

Whether it is in player recruitment or the hiring/promoting of assistant coaches, Mike Wyatt established how very important that CHARACTER is to the football program at OPSU.

In other words—an emphasis not only on athletic ability, but an additional reliance upon the traits of leadership, citizenship and academic performance. Thus, when a recruiting program is based upon these four things, everything else should fall into place—including the building of teams with winning records.

A measurement of this year's Aggie team is easy, as far as Ws and Ls. However, some of the measurements will take a bit longer to determine. Graduation rates are also easy to measure, but other things are not. Of the sixteen OPSU football seniors who will no longer be playing and will eventually finish their educations—they will be heading out into the world with a chance to make a difference, and they also have the chance to become what the world needs most—decent human beings. Mike Wyatt helped to point them in the direction of being decent human being -and we discussed these very things in the last meeting we had together.

Less than 36 hours after I left his office—he was gone.

Many players at OPSU (and the other places Mike coached) received great publicity and honors and many have gone on to success in football and in other careers. In fact, any student athlete who ever played for Mike Wyatt had an honor . . . and that honor was that they played for him.

We grieve in different ways, and as I watched what was left of the sun disappear into the darkness the night of his memorial service, I felt proud that I, too, had the honor to work with him.

As the people filed out of the stadium and I said good-bye to him, I also realized something else, and that is that I will miss my friend very much.

 

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