Wagner resigns as WCU head football coach, students react

Dennis Wagner, the head football coach at Western Carolina University since 2008, has announced his resignation from the program effective immediately. Wagner met with Fred Cantler, interim director of athletics, on Sunday morning to inform him of his decision.

Assistant Head Coach Mark Rhea has agreed to serve as interim head coach at WCU for the remainder of the 2011 season and until a new head football coach is hired. The process of beginning a national search for a new head football coach will commence immediately, and the completion of that search will be the top priority of the university’s next director of athletics.

“I have accepted the resignation of Dennis Wagner as head football coach at Western Carolina University effective today, Sunday Nov. 13,” Cantler said. “Coach Wagner announced his resignation to the team and his assistants earlier today after meeting with me for a frank and thorough discussion of the future of the program. We have reached the mutual conclusion that it is in the best interests of both parties to take this step at this time.”

“I do want to thank Dennis Wagner for his efforts on behalf of the Catamount football program,” he added.

Wagner’s resignation comes a day after the football team lost to rival Appalachian State 46-14 in Boone. It was the Catamounts (1-9) eighth straight loss this season and 14th straight Southern Conference loss. Wagner’s career record at WCU was 8-43, 3-27 in the SoCon.

Wagner, who has not returned a call requesting for comment, had two years and $390,000 remaining on his employment contract.

WCU junior Tony Wicklund is glad Wagner stepped down.

“I’m relieved for some change, and have some respect for the way he resigned in that he left money for the sports program to put to use,” Wicklund said.

Haroun Azizi, a sophomore at Western Carolina, agrees.

“He had made no actual improvement over time,” Azizi said.

WCU’s new interim coach, Rhea, came to Cullowhee as the defensive line coach in mid-March of 2010 from Tiffin University where he was the defensive coordinator. He was named WCU’s recruiting coordinator prior to the 2011 season, and was recently promoted to assistant head coach after the release of Matt Pawlowski, who held the same position as well as defensive coordinator roles at WCU.

A four-year starter at the University of Toledo from 1988-91, Rhea has served as a defensive line coach at four different institutions prior to WCU including stops at the United States Coast Guard Academy in Connecticut and Austin Peay State in Tennessee, with six years at Idaho State before returning to his alma mater.

“Although this has been a difficult period in the history of Western Carolina football in terms of wins and losses, I encourage the Catamount faithful to continue to support our student-athletes, who work hard each and every day to represent our university and to bring a sense of pride to those who bleed purple and gold. These young men deserve no less than our unwavering support,” Cantler said.

Western Carolina concludes its 2011 regular season this Saturday, Nov. 19 against Coastal Carolina with kickoff scheduled for 2:00 pm.