By Robert Dalton

Mike Ayers hasn’t coached a football game since 2017. But every weekend in the fall, his influence is still felt on fields all across the country.

The roots of Ayers’ coaching tree run deep, and guys who played for him and/ or coached with him are now sharing the lessons he taught them with new generations.

“My time at Wofford under him as a player and coach was a remarkably impactful period in my life,” says Shiel Wood ’05, the defensive coordinator at the University of Houston. “His longevity at Wofford gave so many people an awesome experience through the game of football. I was blessed to have been part of that journey of his life.”

Ayers roamed the sidelines at Wofford for 30 seasons (1988-2017) as head coach and compiled a 218-160-2 record. He was elected to the Wofford Athletics Hall of Fame in 2023.

Shiel Wood

Wood says Ayers instilled in his players and coaches a commitment to doing things the right way, with character. There were no shortcuts, no easy ways out.

“He had the ability to motivate coaches and players to squeeze every drop out of the ability they had,” Wood says. “He taught you how to handle situations, good and bad, with clarity of mind to make good decisions.”

Not all of Ayers’ lessons revolved around Xs and Os. Sometimes the discussions centered on life … and death.

Greg Gasparato

Greg Gasparato ’09, defensive coordinator at Tulane University, was a 20-yearold sophomore when his father died in 2007. He took a few weeks away to grieve and ponder his future and met with Ayers when he returned to campus.

“That meeting was one of the best conversations of my life,” Gaparato says. “He told me I was blessed to have 20 years with my father, and that made me think in a different way. From that point on, he was like a father figure to me.”

Devin Watson

Devin Watson ’19, Wofford’s cornerbacks coach, says he was fortunate to play for Ayers. He says he faced some tough times when he was growing up, and Ayers helped him put the past in the past.

“He always used to say life is hard, but you’ve got to be able to do hard to get the things you want in life,” Watson says. “He’d say football should be easy for you, because life has already been hard.”

Nate Woody

Ayers’ coaching tree also includes current coaches such as Nate Woody ’84, defensive coordinator at the United States Military Academy; Nathan Fuqua ’03, co-defensive coordinator and outside linebackers coach at Cincinnati; Allen Smith ’12, who coached at Wofford for three years, had a stint in the NFL with the Houston Texans and is now defensive line coach at Georgia State; Rob Greene ’14, defensive backs coach at Tulane; Jireh Wilson ’20, defensive coordinator at North Greenville University; Dane Romero ’09, a Wofford coach for nine seasons who was recently named Dorman High School’s offensive coordinator; and Eric Nash ’02, who coached at Wofford for 15 years before becoming a coach then athletics director at St. Joseph’s Catholic School in Greenville, S.C. And the oaks that Ayers tended now have saplings of their own.

“He taught you how to handle situations, good and bad, with clarity of mind to make good decisions.”

“It’s been really neat for me to experience how that tree has branched out,” Wood says. “There are all these coaches out there who are Mike Ayers guys, Wofford guys.”

Ayers, in his typical fashion, waves off any credit. They’ve all found success because they were willing to put in the work and make the necessary sacrifices to find it, he says. He calls them toughminded guys, who were willing to tackle any challenge even when the odds were against them.

“I’m proud of their accomplishments, proud that they wanted to be in this profession because it’s a very difficult profession,” Ayers says. “I loved having them as players and coaching with them. In my perception, I still see them in black jerseys and gold pants.”