By Jeff Kolpack
The Dickinson Press
Published December 6, 2012
FARGO — The memories include 2-year-old children running around the Wofford football office in the evening because a coach’s wife was working and a babysitter couldn’t be found. That’s how head coach Mike Ayers has run his small-college football show run on a bigger stage.
He’s on his 25th year, and he’s not alone in taking the school from NAIA to Division II to Division I Football Championship Subdivision. Four of his assistants have a combined 76 years of service with the Terriers, who play North Dakota State on Saturday in the FCS quarterfinals.
“We just do it the way we feel we need to do it,” Ayers said. “And it’s worked well for us.”
Offensive coordinator Wade Long has been with Ayers all 25 years. Defensive coordinator Nate Woody is in his 22nd year at the school, defensive line coach Jack Teachey his 19th and offensive line coach Eric Nash his 10th.
Nash is a former Wofford player, as are three other Terriers assistants.
“Wofford is not just a team, it’s a program,” said NDSU head coach Craig Bohl. “The over-riding factor is that coaching staff has been together for years and years. There are not many things they haven’t seen.”
When Ayers was hired over a milk shake at a dairy bar, the program was at a low point, coming off a 1-10 season. An NAIA school, a decision was made to move to Division II in 1988. The Terriers made the playoffs in 1990 (NDSU’s Division II national championship season) and 1991.
Both resulted in first-round losses. Then came a series of events that turned the small Methodist school in Spartanburg, S.C., into a Division I national name. The Terriers have made the FCS playoffs six times since 2003 and reached the NCAA basketball tournament in 2010 and 2011.
The Southern Conference was in search of a new member when Marshall left in 1997 for the Football Bowl Subdivision Mid-American Conference. Earlier, in 1993, Wofford graduate Jerry Richardson was granted an NFL expansion franchise for the Carolinas and in doing so, gave Wofford the chance to be the team’s training camp site.
That meant NFL-quality facilities. So in 1995, Wofford moved to Division I.
“It was kind of like the perfect storm,” Ayers said. “A long story short, everything worked.”
Back in the football office, not much has changed. The Terriers have not varied from their “Wingbone” triple-option offense. While coaches come and go across the country, the small college lifestyle has been home.
“I guess it’s all what you want out of life,” Ayers said. “For myself and a lot of my coaches, it’s about where they work and the people they work with.”