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Coach Wag headed into U of O Sports Hall of Fame

February 2, 2011
By cnp
Posted in Athletics

Clarksville, Ark.-Jerry Wagoner, a football standout and long-time coach and physical education instructor at University of the Ozarks, will be posthumously inducted into the university's Sports Hall of Fame during an induction luncheon on Saturday, Feb. 12.

Wagoner, who passed away on June 14, 2010, at age 73, was associated with U of O for more than 50 years, starting when he enrolled as a freshman in 1954. After a stellar high school football career at Booneville, Ark., Wagoner shunned recruiting offers from Texas A&M, which was coached by Paul “Bear” Bryant at the time, and the University of Arkansas, to enroll at what was then College of the Ozarks.

Playing at 195 pounds, Wagoner was a four-year starter at both offensive and defensive guard for Ozarks, earning All-Arkansas Intercollegiate Conference honors three times. As a senior, Wagoner led an offensive line that helped Ozarks rush for 275 yards a game and compile a 7-1-1 record, the best overall record in the program’s history.

“Jerry was not the type of player who wanted to attract attention or be in the spotlight, but he was an outstanding football player,” said Fritz Ehren, a former assistant coach at Ozarks. “He had good size for a lineman during that time and he was extremely quick. He was very good as a pulling guard because he was so quick and rangy. And, he had a great sense of humor. He kept the other linemen loose with his sense of humor.”

After a brief coaching stint at Mansfield, Ark., Wagoner returned to Ozarks as an assistant football coach in 1963, starting a career at the university that would span more than 40 years. Along with coaching football, Coach Wag, as he was affectionately known, also coached track and field. He also served as chair of the physical education department and was a long-time instructor in the teacher education division.

“Coach loved teaching and his classes were among the most popular at Ozarks,” said U of O President Dr. Rick Niece. “He had life-long influences on so many students who are now teachers and coaches, and that influence will circle on and on for generations.”

Lonnie Qualls, who coached with Wagoner for more than 30 years at Ozarks, said Wagoner’s influence on students went well beyond the athletic fields.

“He was one of the best coaches I’ve ever seen when it came to having a rapport with the student-athletes,” Qualls said. “He truly cared about them and their success on and off the field.”

Former Ozarks basketball coach Johnny Johnson, who is also being inducted into the university’s Sports Hall of Fame on Feb. 12, said Wagoner was the ideal colleague.

“When I was hired, Coach Wagoner was one of the guys that took me under his wing,” Johnson said.

“He was such a fun person to be around. Jerry taught us to not take everything so seriously. He understood there were more important things than a ballgame. He was always upbeat and knew the perspective of sports. He never let you get too high or too low. He wanted coaches to realize the enjoyment of being a coach and the enjoyment of being around young people.”

“He was well-known around the state, and when I was out recruiting people would ask about him,” Johnson said. “He had a tremendous influence on a number of kids that went through school here. Many of them went on to be coaches themselves. It will be a special day for me to know that I am going into the hall of fame with Jerry Wagoner.”