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This profile was last updated on 5/12/02  and contains information from public web pages.

Member, Staff

South Carolina State

Employment History


  • Graduate School
Web References
Welcome to Bonesville, Swabbie!  News, Analysis, Opinion & Booty for Internet Plunderers, 12 May 2002 [cached]
George Wheeler
George Wheeler just found out he has cancer.
There… it's out there now.
To Wheeler, who was a tenacious defensive tackle at East Carolina from 1966-70, it's just the way it is and it's something he will take on the only way he knows how - directly.
"I'm not the only person to have had (cancer)," he said. "And I'm not the only one who will beat it."
And that's all Wheeler had to say about that.
To know George Wheeler, it seems, is to know true determination and an immense love of the game of football.
"Coach (Henry) VanSant recruited me out of a very small mill town in the hills of the Shenandoah Valley," Wheeler said.
"Football was my life… really," Wheeler said.
Getting a scholarship was a huge deal for Wheeler and his family.
"My dad was a plumber and I'll never forget that time," he said.
And (the day Wheeler signed the scholarship) my mother (Francis), was a proud lady… very proud."
Quietly, Wheeler rejoiced inside that his dream would come true. And when he visited the East Carolina campus, the excitement was driven home.
"Campus… it was the biggest place I had ever been in my life," Wheeler said.
Overwhelmed with his new surroundings, Wheeler was equally impressed with his new coach.
"Coach (Clarence Stasavich) Stas? I was mesmerized by him. He was a legend," Wheeler said.
But it was the impact that VanSant first had on Wheeler that established the beginnings of what would be a stellar career.
With the fear of VanSant instilled in the young Wheeler, it became abundantly clear very quickly that the diatribe was not mere lip service.
"We had these two GAs (graduate assistant coaches)," Wheeler said.
Wheeler is quick to point out that the varsity Pirates were not slouches with players like Kevin Moran, who was "as good as any ever to play" and Jim Flowe who was a "fantastic player.
Also, guys like tailback Neil Hughes, whom Wheeler considered as simply "the best player, pound-for-pound, that I ever saw in my lifetime" and Billy Whiteman who was "another unbelievable tailback."
"We were truly a great team," Wheeler said.
The success carried forward for Wheeler and he came to know, firsthand, the fire in Stasavich.
"My sophomore year, we opened at William and Mary," he said.
Though it is obvious how much Stasavich and VanSant influenced the young Wheeler, it was another teacher that, perhaps, set him on his true course.
Where Martinez helped Wheeler identify his ability to be more as a student, it was Coach Stasavich who forced him to become a man.
"I hate to say this, but I failed out of school as a freshman," he said. "I was chasing women, drinking beer, and playing football. I remember I needed to complete five hours of Bs and an hour of an A in order to maintain eligibility. I had no money for summer school, so, since I was the man, I walked into Coach Stas' office and asked him if he would pay for summer school."
He wasn't the man.
"Stas looked at me and said, 'You're a dummy,'" Wheeler said. "I always would stand up to him and I said, 'I'm your starter, coach.' And he said, 'No, you're my flunked out lineman. Boy, you can't make it here… you need to go to Vietnam.'"
Stasavich shook Wheeler up with that one and went on to tell his player that he had half the summer to work and earn enough money to pay for second session and then earn the grades.
"I worked on this steel roof crew and ended up with blisters from elbows to hands," he said.
Wheeler graduated in 1971 from Graduate School and couldn't resist the lure of coaching. And, ending two years ago after retiring, Wheeler has had some amazing experiences as a 29-year coach.
Wheeler retired in 2000 after a decade at South Carolina State University, where he coached the likes of Robert Porcher and Chartric Darby.
But his path to his final coaching assignment contained a number of great experiences, starting with a stint at North Carolina A&T University.
"I was really nervous about that job," Wheeler said, recognizing that if he were to commit to A&T, he would be the first-ever white coach at the predominantly black school in Greensboro. "I called Coach Stas for advice, and all he would say is, 'It's a college coaching job, right?' And, I'd say, 'Yes sir.' And Coach Stas would say, 'You want to be a college coach, right?' And, I'd say, 'Yes sir.' And Coach would say, 'Then, what's the problem?'
"He was trying to get me to say that I was worried about being the only white coach. I got the point and I took the job."
After success at A&T, Wheeler headed for an interview at the University of Arkansas with then-head coach Lou Holts, where fate would intervene in many ways.
Florence, who is now the rock of support for Wheeler in his battle to beat cancer, has her own place in history.
To talk to Wheeler, it becomes quickly apparent that he and Florence have a special marriage. Even in recounting his career, she is clearly an avid fan - of her coach, if not the sport he loves so much.
Wheeler instructs his players at S.C. State. (Photo from SCSU SID.)
Holts and Arkansas were just too good to turn down, so Wheeler made the play.
"Coach Holts is the greatest coach I have ever had the pleasure to work with," Wheeler said. "He is an educator and a excellent tactician. It doesn't surprise me one bit (the success his former mentor went on to have at Notre Dame and now South Carolina). He is a great friend and that staff at Arkansas was one of the greatest I have been around."
Wheeler then moved, in 1978, to the Midwest to join Warren Powers' University of Missouri staff where he coached until 1982, before giving the professional ranks a try.
In 1983, Wheeler went to the USFL to coach the defensive line for friend Chuck Fairbanks with the New Jersey Generals, where he got the pleasure to help mentor former Georgia great Herschel Walker.
"Well, I didn't really coach him," Wheeler laughed.
Along with coaching great players, the New Jersey Generals also gave Wheeler his first taste of the worst of football when Manhattan mogul Donald Trump bought the team.
That was enough to make Wheeler yearn to be back in the college ranks, so he returned to Missouri and coached on Woody Widenhofer's staff.
Eventually, he landed in South Carolina, where he joined the staff at South Carolina State and decided to make his permanent home.
"I have been probably one of the most demanding football coaches who ever coached," Wheeler said of his style.
Wheeler credits his players and his former coaches and teammates for ALL of his personal successes.
"My life has been like a piece of driftwood going down a stream," he said.
Today, despite his diagnosis, Wheeler still feels he has been blessed. And, like a true Pirate, he believes.
"I've just started the long haul with this chemotherapy," he said.
George Wheeler (None)
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