Nebraska’s new tight ends coach followed thousands of miles of winding asphalt to arrive in Lincoln on Thursday afternoon. Bob Wager’s high school coaching success in Texas garnered him previous collegiate offers. This one came at the right time. He admitted during his time at the lectern atop Memorial Stadium that part of him won’t leave with his new job description.
Wager hasn’t coached a game at Nebraska. Instead, he hit the ground running on recruiting. Some of those recruiting stops involved wearing the block N on his jacket while meeting with coaching buddies. A high school coach at heart, cruising his old stomping grounds for his new job without really getting a foothold in it.
“It’s been a homecoming for me,” Wager said. “Obviously, I put a lot of years in there as their peer. I’m still their peer. Guys, I’m always going to be a high school football coach, I just happen to be coaching at the University of Nebraska now.”
Wager went on to say that coaches in Texas root for each other when a high school coach in Texas gets a chance like the one he received. It’s similar to the one Joey McGuire received when Matt Rhule took over at Baylor. McGuire was hired as the tight ends coach. He eventually moved to linebackers coach under current head coach Dave Aranda. A few years after joining Rhule’s staff at Baylor, McGuire took over as the head coach at Texas Tech and became the first coach there to beat Oklahoma and Texas in the same season.
But Wager’s not exactly the same cut-from-the-cloth, born-and-raised Texas ball player. He’s a New Yorker. Like Rhule, he arrived in Texas as a yankee with a dream of coaching football.
Wager’s playing career ended with an injury at Springfield College. He was a running back who ran out of playing time. So he immediately transitioned into coaching. He read “Friday Night Lights,” the classic retelling of Texas high school football, and decided that’s where he needed to be. At 22, Wager traded his rusted Jeep for a motorcycle and headed to Texas. He kept all he wanted in bags with him—which, as he once described, was $500 in his pocket and “one coat, one tie, one shirt and one pair of slacks.”
He got his first head coaching job in 1998 and bounced to two other schools in less than a decade before arriving at Martin High School in Arlington, Texas. It’s where the Texas Rangers and Dallas Cowboys play, a southern city crunched between Dallas and Fort Worth. Martin only made the state playoffs four times before Wager arrived. The program then made the playoffs in all 17 of Wager’s seasons there. They became consistently the best team in Arlington.
“I’ve been a head coach for 26 years, I’ve been a high school coach for 31 and with that comes all different types of human beings,” Wager said. “Different types of kids, different types of coaches, different types of schools. I hope that gives me the opportunity to bring some value to the program and to the kids that are in it.”
Wager’s record at Martin brought a reputation with it. Coaches admired him for his leadership and standards. Wager once credited his success at the high school levels to strength and conditioning and the people on his staff. Wager coached former No. 1 overall pick and Cleveland Browns defensive end Myles Garrett at Martin. He was asked about that on Thursday. Could he help bring the next Myles Garrett to Nebraska?
Well, he hopes so.
“I have great familiarity with the state of Texas and the Dallas-Fort Worth area,” Wager said, “and we’ve got a brand to be able to go in there and create great competition to draw the very best players to this program, to this school and this university.”
He’s not new to recruiting. But being on the college side of it is different. Old coaches described him as a driven player and he’s maintained that drive. It takes a certain person to hop on a motorcycle and go where the competition is. Three decades later, Wager’s a family man with his son about to walk-on at Nebraska. He’s about to hear 85,000 pack into Memorial Stadium this year. And when he does, he’ll still be the same high school coach at heart.