The former East Tennessee State assistant has landed on the new basketball staff of Tony Jasick at Jacksonville. It’s his third job in about a year, coming on the heels of an ill-fated move to coach with his old friend Pat Knight at Lamar.
Wagers had packed up his family and moved to Beaumont, Texas last summer after 13 years at ETSU. He was with Ed DeChellis for the last three years and then spent a decade with Murry Bartow.
It wasn’t easy to leave, even after a 22-loss season in 2012-13.
“At the time, the move was about a lot more money with a guy with three years on a contract,” Wagers said Thursday. “You hate to look back, but …”
Lamar was 3-22 when Knight, the son of coaching legend Bobby Knight, was fired in February. The Cardinals had finished 3-28 last season, a year after making the NCAA tournament in Knight’s debut at the school.
As the numbers would suggest, a lot went wrong in a hurry.
“They lost a lot of kids off the team that went to the tournament and had to reload, like anywhere else,” said Wagers. “Some of the new guys weren’t eligible and there were injuries, and some of the junior-college guys that came in didn’t play up to expectations. I was there for eight months and it went quick.”
Approaching his 50th birthday, which passed early this month, Wagers had plenty of time to reflect. The more he thought about it, the more he appreciated Johnson City, ETSU and the lifestyle he had carved out for himself over those 13 years.
“As far as home goes, I’ve spent most of my life in Tennessee,” he said. “I went to school there (at Tennessee Wesleyan), coached high school there (at Washburn). Both my kids were born in Johnson City. I still talk to so many people up there; that’s where all my friends are.
“I talk to Murry quite a bit, and I miss him like a friend. My position with him was so unique. It’s so important that you’re heard on staff, your opinions and your voice. When somebody has enough confidence to listen to you, it’s a big deal. You gain that confidence over years of being with somebody … it doesn’t happen overnight.”
Wagers chuckled at the thought.
“Life lessons,” he said. “That was the biggest thing in all this transition: you appreciate where you were and how good things were.”
Wagers just sold his house in Texas and hopefully will have his family – wife Stacey, son Luke, 10, and daughter Lola, 7 – with him in Florida sometime in July. He was making a short visit to Beaumont when contacted Thursday.
Putting the Lone Star State in the rear view for good can’t happen soon enough.
“Let’s just say I’m glad to be in Jacksonville, Florida,” said Wagers. “I have a great opportunity there, and I’m close to my family. The only thing good about Lamar was Pat was behind me. He’s a guy I grew up with and have known all my life. He didn’t expect any of this to happen, and I know I never saw it coming.
“It was a wake-up call for everybody.”
Thankfully, after several stressful weeks, Wagers’ connections in the business paid off. Friends of friends led him to Jasick, who was putting together a staff at Jacksonville. The former Indiana-Purdue Fort Wayne head coach was named there in March after Cliff Warren’s contract was not renewed.
Jasick won 25 games last season and, at 36, is regarded as an up-and-comer.
Wagers became the last addition to the Jacksonville staff early this month. His recruiting connections in Florida, where he was a high school coach in the Tampa area for six years before coming to ETSU, are valuable commodities. He also has a decade of experience in the Atlantic Sun Conference.
The Dolphins have fit a certain stereotype in recent years – talented but underachieving. Wagers is sure the program’s image is about to change.
“Really, I think Jacksonville’s a gold mine,” he said. “I remember when we played them, we’d say, ‘Look at this place, the palm trees and beaches and beautiful bridges that light up blue at night.’ It’s a city that has a brand, something you can recruit kids with, and that’s important. I don’t see why we can’t get things rolling here.”
Wagers was known as a defensive specialist at ETSU, and the Bucs always seemed to have at least one player on the roster from the Tampa area, where he thrived as a recruiter. The last remnant is guard Rashawn Rembert, who blossomed into the leading scorer in the A-Sun last season as a junior and set a school record with 108 3-pointers.
Wagers won’t say he saw it coming. But he saw it coming.
“It’s not a shock to me, and I don’t think it’s a shock to Murry either,” he said. “When we recruited Rashawn, he just had an incredible work ethic. He was up at seven in the morning shooting jumpers. He’s kind of like Mike Smith, Micah Williams, Courtney Pigram, Adam Sollazzo … look what they turned into.”
Wagers also wasn’t surprised to see the Bucs bounce back after that dismal 10-22 season. They went 19-16 and played a couple of games it the Collegeinsider.com postseason tournament.
“I knew they’d get back on track,” said Wagers. “If you open most any mid-major media guide and go to the back of that thing, you’ll see peaks and valleys in the records through the years. They’ve had a lot of good runs at ETSU – and will continue to with Murry there. I wish him well.”
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