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Written by: Phil Myers on Tuesday, September 29th, 2020
Note: This interview was conducted with Coach Wiser in June.
Coach Larry Wiser went to Clarion University, got a teaching degree and after graduating in December of 1972 accepted a teaching position at Clarion High School in January, 1973 and “never left there,” he said. But how he ended up at Clarion University and not Penn State has more to do with wrestling than football. Why did his wrestling career at Clarion University only last 2 years? How did he end up coaching high school football with such success? The answers to those questions and many more come to light throughout this exclusive interview with Larry Wiser, the face of what used to be Clarion Bobcat football. Thanks to the co-op with Clarion-Limestone and North Clarion the football team is now known as the Central Clarion Wildcats.
Mr. Wiser has been coaching football at Clarion since 1973 and has built upon a program with a rich tradition in District 9. In his 31 years as the head coach he has chalked up 233 wins against 104 losses and 1 tie. He has 11 appearances in District 9 championship games winning 4 of those and taking his Bobcats to the western finals in 2013, where he lost to eventual state champion North Catholic. He is a member of the PSFCA Hall of Fame and among many other accolades was an assistant coach in the 2016 Big 33 Classic.
The first thing we talked about was family. The Wisers moved around a bit when he was young. They eventually settled in the Bald Eagle Area School District and that is where Larry, his older sister Barb, and younger brother Steve went to school. Coach Wiser wrestled, played football, and played baseball at BEA. “I give my younger brother credit for any athleticism (I have) because we grew up wrestling, playing baseball, playing basketball together, and fighting each other. Steve was a state runner-up in wrestling.”
PM: “I’m also a huge wrestling fan. What’s the story on your wrestling career, and when you wrestled at Clarion University, did you know Wade Schalles?” (Schalles was a 2-time NCAA champ for Clarion back in the 70s and is considered by many as one of the greatest wrestlers of all time. He is a National Wrestling Hall of Famer.)
LW: “Well, my dad, Gerald Wiser, was a basketball coach, a football coach, and a baseball coach. It’s amazing that Steve and I wrestled. Coach (Bob) Bubb, Clarion University’s wrestling coach, had been at Tyrone, so I wrestled against Coach Bubb when he was coaching at Tyrone.” (Coach Bubb is also a member of the National Wrestling Hall of Fame from his time spent as head coach of the Clarion University wrestling team.) “Obviously he played a big role in my coming to Clarion after he landed the job there. When I got here both Coach Bubb and Neil Turner (Bubb’s assistant wrestling coach at Clarion) were also my football coaches. I played football for a year too. Wade Schalles and I were at the same weight. So maybe that answers questions as to why my wrestling career ended after my sophomore season.”
PM: “Coach, talk a little more about your family.”
LW: “My mom, June Williams Wiser, was a heck of a softball player according to dad. Dad always gave mom credit for our athleticism. My dad was in General Patton’s outfit. He was a tanker in World War II. He went from a division recreation officer in Iceland to all of a sudden, he’s in the 10th anti-tank company under the 5th Division and participated in The Battle of the Bulge. He was well decorated with 2 Purple Hearts, 2 Bronze Stars, and 1 Silver Star. They were also at Remagen and went into Czechoslovakia and opened up some of those prisons.”
Coach Wiser married Annie Barone and they have two children, a son Ryan and a daughter named Morgan. They also have a 2-year old grandson.
PM: “What position(s) did you play in high school?”
LW: “Tailback and corner.”
PM: “Who was the major influence on you to be a coach?”
LW: “To be honest with you in high school Coach Humphrey, my wrestling coach, had the varsity wrestlers go back to home schools. That’s how he did his elementary programs and I was from Port Matilda. So, when the season ended, we went to our home schools and taught wrestling for 2-3 weeks. That was my first taste of coaching. Coach Humphrey was a big influence because he pulled things out of me that I didn’t think I had in me.”
“Al Wilson came in and was our football coach our senior year in high school and took a 6-4 team from the prior year with only 3 returning lettermen and went 9-1 winning the western championship of Central Pennsylvania in 1967. Al was ahead of his time in my opinion and influenced me so much in how I coach today.”
“Then my work study thing when I came to Clarion University was on Sundays. We did youth wrestling. So as collegiate wrestlers we worked with some of the youth in the area. But I can’t discount my dad’s influence either as he had been a long-time coach.”
PM: “How did you get into coaching at Clarion?”
LW: “John Reish needed an assistant and hired me in 1973, then I became the head Junior High coach after Ray Austin replaced John. I think it was ’79 or ’80 when I became the defensive coordinator for Ray. I really enjoyed those years as coordinator for Ray. We won a couple championships. In 1987 we lost the district title to Johnsonburg. It was Ray’s final year. The next year I got the job, but wasn’t officially hired until after the first game which was a big upset over a heavily favored Karns City team. I really got the taste of coaching then. I coached wrestling at Clarion as well but I like coaching football more because you can have an immediate impact on the sidelines doing things.”
PM: “What is the toughest thing about coaching?”
LW: “Right now it’s communication.” (He is referring to trying to coordinate things and keep in contact with kids during the pandemic.) “There are so many variety of ways to get kids attention. To try and call kids on the phone is an impossible task. From coaching players in the 70s to coaching players today, if you ask kids to do things, they do them if you are reasonable about it and you are raising their expectations. There’s not a whole lot of difference there. It’s still a fun place to meet on that football field every day.”
PM: “How did the co-op with Clarion-Limestone workout last year?” (2019 was the first year Clarion-Limestone and Clarion combined for football.)
LW: “It was great. We took the kids to Lycoming last year and they merged together like they were long-time friends. It was a pretty smooth transition. I was fortunate Dave Eggleton being the head coach at C-L, is now on my staff. He’s the assistant head coach. It has been a positive thing for this area. It was a much-needed thing that we had to do really.”
PM: “This year the school name has changed as well as the uniform colors and team nickname, correct?”
LW: “Yes, we are now the Central Clarion Wildcats. The colors are blue and orange.” (Clarion-Limestone’s team colors were blue and gold, while Clarion’s were orange and black.) “The Wildcats were a group of Civil War soldiers from Jefferson, Clarion, and Armstrong Counties. I had a great grandfather who fought in the Civil War and his musket sits on my wall. He was wounded in the Battle of the Wilderness.”
PM: “Are the communities united behind the co-op?”
LW: “I think so. Are there people yet that just as soon the co-op wouldn’t take place? Yes, I’m not going to discount that.”
PM: “What are the most important concepts you try to teach or instill into your players?”
LW: “Team. That’s something we constantly preach to the players. The second thing I really try to stress is that each and every kid has potential. When you have the very talented kid, you want to maintain his ability. But to take somebody who really doesn’t see themselves as an athlete or being very good and becoming someone they didn’t think they could become, that’s my greatest satisfaction.”
PM: “You kind of answered my next question. What’s the most rewarding thing about coaching?”
LW: “I got a list of kids I could go on and on and on about, but one stands out to me.” Coach Wiser went on tell about a kid who weighed 120 pounds his sophomore year and was the team manager. “He told me, ‘Coach I think I could do this.’ I told him to come out for the team next year and the kid did. He was on the scout team defense, worked hard, and he lit up when I told him we would try to get him into a game. His senior year he was all-conference. I have a ton of stories like that. Did I enjoy coaching the Kyle Cathcarts and Austin Newcombs? Yes, I’m not going to sit here and lie to you, but there are a host of less talented kids with similar stories like the one I told you.”
PM: “Coach, how do you measure success?”
LW: “Obviously, most people are going to look at your wins and losses. You can’t discount that because you’re not going to stay on the job long if you’re not winning. The quality of coaches I’ve been around. The Tim Janockos (Clearfield High School’s head football coach), the Aaron Straubs (long-time boys basketball coach at Elk County Catholic High School), and so forth are people that go beyond just coaching winning programs. They’re winning programs because their programs develop character and the kids come out with a real sense of purpose.”
“Kids need to know how to win, but they need to know how to lose too. Life has so many challenges that when you hit that wall, you have got to learn how to then crawl over it. High school sports should teach you that you can do things that can make you better. You should dictate your own history. I have the responsibility to have the best kid on the field and to get every kid to realize his potential and dream in football.”
PM: “What motivates you to continue to coach?”
LW: “I love practices. It’s such a sense of purpose. When I don’t have that passion, when I don’t want to be out there …” He doesn’t finish the sentence. Then he continues the thought on what motivates him to continue to coach, “Finding new ways to do things, finding a new way to turn that light bulb on.”
PM: “How were you able to maintain the winning tradition at Clarion?”
LW: “I don’t know,” Wiser chuckles. “I was fortunate to have some really good athletes and been blessed with some great coaches. And we’ve had the support of the community. They financially supported the things I thought we needed to do, like going to camp.”
PM: “What do you want your legacy to be? Do you ever think about that?”
LW: “Not really. The greatest gift for me would be if they stood over my head stone as a team and said they have true love for each other and that they have special memories from their time together.”
PM: “Is there any coach, past or present, that you’d love to sit down with and pick his brain?”
LW: “I’ve been fortunate to pick a lot of brains over my career. Obviously, Tim Janocko locally. I’ve had the chance to work Jim Kelly’s camp for 5 years and made some friends with the New York coaches there. I’ve coached in the East-West game and the Big 33 game. But if I look at any coach as far as work ethic and value of studying film, it’s Joe Paterno. I mean I grew up and still am, a Joe Paterno fan. I have also learned a lot from James Franklin.
PM: “Do you have any hobbies?”
LW: “Fly fish. Joe Humphrey taught fly fishing to us in high school. I still have one of those high school fly rods. I think Joe is 91 now and he is the classic world’s best fly fisherman.” We talked a bit about fly fishing as my son fly fishes a lot. Coach Wiser said he and some buddies go out west to either Colorado, Montana, or Wyoming each year to fish. He also graciously told me to have my son get in touch with him if he ever plans to go out west to fly fish.
PM: “What does your favorite meal consist of?”
LW: “My wife is Italian so she got me into eating a wide variety of pasta dishes, but my wife makes the best stromboli I’ve ever tasted.”
PM: “What’s your favorite dessert?”
LW: “Ice cream.”
PM: “What’s your favorite movie of all-time?”
LW: “Wow! I think one movie that stands out to me is ‘Patton.’ Dad and I went together to see it and it brings back memories. He opened up some after seeing that movie. That really has become my favorite movie.”
PM: “What is the one thing people may not know about you?”
LW: “I was in the band in high school also. I played the trumpet and also played some lead roles in a couple of plays and musicals.” Wiser laughed and added, “My brother didn’t have to do this but my parents made me play the instrument and sing in the choir. Steve always got out of all that.”
PM: “Is there anything else you’d like to say or make a comment on?”
LW: “This will be one of the most challenging seasons that I know Clarion’s ever been involved with. We got both DuBois and Clearfield on our schedule this year. We still have Ridgway and Brookville too. In fact, there is no ‘easy’ game, it’s going to be tough.”
Earlier when we were talking and where the conversation centered around Penn State coach said, “My mom worked in admissions at Penn State, my dad was a grad, and I had an uncle who taught there. I could have gone there. I had a free ride.”
PM: “I think things worked out for you, coach.”
LW: “Yeah, they sure did, they sure did.”
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