Wheeling CC’s Dave Wojcik finally gets chance to be a head coach
SAN JOSE, Calif. (AP) – Dave Wojcik has made so many stops as an assistant along the way while crisscrossing the country, helping rebuild multiple programs, and jumping from coaching college basketball to high school in his hometown and back, that he began to doubt whether he would ever get his chance to do it himself as a head coach.
On Tuesday night, Wojcik will make his long-awaited debut when his San Jose State team opens the season at Santa Clara.
He has taken a little something from each of his many stops along the way, from each coach he served. Perhaps most of all, Wojcik received his early inspiration from late high school coach Skip Prosser, whose first head college job came at Wojcik’s alma mater, Loyola. Wojcik eventually worked for him, and has taken a similar journeyman path.
As it happened, the athletic director who hired Prosser was Joe Boylan, who would become Wojcik’s father-in-law.
“I was fortunate enough to work with so many good coaches,” Wojcik said. “If it wasn’t for Coach Prosser getting a job and he hired me on his staff, then I met my future wife. Coach was very good with people, how to deal with kids, relationships. Sometimes you have to yell at them, sometimes you have to talk to them.”
Wojcik will be doing plenty of both in his first season.
The 44-year-old Wojcik doesn’t downplay the daunting challenges ahead – and he knows all of the statistics about San Jose State’s struggles to win. He is determined to change the culture of the program and produce a consistent winner. That, he realizes, won’t happen overnight.
Wojcik was hired in the spring to replace George Nessman, fired after eight seasons with the Spartans. San Jose State went 9-20 last season, the program’s second straight year with only nine wins. Nessman had an 86-161 record in his tenure and led the team to the College Basketball Invitational tournament in 2011.
Now, Wojcik will lead the way in the team’s move to the more competitive Mountain West Conference, a league he already knows well after three seasons as associate head coach at Boise State.
“He’s been in a lot of different places,” Boise State coach Leon Rice said. “The thing that Dave really brought to the table with me, he’s been through it a lot where he’s had to go and rebuild programs. That really helped our transition from the WAC to the Mountain West.”
Wojcik also makes up part of one of seven Division I brother coaching tandems. His path over the past two-plus decades is a mouthful: From James Madison and West Liberty State College to his alma mater, Loyola, then on to Xavier. To a gig as athletic director and coach at Wheeling Central Catholic High School in his native West Virginia. After that, the U.S. Naval Academy and Dayton, to working as a top assistant under his big brother, Doug, at Tulsa, then heading off to Wake Forest before his most recent stint at Boise State.
Wojcik has hit many of the major conferences and every time zone.
His parents, Fred and Martha, visited the Bay Area last week to watch Wojcik split a pair of home exhibition games – and the trip marked his mother’s first flight in eight years. That’s how much his promotion means to the close-knit family. His parents still live in the same home where Wojcik grew up in Wheeling, W. Va.
Wojcik’s brother, Doug, is now the second-year head coach at College of Charleston (S.C.)
Wojcik credits Doug for helping him develop a toughness “and how you’ve got to fight through stuff.”
“He’s still my younger brother and you can go back to your childhood pretty quickly in your own mind,” Doug Wojcik said. “Here we are in our 40s and for him to be the many places he’s been … it’s been an amazing climb for him. For him to do that and have that opportunity, I’m very thankful but also very proud of the fact that both of us being from a little town, we’re both Division I head coaches.”
Hired in early April ahead of the Final Four, Wojcik benefited from the extra practices and earlier start allowed this season.
“I’ve got eight new players,” he said recently. “Their heads are spinning like tops right now.”
Still, it’s a project Wojcik relishes. He has been waiting and ready for the chance.
“Hopefully, from all those stops, I can incorporate all that into my own philosophy, package, whatever you want to call it,” he said.
It helps that his 14-year-old son, Jake, has settled in nicely as an eighth-grader in his new school. Wojcik and wife, Heather, didn’t plan to move once their son started high school – so the timing turned out perfectly.
Wojcik has played around with the idea of scheduling a game against his brother at some point, though they know the logistical issues involved might make it difficult. It’s fun to think about, anyway.
At San Jose State, the first priority is to establish a program that can compete.
“He’ll bring a work ethic to the table there that will be unmatched and those kids will play hard,” Doug Wojcik said. “He’s had some great mentors. First and foremost, my father really created a work ethic, accountability and responsibility. And Coach Skip Prosser’s influence on both of us at a young age, his ability as a motivator and history teacher. You can’t be great in everything. You’re better off trying to be great at a few things.”