Tampa Bay is littered with high school coaches who have built sports dynasties, at places like Plant and Armwood for football, Tampa Jesuit for baseball and St. Petersburg Lakewood for basketball.
Rare, however, is the coach who not only builds one dynasty, but simultaneously builds two.
In fact, the only
Wilson, who also is the school’s athletic director, has guided the boys soccer team to the state playoffs this season and the Bulls haven’t dropped a regular season game to a Pasco County opponent since January of 2013, a streak of 50 games. That run includes five trips to the Regional playoffs, including a State semifinal appearance in 2015.
Last month, Wilson’s Bulls beat Steinbrenner 2-0 for the 200th win of his career.
Meanwhile, the tennis team, which opened its season Feb. 12 against Cypress Creek, has been even better. The Bulls are currently on a 125-match regular-season winning streak, including 96 straight wins against Pasco County competition since a loss to Land O’Lakes in 2010. That run includes State championships in 2014 and 2015, as well as a runner-up finish in 2017.
When it comes to playing its local competition, the taste of defeat is an unfamiliar one for Wilson.
“I think about it, but I don’t think our guys think about it all that much,” Wilson says with a chuckle, adding, “except for the fact that I don’t think they want to be the team that has that first loss to a Pasco opponent.”
An Athletic Background
Wilson is a Falls State, NY, native, who grew up as a multi-sport athlete and attended the State University of New York (SUNY) College at Cortland (aka Cortland State) in Cortland, NY, where he was a regional All-American soccer player, played basketball and competed for the track team in the triple jump.
Competition has always been a part of Coach Wilson’s life. But coaching? He says that is, and always has been, where his true passion has burned.
“I never wanted to do anything other than coaching,” Wilson says. “My brothers both took great jobs and make lots of money, but that was never a draw for me.”
He adds, with a chuckle: “Don’t get me wrong, I’d love to be rich and everything. But, I enjoy every day of my life, coming to practice and going to the games. When you’ve been an athlete all your life, and you still get to wake up in the morning and say, ‘Alright, it’s game day,’ there is nothing better than that.”
Wilson, 54, got his first coaching experience as a senior in college, when he joined the Tompkins Cortland Community College (in Tompkins, NY) basketball staff as an assistant, he moved from there to SUNY Binghamton (in Binghamton, NY) where he was the head women’s basketball and soccer coach for 10 years, before moving to Florida to serve as the head women’s basketball coach at Saint Leo University outside of Dade City beginning in 1999.
However, after a few years at Saint Leo, with a wife and young children, the travel for games, long hours and recruiting trips started to wear on Wilson.
He knew he wanted to make a change, so he stepped down from coaching at Saint Leo in 2002 and spent four years as an elementary school physical education teacher. The itch to coach competitively, though, never went away, and when WRH opened in 2006, he jumped at the chance to get back into coaching.
For someone who sees coaching as a calling, there can be no bigger challenge than launching a program, building a tradition and finding success. Wilson got that chance when he took the job as both the boys soccer and boys tennis coach at the new school.
And success? That has not been a problem for Wilson and his team at WRH. He says that winning never gets old.
In the Bulls’ dramatic 3-2 District 5A-7 semifinal win Jan. 30 against second-seeded Plant, Wilson got caught up in the celebration after Justin Amis scored the winning goal with roughly 30 seconds remaining.
“I think I hurt my ribs,” he said, laughing. “I’m getting old.”
The next night, the Bulls gave Wilson his first district title since 2015 with a 1-0 overtime win over No. 1-seed Steinbrenner. The Bulls eventually bowed out of the state playoffs this season in the second round.
Off The Field Success, Too
Success for Wilson isn’t just what happens on the field — it comes in the legacy of a program, its growth, its traditions. The biggest point of pride, according to Wilson, is seeing those early players return to give back to their former programs, while his current players buy into the athletic culture they are helping to shape.
“The continuity of our program and the consistency started with the first group, that group being around for four years, set the bar,” Wilson says. “They started coming back after they graduated for summer stuff and supported the guys they left behind.”
“That’s so important having those players come back and let the younger guys know what this time here meant to them. Letting them know that the memories they had of high school (athletics) was the most fun they had and that’s trickled down. Every group after them has tried to raise the bar another level.”
Chris Madden, a member of Wilson’s first soccer team at WRH in 2006 and the current Competition & Development Director for the United Soccer League, remembers the first year of soccer at the school, playing without a senior class, and the struggles that squad had to overcome. Even then, Madden noted, the players knew Wilson was preparing them for successes ahead.
“We had a rough go that first year, but Coach Wilson, in all the years I played for him, always instilled a desire to be our best,” Madden says. “I think that is rare these days. I think he really understood the desires of young players and how to make them want to play and become better players.”
Four years later, the Bulls soccer team won 18 games, finished as the District runner-up and made the program’s first state series appearance.
For Madden, it was Wilson’s dedication to the kind of people his players would become, that shines over their successes on the field or courts. That, he says, is what has brought him back to his alma mater for the last 10 years to help out as an assistant coach for the Bulls.
“Getting to coach with him for about the last 10 years has been really important to me, because if I were to give credit to someone for helping me in my career in soccer today, I’d credit Coach Wilson, for sure,” Madden says. “You can tell he cares about you off the field, and when you are looking for someone to be that mentor, that’s very important. He made us want to play for him.”
Wilson’s third “coaching” job at Wiregrass Ranch comes as the school’s athletic director, and he approaches that position the same way he does his role as leader to his student-athletes.
“My belief, and what I preach to all of our other coaches here at Wiregrass Ranch, is that the experience has to outweigh the outcome,” Wilson says. “You can win a state title, but if you are being screamed at and made miserable the whole time, then it’s really not worth doing. We really focus on things so when these kids look back on their high school athletics in 10 years, this really was the best time of their lives.”