It was 70 degrees in Norfolk, Va., on Monday. But Bob Wilder wasn’t going to rub it in.
The Madison native and head football coach at Old Dominion University, who spent 22 years as a player and assistant coach at the University of Maine, still misses his alma mater.
“When you spend 22 years of your life at one institution, you build relationships that last a lifetime,” said the 45-year-old Wilder. “That’s what I miss the most.”
But Wilder, wife Pam and sons Derek and Drew have adapted well to life in Norfolk.
“We love it here,” he said.
And the school’s first football season produced a surprising 9-2 record.
“It’s going as well as could be expected. The fact we were the best startup program in the history of college football speaks volumes about what has been accomplished,” said the former Maine quarterback.
“The [preseason] predictions from the media had us finishing 4-7 or 5-6 so we certainly exceeded everyone’s expectations,” said Wilder, who was named the school’s first head coach on Feb. 13, 2007.
Wilder spent the next year and a half involved in all aspects of the program including the facilities, hiring a staff and recruiting players. They practiced for a year before playing their first game as a Football Championship Subdivision independent this past fall.
They will compete as an independent again next season before joining the Colonial Athletic Association in 2011.
The school spent $25 million on renovating its stadium, which holds 19,782; they have a $17 million practice facility and they have the full allotment of athletic scholarships (63).
Wilder brought four assistants from Maine: ODU defensive coordinator Andrew Rondeau, offensive coordinator Brian Scott, special teams coordinator/running backs coach Mike Zyskowski and quarterback coach Ron Whitcomb.
“With all respect to the University of Maine, these [assistant coaches] all received substantial raises to come here,” said Wilder.
ODU averaged the nation’s third-most points (35 per game) and had the ninth best rushing offense (216.7 yards per game). Its offense was 18th best at 399 ypg.
Waterville’s Scott was one of four finalists for the FCS Offensive Coordinator of the Year.
Wilder said 80 percent of their players are from Virginia and 40 percent of them are from “within 20 minutes of the school.”
The other 20 percent are junior college transfers from California and Kansas and high school players from primarily Washington D.C., Maryland and North Carolina.
“The reason we brought in junior college kids was so we could get some older players who had played college football and were physically developed,” explained Wilder. “The biggest difference here [compared to Maine] is we recruit against Division I teams.”
His recruiting philosophy is to recruit “great people, great students and great football players” and the school provides “summer school for scholarship players and that is a huge benefit.”
ODU sold out every game and was fifth in the country among 125 schools in attendance, he said.
Wilder opened the season with wins over Division II schools but he is upgrading his schedule so they will be replaced by FCS semifinalist William and Mary from the CAA and Cal Poly next fall.
“That will be a real test for our team to see if we can compete against teams like William and Mary and Cal Poly which are traditional playoff teams,” he said.