Wofford coaching legend Ayers retires

(STATS) – Mike Ayers says he still has a newspaper article at home from prior to the Wofford football program’s move to Division I in 1995.

“They stated, ‘Wofford would never win a Southern Conference championship. Wofford would be the whipping boy of the Southern Conference,’” Ayers said Wednesday in announcing his retirement from coaching following a highly successful, 30-year career with the Terriers.

Ayers made it a fun point at his retirement news conference to remind everyone about the reporter’s incorrect forecast.

He was wrong because Ayers never stopped building the program upward. As the curtain came down on his legendary career, Ayers leaves as Wofford’s winningest coach with a 207-139-1 record and five Southern Conference titles. His final season ended this past weekend in the FCS quarterfinals for the second consecutive year.

“I love Wofford. I wasn’t smart enough to go to Wofford or graduate from Wofford, but I was smart enough to take the head coaching job,” he said. “It afforded me an opportunity, my family an opportunity to have a wonderful life.”

Ayers, 69, also coached three seasons at East Tennessee State from 1985-87 and compiled a 218-160-2 overall record.

The Kentucky native stayed at home to attend Georgetown College and was a Wofford assistant from 1980-82, later returning in 1988 when the Terriers were still on the Division II level. He was a defensive strategist whose teams were known more for offenses that ran the triple option to keep defenses off-balance and win games by predominantly rushing the ball.

Ayers succeeded at the tiny school in Spartanburg, South Carolina, despite its enrollment being one of the smallest in the FCS. In 2003, he won the STATS FCS Eddie Robinson Award for national coach of the year after leading Wofford to the SoCon title and the national semifinals. The Terriers also won conference titles in 2007, 2010, 2012 and with this year’s 10-3 team.

In his first season, he took over a program that was 1-10 the year before and went 5-5. The following year’s team went 6-5 as the first of 21 to post a winning record during his tenure.

Ten of Ayers’ teams advanced to the postseason. This year’s team beat Furman in the FCS playoffs before being eliminated by North Dakota State last Saturday.

“The thing that always inspired me to come to work,” Ayers said, “was the staff, the environment and the people that I worked with every day. And last, but not least, that group of kids that we talked into coming here and made them believe that they would have the opportunity to be successful here in every realm from the athletic aspect to the academic aspect and the social aspect.”

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