Sherman Wood is building leaders on the SU gridiron

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For the last several days, there’s been an air of disappointment on the Salisbury University campus when it comes to the Sea Gulls’ recent football performance.

A “when will this game end?” outing just over a week ago — a 43-5 home-opener loss to No. 4-ranked Wesley College of Dover — had spirits lagging even before October’s arrival.

Did head football coach Sherman Wood share in that disappointment? Undoubtedly.

To Wood, did his team’s sluggish performance suggest the remainder of the 2014 campaign would be such a downer? Absolutely not.

With a proven history as a winner — in the classroom, as a player on football teams and has a coach prowling a sideline — Wood has won a lot more than he’s lost. SU’s football leader of the past 15 years knows what losing is all about, but he also knows how to turn poor performers into winners.

The resume is a winner’s:

Entering his 16th season as head coach, Wood is the all-time winningest coach in program history with a record of 108-53 through 15 seasons. Wood has won four conference titles, two in the Empire 8 Athletic Conference and two in the Atlantic Central Football Conference, and has led the Sea Gulls to six NCAA tournament berths, the ECAC Southeast Bowl Championship, the ECAC South Atlantic Bowl Championship and the ECAC Southwest Bowl Championship.

Just last year, Wood led Salisbury to the ECAC South Atlantic Bowl Championship, defeating Muhlenberg College, 21-19.

Salisbury placed 12 student-athletes on the all-conference teams. Senior cornerback Andre Carter was named the Defensive Player of the Year and junior punter Kyle Hamby repeated as Special Teams Player of the Year.

Wood’s 2011 team had the program’s deepest run in the NCAA tournament since the Sea Gulls went to the Amos Alonzo Stagg Bowl in the 1986 season. SU advanced the NCAA quarterfinals before falling to the eventual national champion, the University of Wisconsin-Whitewater.

For his efforts, Wood was named American Football Coaches Association Region I Coach of the Year.

A 1984 graduate of Salisbury University and a four-year letterman on the Sea Gull football team, Wood returned to his alma mater in 1999 as the sixth head coach in program history. Prior to SU he spent six years in Division II as the head coach at Bowie State University.

Wood played defensive back for the Sea Gulls from 1980-83 and finished with seven career interceptions, including two returned for touchdowns.

He was a starter and team captain on the 1983 team that earned Salisbury’s first-ever NCAA tournament berth and advanced to the national semifinals. Wood earned all-state defensive back honors by The Baltimore Sun and recognition as a Street & Smith All-American during his career.

Wood began his collegiate coaching career as a volunteer assistant at Salisbury under Head Coach Mike McGlinchey in 1984 and became a graduate assistant coach for the Sea Gulls in 1985. He moved to Bowie State as a graduate assistant coach in 1986, coaching the defensive backs and special teams.

Originally from Norfolk, Va., Wood is a member of the AFCA and served on its All-America Selection Committee, the Rules Committees, Summer Manual Committee and the Minority Issues Committee. In 2006, Wood was honored with the Friend of Education Award presented at the Wicomico County Teacher of the Year Banquet.

Wood is a speaker at numerous sports clinics and has involved himself with a variety of local organizations. Wood currently is involved with the Junior Golf of Sunrise Rotary and has served on these community service committees: the Wicomico Youth Mentor Program, Horizons Program of the Salisbury School, Kids of Honor, the Salisbury Promise Program, SU Football Youth Mentor Program, Operation Teddy Bear and Salvation Army Youth Leadership Training.

Wood and his wife Tonya have one daughter, Sherece.

This weekend, SU will take its 1-1 record on the road, way up north for the Empire 8 conference opener at Buffalo State.

Q. You’re in your 16th season: 109 wins, six NCAA appearances and three ECAC bowl titles. Forgive me, but Salisbury isn’t regarded as a football school — your success would suggest that’s not the case, that it IS a football school.

A. When it comes to sports I am not sure whether Salisbury is considered a football, lacrosse, or field hockey school.

 Although all sport teams at SU are very good, football is a pretty popular sport.

I can’t worry about the success of other sports.

My job is to have a well-rounded, respectful program.

Q. What’s it like to coach at your alma mater?

A. It is an awesome feeling.

The tradition of SU football and Coach Mike McGlinchey motivates me to strive for the best.

In addition you tend to care more when working for your alma mater.

Q. You were on that 1983 team that many people consider the best team in SU’s history. Was it?

A. I do not want to take anything away from Levi Shade and the teams from the 1970s, but those teams in the 1980s — ’83, ’85 and ’86 — were the best.

I played on the 1983 team and was an assistant coach for the ’85 team. Although the 1986 team made it to the Stagg Bowl, members of that team who played on the ’83 team would probably tell you the ’83 team had the best team chemistry and defense.

The defense only gave up nine points a game in the regular season and was a 2-point conversion from reaching the Stagg Bowl.

Q. That was a pretty incredible team with you leading the defense as captain and Robb Disbennett setting passing records on offense.

A. Words cannot explain that team, but was no other team as close as we were.

Not only did we go into each game expecting to win, we expected to dominate!

Q. What are the unique challenges that you face as a Division III school?

A. Recruiting is the biggest challenge. Every student-athlete believes they will play Division I.

Not only is that a challenge, but due to our economy parents are seeking athletic scholarships.

Once the smoke clears and recruits realizes they are not Division I, then they tend to focus on the quality of our university and football program.

Q. How hard is the recruiting process like these days?

A. Recruiting goes on 362 days of the year — not including Christmas Eve, Christmas and New Year’s Eve.

Q. What’s more important? Recruiting? Game-planning and management? Mentoring and coaching?

A. All of those things are extremely important, but recruiting is the most important.

Q. How does it feel to know the lessons you teach these young men will stay with them for the rest of their lives?

A. More than 300 graduates from my program have achieved important professions — they’re doctors, lawyers, business owners, police officers, Secret Service agents, pastors, teachers, and coaches, just to name a few.

I run a program designed to create leaders while learning to be productive citizens.

Q. Any particular players on whom you’re proud to have made a mark?

A. I do not isolate any of my players. They all are success stories, especially those from single-parent families or a disadvantaged environment.

To come from that environment and graduate from SU is all the success you need.

Q. What coaches had the greatest impact on you?

A. There were plenty of coaching influences on me:

Mike McGlinchey, Hank Janczyk (the current head lacrosse coach at Gettysburg College), David Dolch and Sanders Shiver.

Mike McGlinchey recruited me and was a father figure to me.

Hank Janczyk was the person who asked me to coach with him, which motivated me to believe that I could be a pretty good coach.

David Dolch hired me as his first ever graduate assistant and special teams coordinator at Bowie State.

Sanders Shiver (a former player for the Baltimore Colts and Miami Dolphins) provided my first full-time position as Defensive Coordinator.

Q. What athletic figures, or anyone else, might you regard as your role models?

A. Lee Iaccoca, John Wooden, Eddie Robinson, Joe Paterno and Joe Taylor.

I mimic my organizational skills after Lee Iaccoca. His leadership books really inspired me at an early age to succeed through organization.

John Wooden won 10 national championships in a row at UCLA. That alone is worth studying.

Did you know John Wooden would always read a Bible verse and the front page of the newspaper before he read or listened to sports?

I had the great privilege to meet and coach against Eddie Robinson – an amazing person, recruiter and coach.

I admired Joe Paterno because he kept things simple — like the plain black and white uniforms — and still won.

Joe Taylor (former Hampton University coach) was a great mentor to me. He emphasized the importance of professional development seminars.

 Q. In just your fourth year, back in 2002, you led the Gulls to their best record in the previous 16 years — really putting the school back on the map. What are the leadership traits that one must employ to make such turnarounds happen?

A. Some of the keys are administrative support, recruiting and hiring a loyal staff.

Q. Tell me about the improvements that are coming to the stadium.

A. We’re really excited about the new stadium.

Not only will it help recruiting, but the current student-athletes deserve this as well.

Q. What can we in the community do to support SU Football?

A. Support our students by attending games — this is all I ask.

We support the community by giving back. We just ask the same in return.

Q. What is your goal for SU Football?

A. As a player, I played in the national semifinal game.

I want our players to experience the feeling to compete for a national championship.

Q. You are extremely active in the community and participate in numerous programs that help and involve kids.

A. I believe every football program should be heavily involved with community service.

We are involved with more than 20 community service projects a semester.

Visiting and reading to elementary students, hosting students on campus, and hosting the NFL “Play For 60” are just a few projects for our program.

However, the most gratifying project to me was working with the Chesapeake Housing Commission building a ramp for an elder woman at her home.

Q. What are some of the unique problems that you see these kids facing?

A. Not having a father figure, or having stability within the household.

Q. With your success, you’re undoubtedly in demand at other schools. Why have you chosen to keep Salisbury as your home?

A. It’s my alma mater!

Greg Bassett is editor and general manager of Salisbury Independent. Reach him at gbassett@newszap.com

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