John F. Wiley, the former Waynesburg University football coach who holds the highest career winning percentage in Waynesburg history, was a fundamental member of the Waynesburg community. In 1995, the late Yellow Jacket coach was forever immortalized on Waynesburg's campus when his moniker was used in the naming of John F. Wiley Stadium.
The beloved friend of the University passed away Monday, March 25, at the age of 92, leaving behind a legacy that will continue to inspire.
“He was one of the most important people in the development of Waynesburg University over the last century,” said Timothy R. Thyreen. “Without John Wiley, Waynesburg University would not be where it is today.”
Wiley grew up on a Greene County farm just along the West Virginia border. He attended Waynesburg University, where he played, and would eventually coach, football. During his time on the Yellow Jacket football team, Wiley played in the first-ever televised football game against Fordham University in 1939. That same season, he earned Little All-American Football honors.
In that first televised game, which took place at the New York World's Fair, Wiley kick-started his career with the NHL. Though noticed by a New York team, the talented young football player's plans to join the national league were interrupted by World War II.
After returning home from the Army, Wiley played tackle for the Pittsburgh Steelers from 1946 to 1950 and served as a scout for the team for a year. He traded his black and gold jersey for a black and orange one in 1951 by returning to Waynesburg University as the tenth football coach in program history.
As Waynesburg's head coach, Wiley instilled in his players the same values by which he lived his life. He coached with a smile and with an enthusiastic appreciation for the sport, but never let the game derail his sportsmanship or sense of perspective.
“He was more interested in the kids' development in academics,” said Thyreen. “All of his thoughts were on doing what was right; he had a profound sense of rightness.”
Thyreen remembers Wiley as a “Waynesburg man,” and said Wiley was the type of man that the University's 1849 founders envisioned students becoming upon graduation.
“There was no compromise in his integrity,” said Thyreen. “He was just a rock and steady, and yet he was a gracious gentleman. He would do what was right regardless of the consequences.”
Wiley compiled a 22-9-1 record in four seasons as head coach and his .710 winning percentage is the best in University history. He was also the first Waynesburg coach to defeat nearby rival Washington & Jefferson and is still one of only three coaches to accomplish that feat.
After his success at Waynesburg, Wiley took an opportunity to coach at another regional university, but his departure wasn't the end of his Waynesburg story: he served on the University Board of Trustees and as the Alumni Association president. He also received an Honorary Doctor of Humane Letters from the University in 1989.
Thyreen, whose leadership has transformed Waynesburg University over the last two decades, said that without Wiley, Waynesburg's return to its original mission of 1849 would not have been possible.
“When people would want to put the brakes on [Waynesburg's] transformation, he simply said no. He would say, 'This is who we are and what we are – we are going back to 1849.'”
Much has transformed at Waynesburg since Wiley was a student and a coach – the stadium, for one, didn't bear his name back then – but he continued feeling a connection to the Waynesburg University community for his entire life.
“The college sure has grown, and it's getting bigger than ever – better than ever, too. I'm just so proud,” Wiley said in a 2009 interview. “My whole family went to Waynesburg; we all think of Waynesburg as home.”