Blount Press Row

A Few Good Men

Rader, Ierulli, Wilks each deserving credit for MC breakthrough season

DSC_0003Former Maryville College football coach Tony Ierulli, left, and current coach Mike Rader talk recruiting at a Maryville High School game. Photos by Brandon Shinn

By Stefan Cooper
Blount Press Row

The Maryville College football team had been decimated before it left town that Friday morning.

The Scots storm Honaker Field for a game last fall.

The Scots storm Honaker Field for a game last fall.

A campus-wide bout with the flu hadn’t spared the Scots. Forty-two players, less than half the roster, boarded the bus for Hampden-Sydney.

Maryville was humbled the next day, 82-14.

Tony Ierulli wasn’t looking for vengeance when the Scots returned to Hampden-Sydney for an NCAA Division III playoff opener two months ago. The Tigers hadn’t run up the score during the 2003 meeting.

It was the last game of Ierulli’s first season. The seniors wanted to play, so they made the best of it.

Ierulli was let go as Maryville coach eight years later. In the two years since, new Scots coach Mike Rader has delivered back-to-back conference championships and the first Maryville team to reach the NCAA playoffs in school history.

Rader, the USA South Athletic Conference Coach of the Year, has been a terrific hire in all respects. He’s 14-7 at the Maryville helm, 11-3 in conference play. The rub lies in giving Ierulli his due, and he’s due some, when it comes to Maryville’s historic season – as is Phil Wilks, the coach dismissed to make room for Ierulli.

Maryville All-American linebacker Dylan Wolfenbarger closes on a Greensboro ball carrier.

Maryville All-American linebacker Dylan Wolfenbarger (42) closes on a Greensboro ball carrier.

As pivotal a moment as any in the history of Maryville football was the decision to leave the Old Dominion Athletic Conference in 1988. The scheduling challenges it unleashed had terrible consequences, with Wilks, for years, absorbing the brunt.

Often, to complete a 10-game season, Maryville was forced to schedule teams the Scots had no business playing: NAIA schools looking to move to NCAA Division II (Tusculum); former junior colleges with huge, lingering recruiting advantages (North Greenville); recent Division III national champions (Wittenberg).

Wilks and his Scots paid a steep price to keep football alive at Maryville. It would be no different for Ierulli.

Maryville helped found the Great South Athletic Conference in 1999, giving most Scots teams a conference title and an automatic NCAA tournament berth to play for each season. Most Great South schools didn’t have football, so Wilks and the gridiron Scots remained independent, the scheduling and difficulty reaching postseason no different.

After that first season in 2003, Ierulli made getting Maryville into a conference for football his No. 1 priority. With then dean of students Bill Seymour championing the effort with the administration, Maryville joined the USA South in 2005, Ierulli’s third season.

Scots tight end Jared Miller (88) waits for the snap.

Scots tight end Jared Miller (88) waits for the snap.

November’s historic playoff appearance doesn’t happen if Maryville doesn’t make that move.

All Maryville teams joined the USA South with the 2012-2013 school year. By that point, Ierulli had begun to fall prey to the same thing that took an increasing toll during Wilks’ tenure: money to hire coaches.

Ierulli had one of the youngest coaching staffs you’ve ever seen toward the end. Many of his assistants coaches were recent Maryville players.

He was allotted $70,000 to pay three coaches his first season. The football budget, excluding salaries and travel, was $49,000. It reached $80,000 by Ierulli’s final season. That final season in 2011, the third and last paid assistant on Ierull’s staff took home $24,000.

Jim Pavao, Wilks’ close friend and defensive coordinator, worked a second job during his time at Maryville.

“I was shocked at some of what Phil did with so few resources,” Ierulli said.

Ierulli took home $50,000 in his final season. Soon, he was not only losing his assistants to other colleges; they were leaving for high school jobs.

Ierulli’s dismissal shortly after the final game of the 2011 season sparked a firestorm as players, faculty, staff and alumni took sides. Maryville’s reasons for letting him go we’ll leave between the school and the coach. That’s not what this is about.

Ed Johnson gets up for a big grab.

Ed Johnson gets up for a big grab.

With the suddenness Rader has given Maryville a national presence, the belief has begun to take root Ierulli, and Wilks before him, just couldn’t coach, and that just isn’t the case.

In his brief stay, Ierulli actually became the third winningest coach in school history.

As the search for Ierulli’s successor commenced, many friends of the program got a look at the numbers. When they settled on Rader, they made sure, this time, the new coach got everything he needed to build a winner. Maryville defensive coordinator Scott Brumett and offensive line/strength coach Phillip Bailey have been worth every penny.

Brumett crafted the USA South’s top defense in his first season a year ago, the Scots finishing second in total defense this fall. Under his guidance, senior linebacker Dylan Wolfenbarger joined a rare few Scots to be named an All-American.

Bailey’s work with the guys up front helped senior running back Travis Felder set a new Maryville single-season rushing record. The Scots had the USA South’s top-ranked running game largely as a consequence. Bailey’s program in the weight room produced a fitter Maryville team that kept its starters on the field for the duration of the season

That said the Scots weren’t in tatters when Ierulli was let go.

New Maryville single-season rusher leader Travis Felder wards off a Christopher Newport tackler.

New Maryville single-season rusher leader Travis Felder wards off a Christopher Newport tackler.

Maryville won four of its last five games that season. Recruiting was on the upswing. Felder, Wolfenbarger, receivers Ed Johnson and Blake Williams, tight end Jared Miller and defensive end Jamie Owen, all were Ierulli recruits.

Put with the Scots Rader brought aboard – sophomore quarterback Evan Pittenger, freshmen running backs Trenton Shuler and Deshijon Whitlock, to name a few – and Maryville has been an electric team the last two seasons. Ierulli left them some parting gifts to get started.

Scheduling Tennessee Tech two years ago seemed an outrageous thing. The Golden Eagles, who compete in the NCAA’s Football Championship Subdivision, are a program where most of the players are on athletic scholarship.

That Maryville team, that game, specifically, paid for $25,000 in new field equipment, practice sleds, weight room equipment and some of the uniform upgrades the Scots took the field in the following season.

Scots quarterback Evan Pittenger gives to Felder.

Scots quarterback Evan Pittenger gives to Felder.

When Ierulli was relieved of his duties, it wasn’t simply a coach losing his job. Ierulli is a Maryville graduate. He met his wife, Carol, there. Two of his children graduated from Maryville. He was captain of the football team his senior year.

Ierulli moved to Carson-Newman after leaving Maryville, where he’s served as an assistant coach the last two seasons. He’s kept up with the Scots. Rader and he not only have a good professional relationship, they understand each other on a fundamental level.

Ierulli himself was once a young coach starting out.

“Coach Rader and I have talked the last two years,” Ierulli said, “and he’s a class guy. If I was looking for a football coach, I’d hire Mike Rader.”

Ierulli’s dismissal had the unintended consequence of informing alumni how underfunded football was at Maryville. Influential alumni then got involved in the search for his replacement and, once Rader was hired, made sure he wasn’t burdened with the same shackles.

Shazam! Maryville became a winner.

Trenton Shuler races through a gaping hole against Greensboro.

Trenton Shuler races through a gaping hole.

There’s a line from the Lorraine Hansberry classic “A Raisin in the Sun” that best sums it up.

The play’s protagonist, Walter, has just lost all the insurance money the family received from his father’s death on a failed business venture. Walter’s sister, Beneatha, doesn’t cut him any slack and rails on him for losing the dough. That’s when the play’s heroine, Lena, the mom, steps in with the production’s most memorable line.

“When you starts measuring somebody, measure him right, child,” she says, “measure him right. Make sure you done taken into account what hills and valleys he come through before he got to wherever he is.”


  1. bob

    February 10, 2014 at 10:16 pm

    I understand the loyalty and love former players have for their old coach .The good ol’ days are always remembered better than they actually were. Several coaches before Wilks and Ierulli shared the same obstacles i.e. lack of funding, no conference ,etc. , and produced winning teams. In two short years , Coach Rader and his staff have posted two winning seasons , two conference championships , and a post season playoff game. Coach Rader was also a finalist in the Liberty Mutual Coach of the Year. Coach Rader , his staff , and his team have accomplished what other teams only dreamed of , and the best is yet to come !

  2. Brian

    January 31, 2014 at 2:26 am

    Stefan, what a great article that you wrote on the history of MC football during the past 25 years. As a former player under Coach Wilks and Coach Ierulli, it was embarrassing to find out the lack of financial support MC gave the football program. We always thought the basketball and volleyball teams had no problem having enough money for their programs. In fact, our equipment situation was so bad when Coach Ierulli took over that he raised around $70,000 in just his first 3-4 months to buy us new home/away uniforms, helmets, shoulder pads, field and weight equipment.

    Talking to several football alums, they appreciate you setting the record straight in this very fair and balanced article.

    Keep up the good work………..

  3. Jay Malone

    January 29, 2014 at 10:15 am

    I had the privilege to play for Phil Wilks for my last three years as a Scot. When he was hired in 1988 we were 1-9 the season before. His first three seasons showed improvement: 2-7, 4-6, 5-5. Coach Wilks gave me my first coaching opportunity as a student assistant coach while I was completing my degree requirements and we were 7-3 that season. He taught me so much about class and character as a coach. As a coach of 22 years, a lot of who I am today is because of Phil Wilks. When Coach Ierulli came to MC we immediately developed a great relationship. I had a great respect for his MC ties and family members that were on campus. He brought a new sense of excitement and passion to MC football. He was pivotal in MC becoming a member of a football conference once again. MC had not been in a football conference since my freshman season in 1987. Coach Ierulli also took MC football to new heights in his legacy. I was impressed with Mike Rader, the man, before Mike Rader, the Coach. The record greatly speaks for itself. Say no more. He, too, is a man of faith, family, and football. I wish him and his staff continued success. Success always comes from many, and I am thankful for the great contributions of all three of these fine men. Thank-you for playing a part in the MC Football legacy. Once a Scot, always a Scot, Jay Malone

  4. Christian Ozolins

    January 27, 2014 at 6:59 pm

    Coach Wilks is one of greatest coaches and greatest person I have ever had the privilege to work for. He gave me my first full time job in coaching and I am forever great full. He deserved to be inducted in the HOF along time ago.

  5. Julie

    January 25, 2014 at 12:19 am

    I knew Coach Ierulli’s wife, Carol and her family for many years. You never met a family who loved Maryville College more than the Hurst family. Carol’s father, Eldria, was the head campus security guard for 30 years. Carol’s mother, Etta, worked in the campus cafeteria and dormitories for almost 20 years. Their children attended Maryville and their son, Mike, was the football team’s manager for 9 years. The Hurst family lived on-campus at the Alexander House from 1962-1995. The family’s home was Maryville College. They took family picnics, walks and learned how to ride bikes on the Maryville campus.

    The countless young men and women the family has come across for almost 50 years while helping them make the journey through their Maryville years made an impact to many MC grads.

    Much love and respect to the Hurst and Ierulli families….

  6. Bill Sliwa

    January 17, 2014 at 6:36 pm

    I was there as an assistant football coach, full time, in 1992. Made $12,000 a year and also needed a second job to live. We had 3 “full time” coaches and guess the whole staff made $90,000 total. Yet we won more than we lost every year. We had great kids.
    Came back years later and FB still not treated any better. Head coach making less than assistant directors of student life and admissions. Tony did a great job with what he had. Great job Coach Radar, we are all proud and I know he knows the blood shed for the current Fighting Scots.

  7. Brad Hurst

    January 16, 2014 at 7:25 pm

    I had the privilege of playing under Coach Wilks for 2 seasons. He taught integrity and hard work. I remember the difficulties in scheduling that is mentioned in this article. In 1992 we took a bus ride to Erie, Pa. to play Mercyhurst. Took 2 days by bus to get there. It was difficult times but it turned out to be some of the best years of my life. I would not be the man I am today without Phil Wilks and Jim Pavao in my life. Go Scots!

  8. Kyle

    January 16, 2014 at 5:20 pm

    I played for the Scots and Coach Wilks in the 90s. We knew exactly how underfunded our program was and what was stacked against us with the scheduling challenges. Many of us have fought for years for better support and funding for this program because we knew what the potential was. I’m happy to see the success and support. Don’t stop now!! Go Scots!!

  9. Dan

    January 14, 2014 at 12:10 am

    I played on Coach Ierulli’s teams during his first 3 years at MC. He took a program that was down & out and changed it into a solid program despite virtually no help from the administration. He always put his players first and taught us that success came through hard work with no shortcuts.

    One lasting memory of Coach I was in 2004 when his grandmother passed away during the middle of the season. Coach left Tuesday’s practice with about 15 minutes left in order to catch a plane flight to Florida, attended the funeral in the morning, flew back to Maryville and arrived as we were stretching before our Wednesday practice. To say the least, we never expected to see Coach back at practice the next day…..

    Coach loved his family, but also loved his players. We truly appreciated what he did for us that week and rewarded Coach with a win that weekend. He might be a Carson-Newman Eagle, but deep down he will always be a Fighting Scot.

  10. Hubert Payne

    January 13, 2014 at 11:43 pm

    Coach Ierulli was an amazing coach. I love this article. He deserves a lot of credit for building a program based on substantial things. He cares about about his players off the field as well. The way he handled the tough times with the big picture in mind was the best example I could get as a young man in his program.
    Go Scots! #34

  11. Nicole

    January 12, 2014 at 2:03 pm

    Great article and well written! I hope Wilks, Ierulli, all their players, and staff get the positive recognition that they deserve. I know Coach Wilks and Coach Ierulli. They are both great men and worked hard to improve the football program! I wish nothing but the best for the future of the MC football program. Also, good luck Coach Ierulli at Carson Newman University. Fellow MC alumni will be here supporting you since you are part of our MC family!

  12. Jim

    January 11, 2014 at 9:35 am

    When tornados hit the Greenback area a couple of years ago, Coach Ierulli was there with 30 of his football players helping families cleaning up the damage to their homes. My aunt’s home was one of those homes. The Scots football players were the only group from Maryville College that helped our community. I wish Coach I nothing but the best in his future. He was a good coach, but even a better man!!!

  13. Steve

    January 11, 2014 at 12:33 am

    Great article Stefan. One of the best articles written by any sports writer in the area for several years. Shows why Stefan is the best in the area. Article shows what a class guy Coach Ierulli is with his complimentary comments about Radar. Best wishes to Coach at Carson-Newman. By the way, CN has made it to the national playoffs in each of the 2 years that Coach Ierulli has been a member of the Eagles staff.

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