Mark Wiedmer: Chattanooga Mocs coach Will Wade clearly not normal

Mark Wiedmer: Chattanooga Mocs coach Will Wade clearly not normal

May 15th, 2013 by Mark Wiedmer in Sports - Columns

Will Wade is introduced as the new men's head basketball coach at the UTC University Center.

Photo by Dan Henry/Times Free Press.

By all accounts, Jay Wade was a nearly perfect child. Great student. Determined athlete. Impeccable manners and behavior. Almost as perfect as his older brother, Will, the new men's basketball coach at the University of Tennessee at Chattanooga.

Yet much like 99.9 percent of teenagers, Jay occasionally blinked, which caused his parents, Sissy and Frank, to sometimes ask why such a hiccup had occurred.

"You don't understand," Jay explained to his parents one night, pointing to his brother's perceived perfection. "Will is not the normal one. I'm the normal one."

One could argue that when it comes to achievements, neither of the Wade sons is normal. It's certainly not normal for a 30-year-old Will to land his first head coaching job at a historically successful mid-major such as UTC, with its 10 NCAA tournament berths since 1981 and its 1997 run to the Sweet 16.

As for Jay, the 26-year-old is working at Chicago-Loyola and wrapping up his master's degree in counseling there. Pretty heady stuff all the way around.

But as we get to know more and more about Chattanooga's newest most eligible bachelor, it's clear that the new normal for UTC basketball will be to push for perfection on all fronts -- games, academics and personal behavior -- as much, if not more so, than at any time in the program's history.

"We're going to do things is a first-class manner both on and off the court," Will Wade said Tuesday. "We're going to love them hard and coach them hard. How you do things off the court often translates to how you do things off the court. If you're sloppy in your schoolwork, you're apt to be sloppy on the court."

You get the feeling that the closest Wade has ever come to sloppy might be eating a Sloppy Joe. And even then he probably used a fork.

But because sports writers enjoy posing such questions, yours truly asked both Sissy Wade -- Will's mother and the headmaster of Franklin Road Academy -- and his father for a funny or embarrassing fact about that son.

After several seconds, his mom replied, "He doesn't cook. Period."

Said his father after a similarly long pause: "Will was always such a pleasure to parent. He always did everything right."

See, definitely not normal.

But apparently always focused. Recalling how new UTC women's coach and Wade family friend Jim Foster once held the headphones cord for Vanderbilt football coach Gerry DiNardo during games when Foster was coaching the VU women, Ann Neely said she once watched Will walking around the family home with headphones on as Jay held the cord.

Another oddity: Frank and Will's father-son time together often has involved attending sporting events, especially those involving the hometown Commodores.

According to Frank, "We went to every Vanderbilt football game, both home and away, Will's senior year of high school."

Let the record show that the Commodores went 3-8 that season and 1-7 in the SEC. Yet Will and his father maintained perfect attendance. Admirable, but definitely not normal.

Then again, to hear Will's godmother, Jennie Bowman, tell it, sports is pretty much all he's ever been interested in.

"I'd want to take him to children's plays, an art show, a concert maybe," she said. "It was always no. He always wanted to go to a ballgame."

The tangible reasons for Mocs fans to feel good about their new coach are many.

After earning a loud ovation for retaining UTC interim head coach Casey Long on his new staff, Wade smartly said of at least one future staffer, "I'm going to get a guy with some head coaching experience."

Regarding scheduling he said, "I want to get the best opponents we can for our fans."

And concerning those fans, Wade added, "I'm not just going to be recruiting players, but recruiting fans. I need to get out in the community and meet people."

It won't all go as easily as Wade expects it to, of course. What makes sports so appealing is its uncertainty and imperfection.

But after one day on the job, the 18th head coach of the Mocs seems like the perfect choice to establish a new, improved normal at UTC.

Or as Wade said of a Monday conversation with former UTC great Brandon Born: "You could sense the pride he had in this program. We're going to get that back."

Some would say that's returning UTC men's basketball to normal.