John Wiley knew Davis High School’s reputation for athletic and academic excellence.
When he learned the Blue Devil football head coaching position was open, “I couldn’t pass on the opportunity.”
In a crowded field of candidates (20 people applied), Wiley emerged last week as the choice of the selection committee and local administrators.
On Thursday, Davis schools trustees validated Wiley’s selection.
“Davis has all the homey feel that (I was) accustomed to growing up in Opelika, Alabama,” the former Christian Brothers High School defensive coordinator told The Enterprise. “Everybody comes out to the game on Friday nights; a community school with a lot of great supporters.”
DHS Principal Will Brown, in a letter to the Davis Board of Education, said Wiley would be an inspirational ambassador and has a vision for making the Blue Devil football program once again “a regional power.”
Brown went on to say that Wiley understands the Davis program, would provide “clear expectations to student-athletes and parents” and has the ability to evaluate talent.
Wiley, 43, is a former All-SEC defensive back at Auburn before brief stints with the Chicago Bears and the Sacramento Gold Miners of the CFL. He coached at Sacramento State and most recently was part of coach George Petrissans’ staff that orchestrated a Christian Brothers turnaround from 1-9 in 2011 to 9-4 last fall — a season that included two Division III postseason victories.
“He is a man of integrity who believes in the greatness our kids can achieve,” Brown told the board. “We share a belief that Davis High can represent Northern California in a state championship bowl.
“With John Wiley, I believe we have found the man who can take us there.”
When Wiley arrives, there’s some work to do …
Under Marc Hicks in 2013 and Steve Smyte the season before, DHS has posted back-to-back 5-5 records. That’s a far cry from the previous four years — 7-32 — but it’s not close to “state championship bowl” status.
Davis last made the playoffs in 2007, during coach Jim Johnson’s final campaign.
Wiley’s says he knows the challenges, and his acclimation “will begin immediately.”
“My first thought is to go in there, especially over the next 30 to 60 days, sit back and observe, give people a chance to get to know me and for me to get the opportunity to know people … from the coaching staff last year, the players that are returning as well as the (seniors) from last season,” explains Wiley, whose Auburn teams won three straight SEC titles (1988-90).
Wiley — whose coaching stipend will be $4,298 — says talking to senior-year Blue Devils will allow for honest dialog. He says he wants to know “what they liked, what they didn’t like, what they thought should have been different.”
Wiley says the guys who aren’t returning “have nothing to lose about being open and honest about the program and what direction they want to see the program go.”
Wiley didn’t rule out members of Hicks’ staff — or Hicks himself — being asked to return.
Asked about what Devil fans can expect on the field this fall, Wiley said there’s a lot to consider, but hinted at what’s coming.
“High school is different from college,” the Elk Grove resident explains. “Colleges recruit guys to fit your program. High school can be a changing process each and every year.
“My hope is to review talent from last year, review game tapes (from varsity and junior varsity games). If we have a QB that can sling it all over the place like Folsom (Jake Browning), then let’s sling it all over the place.
“A dominant line that can be very physical, and we can run … then let’s run the ball.”
Regardless of the offense, Wiley says DHS has to build a defense that will be “consistent and strong. Like they say, ‘Offense sells tickets, defense wins games.’ ”
Wiley adds that it all starts “with our lines, on both sides of the ball.”
“And we can’t win unless we are strong in front — and that starts with our offseason conditioning: get strong, be prepared to maintain it … we have to get ready to play 15 weeks, not just 10.”
Devil Nation has to like that kind of thinking: Put playoffs in the psyche of every local player now.
Notes: The personable, straight-forward Wiley was asked which conference he thought was stronger, Pac-12 or SEC: “That’s not even a question, is it?” the ex-Tiger asked with a laugh. But the former Chicago teammate of Jim Harbaugh did say he liked how Stanford played power ball. “I’d love to bring SEC-style to California. We’re going to be a physical-type of team, hit people in the mouth and not shy away.” Wondering where that philosophy came from? Wiley played for Mike Ditka in Chicago. … Wiley and his wife Melanie have two children, Jared, 9, and Julianna, 5. Melanie is a manager with Apple. … From the Off on the Right Foot Dept.: “Of all the schools (in the Sacramento area), Davis is one of the best schools — if not THE best school — and it affords the opportunity to be successful at football,” says the new coach, who will continue to teach math and physical education (cardio-kick-boxing) at Christian Brothers.
— Jeff Hudson contributed to this story. Reach Bruce Gallaudet at [email protected] or 530-320-4456.