Ken Wilson might be Nevada football’s first-year head coach, but he’s as knowledgeable about the Wolf Pack’s history and tradition as you’ll find this side of Chris Ault.
And on Friday, Wilson officially announced a series of changes coming to Nevada football this season that will return some of the program’s traditional elements. Among those:
* Moving the team from the west sidelines to the east sidelines during games
* Making blue the Wolf Pack’s primary helmet color
* And the return of the Striker Award, a silver stripe down the middle of the helmet of the Wolf Pack’s most outstanding players
Wilson originally mentioned these items during a Monday Mailbag guest spot last week but offered further elaboration during Friday’s NSN Daily as the season-ticket renewal deadline for Nevada football fans approaches. Nevada played from the east sidelines during Wilson’s entire tenure, and it’s where he feels the best.
“It’s where I’m most comfortable and where we won a lot of championships,” Wilson said. “There’s a lot of reasons why we did it strategically and schematically. But the biggest was when I got here so many people that I met in the community, former players, the two things they were always asking were, ‘Are we going to move back to the east sideline?’ and ‘Are we going to go back to blue helmets?’ And we’re working on both those things right now.”
Wilson said the move to the east sidelines harkens back to the team’s historical placement, but it also should offer a competitive advantage.
“When you play day games in the fall here, the shade comes over the press box side very early in the game,” Wilson said. “And so the team in the shade on that side of the field, they’re much colder. So you bring in teams from the South or from warm-weather climates and you put them over in that shade in November, December, as the day goes that’s a big advantage for the team that’s over there warm in the sunshine. And secondarily, I’d only say 10 to 15 percent of college football teams have the home sideline on the press box side. Most teams put their home team away from the press box, so the visiting coaches up in the press box can’t watch you make adjustments, watch your injury situation, watch things going on with your sideline or your signals. So it’s really a much bigger advantage for us to be away from our press box side.”
Wilson said the team’s entrance into the stadium is easier if it’s docked on the east sideline, and communication is easier from that part of the stadium as well. Wilson, who worked for Nevada from 1989-2012, mostly as an assistant football coach, said there are numerous examples of the team on the west sideline freezing up as the sun sank behind the press box.
“A lot of those games by the middle of the first quarter, the whole team would be over huddled around their little gas heaters and our guys are nice and warm in the sun playing football,” Wilson said. “That was something that we always took great pride in, was watching the visiting teams in the shade across the field, especially in the playoffs and late in the season. And I just think that was just another advantage along with the south end zone, the Zonies, the altitude, all the different things that made this a hard place to play. We want to bring that stuff back.”
Also coming back is the Striker Award, a stripe down the middle of a player’s helmet for Nevada’s standouts. It was arguably the most prestigious honor a Wolf Pack football player could earn. In the 1980s, the stripe was red, an odd choice given the hated rivalry with UNLV. It then turned to a silver stripe before being phased out of the program in recent years.
“To this day, it’s the best player award that I’ve seen in college football that the players like,” Wilson said. “There’s a lot of stickers and chains and stuff like that. The Striker Award was around long before I got here, but I was always so impressed. Even back in late-80s, it was a red stripe that was put on the helmet, which is crazy to think about now. But it was so important at that time that Strikers got that award and kept it so everybody knew who the striker was, who the dominant players were, who the guys that were above and beyond leadership-wise.
“It wasn’t always the best players. It was the hardest workers, the best leaders, the grinders, the guys that would take one-on-one battles and win so many of them during a game, and so many that their teammates and their coaches voted that award to them. And then they put an award on their helmet, and it was like gold to have that award.”
Wilson said Nevada is modernizing the stripe, which will have the word “Striker” on it. Given his long history with the program, Wilson has tried to imprint on the team’s current players the standard of excellence they’re expected to uphold. Wilson won nine conference championships (in three different leagues) as an assistant coach for the Wolf Pack. And he wants his players to know how those titles were won.
“I just remember teams that were not always the most talented, but were unwilling to lose and were unwilling to worry about the weather or the snow or wind or night or day games or who the opponent was on the other sideline,” Wilson said. “All they cared about was winning. And it didn’t matter who was a star, and it didn’t matter which side of the ball won the game or if it was special teams. It just mattered that the University of Nevada won that football game.
“And a lot of that came from Coach Ault and the coaches and the players who were here. They willed us to victories a lot of times when we probably shouldn’t have won those games and we didn’t have the better team on the field. But we had the team that was not going to lose on the field, and that’s what we’re trying to impress on our team right now to push this thing into the future.”
In addition to those future changes to the game-day setup, Nevada’s facilities also are undergoing major changes this offseason (roughly $5 million in improvements). That includes a new playing surface at Mackay Stadium (last changed prior to the 2010 season) and a renovated locker room and strength and conditioning center. Those improvements are already in the works and should be completed soon. It includes two Wolf Pack women’s teams also getting on-campus locker room space.
“A big expansion and a lot of work going on right now,” Wilson said. “The thing I like about it is it’s not just talk. It’s being done right now. You can you can see it, breathe it, feel it, look at it. And it’s happening right now. We are improving not only the football program , but athletics in general. And with the basketball facility, all the football improvements, new locker rooms for some of our female sports, a new track surface, hopefully we continue to grow. And I think big things are ahead for the University of Nevada athletic department.”
You can watch Ken Wilson’s full NSN Daily interview below.