When Wayne State Universitydirector of athletics Rob Fournier selected Paul Winters to become the school’s 19th head football coach in 2003, many Detroiters wondered, who is this guy?
Fournier knew Winters’ abilities, noting that “Paul had all the qualities” WSU had identified as necessary for a football coach. “He has a proven record of success in working with student-athletes both on and off the playing field,” Fournier said.
Winters’ first two years were indeed uneventful as he tried to implement his offensive and defensive systems. In the 2004 season WSU finished a woeful 1-9 and followed that up the next year with a 3-7 campaign.
However, methodically and with purpose Winters has turned the Warriors program into a solid and respectable one. In 2006 he went 6-5 and in 2008 the team leaped to 8-3.
Before accepting the job at WSU, Winters spent nine years at the University of Akron as running backs coach/offensive coordinator and prior to that was on the staff at the University of Wisconsin for five years.
Winters played high school football in Akron and then moved to the University of Akron where he became the school’s seventh all-time leading rusher and was named 1980 UA Athlete of the Year. Winters, 50, was inducted into the UA Athletic Hall of Fame in 1990.
Displaying that he is a very proficient offensive mind, drawing on his own knowledge as a running back, he helped turn Joique Bell into the NCAA Division II Player of the Year in 2009 after he scampered for an eye-popping 29 touchdowns and 2,084 rushing yards. Bell became the first WSU player named to the AFCA All-America squad since 1945, and was selected to play in the Senior Bowl.
Many wondered how could Winters, a two-time Great Lakes Intercollegiate Athletic Conference Coach of the Year (2006 and 2008), and his staff match the effort Bell’s class implemented? After all, his 2009 senior class produced the most wins by a class since 1978, the 2008 squad tied the school record for wins in a season (8), broke the school mark for conference wins in a year (7), and became the first team in school history to be ranked in the AFCA poll.
The 2010 season has produced undeniable evidence that Winters and his staff are headed in the right direct and are developing a program that should be able to sustain itself year-after-year.
The GLIAC split into divisions this season and Wayne State won the South Division title and finished the season ranked 12th, its highest finish in the coaches poll. The Warriors finished the regular season 9-2 and set school records for wins, conference wins (8) and points scored (347).
This season Winters turned a 5-foot-8, 187 pound, junior running back Josh Renel into a 1,249 rusher with 14 touchdowns. He ranked second in the country in all-purpose yards per game (213.3). However, his noteworthy season and a school-record number of victories couldn’t propel Wayne State into the postseason.
“Obviously we’re disappointed, we’re frustrated but what better motivation?” Winters told his team. “You know that you’ve beaten two of those teams (Mercyhurst in 2009 and Hillsdale this season) — one last year and one this year — that are playing. And you know you’re better. We absolutely know that we’re better than they are. If we want to get there next year, obviously we have to win every game. If we win every game they can’t keep us out.”
The Warriors were left out of the Division II playoffs by the NCAA selection committee because they claim their strength was not as strong as those pick ahead of them.
“When it comes to Wayne State, it was obviously a great season at 9-2,” NCAA committee chair Shawn Jones said in a telephone conference. “The thing that hurt Wayne State in this situation, one was certainly a loss to Michigan Tech, but also the strength of schedule numbers were not as favorable as those ranked ahead of Wayne State.”
As evident by WSU having a school record eight players make First Team All-GLIAC, the most of any school, Winters and his staff are surely coaching their players up and are a beacon to Detroit area college football.
Leland Stein can be reached at email@example.com.