Wheeler Steps Down

Wheeler Steps Down

MARK WHEELER

Was Head PM Football Coach Four Years

After about three decades of coaching football, Parry McCluer High School head football coach Mark Wheeler has decided it’s time to step away from the sidelines.

Wheeler, 54, has been the Fighting Blues’ head coach for the last four years, during which he’s compiled a 19-23 overall record, leading PM to playoff wins in 2017 and 2018. His 2018 team went 7-5 and shared the Pioneer District title with Covington and Narrows. This year, in a season delayed from the fall by COVID-19, the Blues recovered from an 0-2 start to finish 4-3 overall and 3-2 in the district, ending the season with a 28-8 loss to Narrows in the Region 1C semifinals.

Wheeler will continue his role as the director of school counseling at PM. He’s been working in education for 28 years.

Of his decision to step down from coaching, Wheeler said, “I just feel like it is time to explore some other interests and opportunities. The sport of football has given me some of my highest highs and lowest lows, and I will always love it, but in life you just have to know when it’s time to move on. For me, that time is now.”

Wheeler was thinking about retiring last year, but after COVID-19 hit, he decided it was best to stay and help the team through the pandemic before hanging it up.

A 1985 PM graduate, Wheeler was a fullback and linebacker who helped the Blues win the 1983 state championship. He went on to play Division III football for Bridgewater College, where he began his coaching career as a student assistant coach for linebackers in 1989.

Wheeler’s coaching career continued when he was a graduate assistant at South Carolina State University from 1990-92, working with the offensive line, running backs and quarterbacks.

He went on to take a position as a defensive coordinator for seventh- and eighth-graders at Rockbridge Middle School for two years before coaching linebackers and tight ends at Rockbridge County High School for two years.

Wheeler first coached at PM from 1997-2003 as an assistant under Charlie Wheeler, working with linebackers and fullbacks.

“Over the past 30 years, I’ve coached with a lot of great coaches and have had some top-notch players,” said Mark Wheeler. “One blessing for me was to be able to coach alongside Charlie Wheeler.” The elder Wheeler coached the younger Wheeler in high school.

“In recent years, he has been kind of like a gurumentor for us,” said Mark Wheeler. “I tell everyone that Charlie Wheeler has forgotten more about football than I know. He has really taught us a lot over the years.”

After his first stint at PM, Mark Wheeler coached little league for eight years, coaching flag and senior league football, before returning to PM as the head junior varsity coach from 2012-2017. In the summer of 2017, Wheeler was named the head coach at PM.

Mike Cartolaro, who is in his second year as PM’s athletic director after serving as PM’s assistant athletic director the previous four years, said Wheeler “has been a Blue forever and always will be. We’ve had good years under his guidance in a historic program, and we hope we can continue. He’s been great to work with.”

Cartolaro said the school will be going through the normal procedure for hiring its next head football coach, doing interviews in the near future.

Wheeler said he has made it known to the powers that be who he would love to see take over the program. He said his advice to his successor would be “to always follow your heart. Many times as head coach, you will have a million people telling you what you should be doing or what you should do. Don’t let your head talk you out of what you know in your heart is right.”

At PM, Wheeler said he’s grateful to have worked with what he considers “the best coaching staff in the state.” Combined, his assistant coaches have over 100 years of coaching experience at many different levels.

“Jeremiah Brockenbrough has really grown into a seasoned offensive coordinator and would make a great head guy,” said Wheeler. “Troy Clark and Rad Patterson have always done a great job with our defense and are great with making adjustments at half time. Danny Cole has always gotten our special teams whipped into shape every year and also has helped develop our linemen on both sides of the ball. Wayne Beverley has always been a rock for our program as a line coach and extreme team motivator. Kenny Wright has also been a great edition as our strength and conditioning coach. Kenny works hard with our linemen also.”

Wheeler added his thanks to Jason Coleman for being the Blues’ coach in the box, up top by the press box at games. “He has been doing it for us forever, even before I was head coach,” said Wheeler. “He really helped us make good halftime adjustments with his first-half observations.”

The Blues have relied on junior varsity coaches to get young players ready for the varsity level, said Wheeler. Those coaches include Tyler Staton, Chad Dorey, Jelly Ramsey and Elgin Davis.

In addition, Wheeler praised Eric Wheeler for “for getting our strength and conditioning program up to where it needs to be.” Mark Wheeler said that Eric, along with Wright, “have gotten our kids bigger, faster and stronger for all sports, not just football.” Eric oversees the operation of the Blues’ weight room at the Ramsey Center.

With his extra time, Mark Wheeler looks forward to spending more time with his wife, Mitiz, and their four sons: Lucas, Adam, Jace and Eli. “I would not have been able to coach all of these years if it wasn’t for the constant love and support of my family,” said Wheeler. “Mitzi has handled our postgame meals ever since Lucas was a senior in 2012 and has done a great job making sure that we were all well fed after each game. I don’t believe she has missed one game since I’ve been coaching.”

Wheeler coached three of his four sons at one level or more. “They were all excellent football players, and it was a joy to watch them grow and develop over the years,” he said. “If you have ever coached your own kid, you know the challenges that come with it. It’s always with you, because you bring it home with you every day. It hasn’t always been easy, but nothing worthwhile usually is.”

Wheeler said what he’ll miss most from coaching is watching his teams develop and improve from the start of the season to the end. “Every team is different, and you just never know what you’re going to get from year to year,” he said. “The process of having 40 or so players and coaches start the season as individuals and eventually come together as a team is an amazing thing. It doesn’t happen by magic and sometimes it doesn’t happen at all, but when it does, it’s extraordinary to witness. It takes a lot of hard work from everyone involved.”

Summing up his football career, Wheeler said, “I wouldn’t trade the experiences I’ve had playing and coaching football for anything in the world. I’ve had a great time!”

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