BY JEFF FALK
SOUTH LEBANON – Apparently, the so-called ‘import experiment’ is over at Cedar Crest. In an attempt to interject life into a foundering football program, the Cornwall-Lebanon school district has looked within.
New Falcon head football coach Rob Wildasin is dripping with energy, full of personality and brimming with character. But the best thing about Wildasin is that he’s a local guy.
Wildasin’s recommendation to head the Cedar Crest football program was approved at Monday’s meeting of the Cornwall-Lebanon’s board of education. On Tuesday afternoon, the 34-year-old Wildasin was introduced to the community during a press conference conducted in the confines of CCHS’ Large Group Instruction (or LGI) room.
Here’s the most important things to know about Wildasin: He’s an Annville-Cleona graduate. He’s a social studies teacher at Cedar Crest. And he’s a soon-to-be former assistant coach on the Falcon boys’ basketball team.
“Obviously there’s more ways to judge success than winning,” said Wildasin. “But at the end of the day that’s what we’re here for, winning. I can sleep at night if I had players prepared and ready, and they were in the right positions. But sometimes the other team is better.
“There will not be anyone who puts more pressure on me than me,” added Wildasin. “If you have any questions you can call me at 3 a.m., and I’ll be up watching film.”
Wildasin represents new Cedar Crest athletic director Rob Snyder’s most significant hire.
The Falcons’ coaching search produced more than 20 applicants, some from as far away as out of state. Seven of those candidates were interviewed.
“We interviewed several coaches, from inside and out of the district,” said Snyder. “Coach Wildasin came highly recommended to us. As an assistant boys’ basketball coach here at Cedar Crest, Coach Wildasin has had a hand in helping turn around a program that just won its first section championship in years.
“It was Coach Wildasin’s vision, knowledge and familiarity with our team, staff and school that pushed him to the top of our list,” Snyder added. “We believe Coach Wildasin’s passion and leadership will help return a winning tradition to Cedar Crest football. I look forward to working with him.”
” ‘Surreal’ would be a good word to describe the way I’m feeling,” said Wildasin, who will be paid an annual salary of $6,552 to coach. “I do my best when I’m on the field with the guys. That’s when the real coach swings out.
“This is a huge opportunity for me,” Wildasin continued. “I have no intentions of going anywhere. I have to win A football game. My goal is to get fans back in the seats and keep them in the seats for four quarters. It’s an opportunity to see what we can do.”
Over the past decade, the Falcons have struggled under first Mike Robinson and then Tom Waranavage, who were brought in from neighboring Counties to continue the success enjoyed by Gene ‘Spike’ Fuhrman in the late 1990s and early 2000s. At the time, Robinson and Waranavage were chosen over qualified Lebanon County residents.
Last season under Waranavage, Cedar Crest went 3-7. The Falcons compiled a combined 11-39 mark during Waranavage’s five season at the helm in South Lebanon.
“We’re not using the term ‘rebuilding’,” said Wildasin. “In fact, that’s the last time you’re going to hear me use that word. We’re starting a new season, next season. My goal for this team is the district playoffs. To me, it’s like: ‘Why not Cedar Crest?’ Right now, that’s my only goal for Cedar Crest, and that’s an attainable goal, when I look at our roster and schedule.
“Step One is we need all of our athletes to be playing football,” Wildasin continued. “For too long, we’ve had too many athletes walking the halls who could help. It’s not their fault. Football is a tough sport. It’s not a rewarding sport. You’re going to have 30-35 kids play no matter who’s coaching, just because they love the sport. My job is to get the other 15-20 kids out.”
In referencing the history of the Cedar Crest football program, Wildasin mentioned such iconic names like Norbie Danz, Furhman, Frank Hetrick and Dale Umberger, among others.
“I know and understand the history of this program,” said Wildasin, applying his vast social studies skills to local sports history. “And it’s been a great history, just not recently.
“I’m an Annville kid,” Wildasin added. “From the outside looking in, this was a powerhouse program when I was playing. What I’d like to see is us getting back to that.”
Coincidentally, Wildasin’s playing days as a Little Dutchmen coincided with a time when Cedar Crest was an annual threat to qualify for the District Three Class AAAA playoffs.
Wildasin played under – and then later coached for – the dean of Lebanon County head football coaches, A-C’s Terry Lehman. Wildasin then took his considerable receiving and defensive back skills to Lafayette, where he played for Lebanon native and head coach Frank Tavani.
“I’m definitely positive and energetic,” said Wildasin. “I’m (the Seattle Seahawks’) Pete Carroll-esque. I heard somebody say that Pete Carroll is a players’ coach, and the players say that’s not true at all. They say what he is is he’s a teacher first. If you make a mistake he’s gonna use that as a teachable moment to explain to you what you did wrong, rather than just yell at you, and that’s the way I will approach it. I feel like I’m a teacher first.
“Now that I’m the head coach, I get a lot more e-mails than I used to,” continued Wildasin. “You set the tone for the whole program. It’s a leadership role. Everything comes back to me. But I’m going to bring a lot of passion to the position.”
Wildasin has spent the past three seasons assisting Lehman at Annville-Cleona. He has also served as an assistant coach at CCHS and Susquehanna Township.
“He’s the reason I’m here,” said Wildasin of Lehman. “I wouldn’t have played football if it wouldn’t have been for him. He’s a father figure to me. He’s always been my biggest supporter.”
Wildasin’s first order of business was to meet with the current Falcon players. His next will be to sit down with Snyder and decide upon an assistant coaching staff.
“You’re playing quad-A football,” said Wildasin. “There’s enough talent on the roster to hang with teams for two quarters. The question is: ‘Can we hang with teams for four quarters?'”
It’s a pressing question that only Wildasin can answer.