By Bill Roth
When Charley Wiles was finishing up his college football playing days as an offensive lineman at Murray State back in the late 1980s, he didn’t really envision a career in coaching.
Marketing? That would be fun. It would tap into his creative side.
Business? That would definitely fit his personality.
Sales? The jovial, friendly Wiles would knock ‘em dead in sales, plus he had a competitive nature that would make him ultra-successful.
Sales, he thought, would definitely be the ticket.
As for coaching, well, his brother Billy was the coach in the family. Billy coached every sport in town from recreation basketball to football. Everyone knew Billy Wiles would be a terrific coach, which he is to this day in Florida.
Even when Charley became a graduate assistant coach at Virginia Tech, he did so to “continue my education,” and not necessarily to get into the coaching business.
But now, 20 years later, Wiles is a key man in the success of Virginia Tech’s football program as the Hokies’ defensive line coach. His ability to recruit high-caliber players and develop outstanding linemen has made him one of the ACC’s most valuable assistants.
Wiles’ gregarious personality, his non-stop motor, his drive to succeed and his knack to teach and communicate with kids have made him a winner in the living room and on the football field. And he’s the first to admit coaching at Tech beats selling widgets.
“It’s funny how things work out,” Wiles said. “I was thrilled with just playing the game and that was always my goal – just to play. But the relationship with coaches (Frank Beamer and Bud Foster) at Murray got me going into coaching when I was done playing.
“Timing is everything. Coach Beamer got the job here in December of my senior year, and I called him at home from my dad’s kitchen in Waverly, Tenn., and I asked him if I could be a graduate assistant, and he said, ‘Yeah, you’re in!’ I graduated from Murray State and started as a GA at Tech the next year.”
Wiles immediately caught the ‘coaching bug’ and decided he’d like to coach at Tech. But for that to happen, he had to leave Blacksburg and get a full-time job, first at East Tennessee State and then back to his alma mater, where he worked for a first-year head coach named Houston Nutt.
“That was the turning point in my coaching career,” Wiles said. “When Houston Nutt came in, he was such a young, energetic guy. I saw and learned how to recruit.”
Wiles spent three years with Nutt at Murray State, helping the Racers to an 11-0 regular season in 1995.
“Seeing him in the living room and seeing him at a home with a kid was amazing,” Wiles said. “We recruited that first class at Murray. It was just a stack of VHS tapes and I had a list of kids we wanted to recruit. He and I hit the road and we pretty much recruited that class in the next year. Three years later, we won 11 games.”
Football recruiting, Wiles learned, was just like sales – selling a program, selling a coach and selling a school. It was right up his alley.
“The key is being very flexible,” he said. “Talk a bunch of different languages. Be down to earth and be real and genuine. Don’t be intimidated going into certain areas or certain peoples’ homes. Be Charley Wiles. Be yourself. You’re going to run across a lot of different types of people.”
With that in mind, Wiles left Murray State and came back to Tech in 1996. Since then, he’s recruited many of Virginia Tech’s out-of-state players like Stephan Virgil, Lorenzo Williams, Bruce Taylor, and this year, Jayron Hosley, a highly touted cornerback from Florida, who was a late catch for the Hokies.
“Coming in late, they (Hosley’s family) had heard nothing from us and it was after Christmas when we really made contact,” Wiles said. “The kid had 20 offers back in May of ’08 (including Ohio State, Michigan, South Florida, Clemson and others).
“But the first time I met his mom and dad was in January after we won the Orange Bowl. We had some good things in our favor. We had Brandon (Flowers) and David (Clowney, both of whom had played at Atlantic High School in Delray Beach). Getting his mom and dad on board was huge. That’s an example of getting in late and winning a recruiting battle.”
The Hosley family felt that instant connection with Wiles, as many others do. He was able to close the deal and continue that pipeline from Atlantic High School.
“We’ve been able to build a heckuva product,” Wiles said. “We are winning games and graduating players. Coach Beamer is a legend. I’ve been fortunate to be part of something special. He’s going to be in the College Football Hall of Fame someday. He is not a holler guy. He’s not a screamer. He has the ability to make you work together. He coaches us. He coaches the coaches as much as he does the players.
“You’ve heard this before, but it starts at the top. We have a comfortable working environment. You don’t have to be peeking over your shoulder. You can coach your style and be yourself and he is not over your shoulder. It’s not about ‘who signs what kid.’ It’s about us being right. He doesn’t put a lot of pressure on you to sign kids. We don’t have a bunch of egos on the staff. We are friends who care about each other. Family oriented…do things together. We golf or have family get-togethers. That blends well, but he projects that kind of environment and it goes throughout the staff.
“I want to please him just as much today as I did the day I rolled into Murray State as a true freshman. You just want to please Coach and he has that innate ability to get people working together.”
And since his return to Blacksburg in ’96, the Hokies have been a big winner.
“I got on this thing in 1996 and we had just won the Sugar Bowl and we were getting ready to play in the Orange Bowl,” he said. “Two years later we beat Alabama in a bowl game, and then in ’99, we are in the national championship game. The next year, in 2000, if Michael (Vick) doesn’t get hurt, we might play in it again. We lost one game that Mike didn’t play. It’s been great. Our player pool continues to get better and the Commonwealth of Virginia continues to get better. Coach has always made Virginia the core of our recruiting.”
That core includes a remarkable defensive tackle from Richmond named John Graves, who has blossomed since arriving in Blacksburg under Wiles.
“John Graves is a very unique guy,” Wiles said. “He has great leadership ability. He has brought along all the guys on the defensive line. He’s the guy who is not afraid to police our defensive unit. He’s not afraid to call out somebody. When you have that going for you in your unit, it’s a positive because he’s not afraid to go the extra mile himself. He sets the bar. He single-handedly has really pushed Cordarrow (Thompson) to where he is today. He has made Thompson feel more confident and comfortable. Cordarrow doubted himself and John brought him along mentally.”
Wiles also has recruited and coached Jason Worilds at Tech. The rising redshirt junior is one of the ACC’s most dynamic defensive ends.
“Jason is also a unique guy,” Wiles said. “(Ex-Tech assistant) Kevin Rogers recruited him and then Kevin left for the Vikings. I was involved there and that was a small hiccup we got through because we both were involved with his recruiting and that’s the way we do things at Tech. We’ll have several coaches get to know a kid and his family. If we didn’t do it that way, he would’ve gone somewhere else when Kevin left to go to the Vikings. He loved Kevin and so do I. Kevin Rogers is a big-time guy and we had to get through that.
“I’d say Jason is a probably the most athletic guy I’ve had in my 14 years here. Does that mean he’s the best? Not necessarily, but he’s the most athletic. He could play linebacker here. He is going be 260-265 pounds and work out perfectly for the NFL teams who love hybrid guys who can rush the passer and cover guys. They are going to lap him up because he has all that ability. Very, very coachable. Very smart. Enjoys being around you. Genuine guy who loves his family, loves school and loves Virginia Tech. I really like coaching Jason.”
This spring, the Hokies moved Chris Drager from tight end to defensive end as well. Why the move?
“We know we have to stop people to win championships,” Wiles said. “Our young defensive ends aren’t ready yet. Isaiah Hamlette and Joe Jones are going to be good players in this program, but they aren’t ready yet. We recruited Chris as a defensive end, but Coach Beamer, as he always does, lets the kid pick where he wanted to play and Chris wanted to play on offense. But now, he sees that we need him on defense and he is a terrific football player who can make an impact as a defensive end.”
Wiles mentioned championships and Tech’s won the ACC in back-to-back years. Is that defensive front ready to make a run at a national championship? Does it have that dominating defensive tackle you see at some other schools who might also be in that mix this fall?
“I think we’re definitely good enough,” Wiles said. “I don’t know if we have a top-five NFL pick in there like (Glenn) Dorsey at LSU right now. But I think we have enough good players to get it done. It takes more than one. There’s no doubt the offensive line and defensive line are the most important things. You have to be good there and be physical there and have depth there. We have more offensive linemen now who can play than we’ve had in the last five years. Yeah, we have enough good players to do it.”
Wiles said the coaching staff has worked very hard on building team chemistry, which was one of the keys to the Hokies’ 2008 success.
“The ‘team’ concept is the most important thing,” Wiles said. “Chemistry. We spent a lot of time on team building and making sure we don’t have a bad kid in there or have an issue. We have to make sure our team fits together well and we are making sure our team chemistry is right because that’s going to win for you in tight ball games. To be honest, that’s the key.”
Working under legendary coaches like Beamer and Foster, Wiles has learned from two of the best in the business. And he’s added his own personality, his own stamp on Tech’s program.
“I’m coaching because I only know one way to do it – full speed all the time,” Wiles said. “I’m part of a great program and I want to pull my weight and do my part and please Coach. We want to have success as a group. Coach Beamer has always said ‘If you don’t act special, you’ll get treated special.’ He said that to us as players and now as coaches. We aren’t anything special and that’s how we act here.”
If Charley Wiles wasn’t coaching at Tech, he’d be a successful businessman somewhere, rallying his co-workers and leading by example. He’d be some company’s top seller.
Fortunately for Virginia Tech football, he is in Blacksburg, helping to keep the Hokies’ defense among the best in the nation each and every year.
And he’s having a blast doin’ it.
More with Charley Wiles
BR: How would you rate the overall talent in this program right now, in 2009, to the overall talent in this program 10 years ago – players 1 through 85?
CW: “I think it’s better. We had Michael (Vick) and Berger (John Engelberger) and Corey Moore. Great players. But 1 through 85, I think we’re better right now.”
BR: Explain to me, in layman’s terms, why Tech’s defense under Bud Foster has been so great seemingly year after year. What’s the key?
CW: “Where we are different, where we are exotic, is that we are complicated in the back end. We are a multiple coverage team. We’re going change it up on people and that’s where you make your money. That’s where Bud is THE best, on Saturday, making adjustments to what they are doing to stop people. We know how we’re going to stop the run and what we’re doing up front. Bud has a great gift in his ability to make calls in a timely fashion to bring the corner just when they run the zone play and there’s a tackle for loss. He’s rolling 7’s. He has that great way about him.”
CW: “On Orion’s play, we were bringing four from the side into the boundary and Orion has the back man-to-man. They sprint away to the other side. The corner has the tight end, but Orion has the back. The quarterback threw somewhat blindly, but they had the right play called against that defense. He hugs the back and Orion makes an incredible interception. That was game, set, match.”
BR: You guys went to Athens and visited with the Georgia staff earlier this spring. Why?
CW: “They wanted to talk about Georgia Tech and we wanted to talk about Alabama, so we went down there and visited with their staff. Obviously, they’re real interested in beating Georgia Tech and we’re interested in beating both Georgia Tech and Alabama. We spent a day on Georgia Tech and a day on Alabama, and to be honest, ‘Bama is not hard to figure out. They run the ball and play-action pass, same as us. They are good up front and they have very good players. No secrets. They play great defense. As for Georgia, their game (last year against Georgia Tech), they missed a bunch of tackles and Georgia Tech never turned it over. Georgia Tech is going make some yards. They’re really good, and if they don’t turn it over, they are going to be tough to stop.”
BR: That Alabama game has everyone buzzing.
CW: “It’s a huge game, but we still have to play 12 games. It’s not going to make or break our year. I know we are better than that and I’m expecting to win the game. But we have to play Marshall the next week. And then Nebraska. And then Miami. It’s a whole year and we have to stay on the grind each week. Alabama is one week and we pour our heart and soul into it. But that Sunday, it’s Marshall, heart and soul. You can’t put everything into one game, like Clemson did last year. You put everything into one game, get hammered and you see what happens.”
BR: How do you see the Virginia Tech–Alabama game?
CW: “It’s our offensive line against their defensive line and their offensive line vs. us. It’s going to be a physical game. They are not going to throw it 30 times. They are going to try to run it down our throats and throw a little play action. It’s a classic game. I’m glad we’ve evolved to where we play in big games like this and that’s every year. The more you win, the bigger they become.”
BR: You know, with Coach Saban and Coach Beamer, you have two coaches who would take a 3-0 victory any day of the week.
CW: “Absolutely, 3-0 would be great. Just don’t turn the ball over, don’t give up a short field. Kick the ball and play great defense. That’s Alabama’s deal. That’s our deal.”
BR: You’ve seen Tyrod Taylor develop by coaching against him during the week. Give us your thoughts on his development.
CW: “Well, all of the quarterbacks in our league were young last year. Tyrod has less reps than any junior quarterback in America. Usually, it’s 90-10 in practice. The starting quarterback gets 90 percent of the practice time and the backup gets 10 percent. Since he got here, Tyrod had been spitting reps 50-50 with Sean (Glennon). Now, he gets the practice time and I think the kid is getting ready to have a phenomenal year. He feels good about himself and his body is great. We can run the ball. The offensive line and wide receivers are better. If we can stay healthy around him, he can have a phenomenal year.”
BR: Why have Tech’s defense and the defensive line been so consistent?
CW: “I’ve been real fortunate to have real great kids who trust us and who give of themselves. That’s the one thing you notice about our team is how hard we play. When we visit with other schools and they watch us on film and see us flying to the ball, they mention that. That’s very complimentary.”