Wofford coach Mike Ayers announces retirement after 30 years at school
SPARTANBURG, S.C. –Mike Ayers announced his retirement on Wednesday, Dec. 13, concluding a 30-year career as head football coach at Wofford College.
For three decades, Ayers guided the Terriers from the NAIA and NCAA Division II ranks to Division I and the Southern Conference. Along the way, the team made appearances in the Division II Playoffs in 1990 and 1991, the Division I FCS Playoffs in 2003, 2007, 2008, 2010, 2011, 2012, 2016 and 2017, and claimed Southern Conference titles in 2003, 2007, 2010, 2012 and 2017.
“I’ve been very blessed to have had the position of head football coach at Wofford for 30 years and another three years as an assistant coach,” said head coach Mike Ayers. “Today is a bittersweet day in that I still love the game and my guys but it’s time for us to take a different road.
“I love Wofford. I wasn’t smart enough to graduate from Wofford, but I was smart enough to take the head coaching job and if afforded me and my family the opportunity to have a wonderful life. This decision that I have made today is a decision that has taken a while to make. I’ve prayed a lot, I’ve talked to people whose opinion I value a lot and this day is a blessing. I truly believe that the program is in good hands.”
The story of Mike Ayers as head coach at Wofford began in 1988. A program that had a proud history, with bowl game appearances and wins over Southeastern Conference teams on its resume, had fallen on hard times.
Enter Mike Ayers. The young, energetic coach had built East Tennessee State into a Southern Conference contender. Over milkshakes at the Biltmore Dairy Bar in Asheville, N.C., Wofford Athletic Director Danny Morrison and President Joe Lesesne discussed the opportunity with Ayers. On Dec. 22, 1987, he was introduced as head coach. Ayers’ impact on the Terriers was immediate. He transformed that 1-10 Wofford team into a .500 squad in 1988 and then led the Terriers to an NCAA Division II playoff berth in 1990.
Ayers has been the head coach of a Terrier team that, over the past two decades, has been the epitome of success within the Southern Conference. Since the start of the 2003 season, Wofford has posted a 69-37 mark in league play, a winning percentage of .650 to lead the conference. He has instilled his own intensity, character and pride into his teams. In the past 11 seasons, the team has reached the FCS Playoffs seven times. Wofford players have been named as SoCon Offensive and Defensive Players of the Year and taken the Jacobs Blocking Trophy home twice as well.
Ayers is the longest-serving head coach of any sport in school history. Among active FCS coaches, Ayers is fourth in wins with 218 in his career, 207 of which were earned at Wofford. He leads coaches in the state of South Carolina in longevity and victories. In the Southern Conference, he is third all-time in victories and seasons, behind only Jerry Moore (Appalachian State) and Wallace Wade (Alabama, Duke). Overall he posted a 207-139-1 record with the Terriers.
“Over the past 30 years at Wofford, Mike Ayers has changed lives,” said Director of Athletics Richard Johnson. “Along the way, he has won a lot of football games. He will tell you that he is proudest of the men that his players have become. He is simply the embodiment of the values we at Wofford hold dear. His impact on first generation college students will reverberate for decades to come. That is an enduring legacy. To change not one life, but many is why we are in the business of education. Wofford has lost one of the most valuable members of its faculty today. The ultimate grinder, Mike deserves a respite. He deserves to spend time with family and friends and to sit back and enjoy the fruits of his labors. He is going out a winner. He has our deepest gratitude for making all of us better.”
While he has led the program to victories on the field, Ayers also has been a driving force behind wins in the classroom. Since the inception of the Southern Conference’s All-Academic team in 2003, Wofford has led the way in number of student-athletes selected with at least six players selected every year. In six of the past nine seasons, a Wofford football player has been inducted into Phi Beta Kappa, the nation’s most prestigious liberal arts honor society. At least one player has received CoSIDA Academic All-District honors since 2000. In 2013, James Zotto became the fourth CoSIDA Academic All-America for the program under Ayers. Mitch Allen (2011) and Anton Wahrby (2016) were named the FCS Athletic Directors Association Student-Athlete of the Year for their performance on the field and in the classroom.
Under Ayers’ guidance, Wofford consistently has topped the SoCon and ranked among the national leaders for all Division I members in its graduation rate of football players. The football team was recognized by the NCAA in 2006, 2007, 2008, 2012, 2013, 2014 and 2015 for Academic Progress Rate (APR) scores. In 2010, 2012, 2013, 2014, 2015 and 2016, the team posted the highest APR score in the Southern Conference. In the most recent data released by the NCAA, the Wofford football team had a Graduation Success Rate (GSR) of 97 to lead the SoCon.
A native of Cincinnati, Ayers played prep football at Glen Este High School. He earned a football scholarship to Georgetown College (Ky.), where he was a three-time All-District 24 selection at linebacker while also starting at offensive tackle. He earned all-district honors as a catcher on the baseball team in addition to competing in gymnastics and wrestling.
He completed his B.A. degree in 1974 and received his M.A. degree from Georgetown as well in 1976. He has been inducted into the Athletic Hall of Fame at both Glen Este and Georgetown.
Michael Ayers was born May 26, 1948, in Georgetown, Kentucky. Ayers and his wife, Julie, were married on June 26, 1976. They have two daughters, Katie and Courtney, and a son, Travis. Courtney and her husband, Piotr Kalinowski, have a son, Max, and daughter, Madison Grace. Katie and her husband, Micah Gauntner, have two daughters, Amelia Rose and Avery. Travis and his wife, Sarah, have a son, Ezra Dowling.
A committee, headed by Richard Johnson, has been tasked with searching for the 23rdfootball coach in school history.
Wofford Athletics contributed to the writing of this article.