Wolford now the Penguins’ choice

Depending on who you are talking to, or what Web site you are looking at, Youngstown State University will (or will not) name its football coach at a press conference on Tuesday afternoon.

If it happens all signs points to South Carolina assistant coach Eric Wolford, an Ursuline High graduate.

Mark Stoops, the former Arizona defensive coordinator and Cardinal Mooney High graduate, took himself out of the running (if he ever was in it) late last weekwhen he accepted the defensive coordinator position at Florida State.

Wolford, who is the running game coordinator and the offensive line coach at South Carolina, was supposed to be second in line to replace Jon Heacock as the Penguins’ head coach.

Heacock resigned after nine seasons last month.

Wolford has only been with the Gamecocks for one season, but reportedly has done an excellent job with the offensive line in just a short time.

First reports out of South Carolina indicated that Wolford was not interested in interviewing for the job, but it’s pretty common knowledge now that YSU athletic director Ron Strollo went to Columbia, S.C., the first week of December to interview him.

South Carolina head coach Steve Spurrier went so far as to tell reporters that Wolford told him he was not pursuing the YSU job.

Reportedly, Stoops was the first choice, but the opportunity to further enhance his repuation at Football Bowl Subdivision school, i.e., Florida State, not to mention a $500,000 yearly salary, was too good to pass up.

Wolford has a three-year contract with the Gamecocks with two years remaining at $200,000 per year.

He is expected to sign a five-year contract with Youngstown State, with the final salary expected to be in the $250,000 range.

One thing is certain. If the Penguins are going to name a new football coach this week it will have to be done before Thursday.

YSU athletic director Ron Strollo is a member of the NCAA Football Championship Subdivision selection committee and must be in Chattanooga, Tenn., on Thursday to help get things ready for Friday night’s national championship game there.

Any of the three names mentioned earlier would seem to be a good fit for the Penguins, but then again Strollo has been bouncing around all over the country the past few weeks and there’s always a chance a name out of nowhere could just pop up this week.

Whoever and whenever Strollo makes his decision, it will be the biggest one that he’s made since he’s been the school’s AD since his hiring in 2001.

I was covering some high school basketball Saturday at the Covelli Center for the Youngstown-Warren Holiday Classic and ran into an old friend.

As I was going back to the locker rooms after the East-Youngstown Christian game I saw this guy leaning up against the wall and he looked familiar.

“You don’t remember me, but you used to cover me when I played at YSU,” he said.

It was Andre Smith, a smaller and trimmer version of him to say the least.

Smith was a standout with the Penguins and led the team in scoring both his junior and senior seasons from 1993 through 1995 under Dan Peters. He was recently named head men’s basketball coach at Lourdes College in Sylvania, just outside of Toledo.

“This is a new basketball program and we won’t start playing until next season,” Smith said. “We’ll be competing at the NAIA level for the first couple of years until we can get into the NCAA.”

Smith is recruiting players this season and he was looking over the field at the Holiday Classic.

“I’m looking for some junior college players that can jump-start the program and blend in some freshmen to build for the future,” he said.

Smith was impressed with the Covelli Center.

“This place is great and it is a perfect venue for basketball and I can tell that the kids really enjoy playing here,” he added.

XPete Mollica covers YSU athletics for The Vindicator. Write to him at mollica@vindy.com.

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