Former defensive coordinator Wayne Wade a natural fit for Clairton job
With Clairton trailing 24-0 in the 2010 PIAA championship game in Hershey, Bears fans angrily roared from the bleachers toward the team's bench. Wayne “Rinky” Wade, then the Clairton defensive coordinator, waved his arms at the crowd and yelled, “Settle down. We're fine.”
The fans listened, and he was right.
No one bridges coaching football and dealing with a youth football empire's expectations like Wade, whose ability to design X's and O's appears to be exceeded only by his ability to tame a fan base that occasionally requires a calm hand. Wade, who endured a brief, unsuccessful stint as interim coach more than a decade ago, is once again the coach at Clairton.
“I can honestly say that he's the only man for this job,” Clairton assistant coach Eric Fusco said. “(Steelers coach) Mike Tomlin could have showed up at the Clairton school board meeting and thrown his resume on the table, and it wouldn't have mattered. He doesn't know Clairton and know these kids like Rinky does.” Clairton has won four PIAA and six WPIAL championships during the past eight seasons, along the way producing a 66-game winning streak that received national headlines.
Tom Nola was Clairton's head coach during the unprecedented run, and though he produced extraordinary success, he was never fully embraced by the community. Winning by 50 points was not always enough in Clairton, not if a 70-point victory was within reach.
Nola, a quiet man with a shy personality, often bristled at the atmosphere around Clairton games.
The more outspoken, outgoing Wade just laughs. He is a son of Clairton, a star player on the Bears 1989 WPIAL championship team, and understands its people well.
“I would just say that I'm extremely comfortable with the job and all that it entails,” Wade said. “You have to understand, I felt those very expectations when I was a kid growing up in Clairton. I felt it when I was playing in the midget program. I'm OK with it. It's just the way it is. It's about pride, about winning. That's Clairton.”
Wade played football at Akron and was a longtime player for Milwaukee in the Arena Football League.
But playing in Clairton, Wade acknowledges, was the most instrumental part of his football development.
“It's a part of me,” he said.
He is a part of the Bears' lives, too.
Wade was the defensive coordinator the past six years in Clairton. But his role was more significant than that of an assistant coach.
“It's one of the reasons why this transition to head coach has been pretty easy for me,” Wade said. “I was always the person who ran our conditioning programs in the summer. I was always the disciplinarian on our staff. I've always been so close with these kids. So everything is comfortable for me right now.”
Wade will have no issues convincing his players that he is the right man as head coach.
Their minds, in fact, were seemingly made up when Nola resigned in February to take the Gateway coaching job. At that time, many voiced their opinion that Wade was the man for the job. He received it without opposition.
“He's the only man we wanted to be coach,” junior star Aaron Mathews said.
Wade has been the coach before, albeit for a short time.
Former Clairton coach Joe Fischer bolted the Bears for Monessen in 2001, leaving Clairton little time to prepare for the upcoming season. Wade coached the 2001 season but nothing went right.
Nola arrived in Clairton one season later.
While Wade doesn't care for the memory of the 2001 campaign, he remains undeterred by it.
“Just a rough, crazy year,” Wade said. “The whole staff left for Monessen except for me. It was tough to get a staff together in a couple of weeks. Kids were ineligible. We played Rochester, of all teams, in Week 1. It wasn't close to the situation that we have here now.”
Most of Nola's staff remains, including a passionate mainstays in Fusco and Remondo Williams.
New offense coordinator Shawn Liotta has meshed nicely with the staff, something for which he credits Wade.
“Just a good guy and a good football coach,” Liotta said. “I really believe strongly that this situation is going to be a good one for all of us. It's a great staff.”
Fusco takes things a step further.
“This is a really good staff and with Rink calling the shots, it's going to be a really good season,” Fusco said. “Trust me, not winning the whole thing last year didn't sit well with these kids. We plan on being back on top.”
Wade always hoped to be the man back on top in Clairton. Now he gets a second chance, and while he won't commit to remaining in this position forever — “It's hard to say. I've had offers to coach in college, to coach other high school teams. I'm just worried about today,” — Wade is where he wants to be.
And so far, so good.
“What an offseason it's been,” he said. “I've never seen the commitment like this. We've had to change things around. In Clairton, most of our kids have to work. They have jobs, so we work around their jobs, and we've had 90 percent attendance at workouts. I think it's going to be a great year.”