Bill Wagner, who has headed Penn’s sprint football program for the past 46 years, has coached thousands of players during his time working at Franklin Field.
The affable coach remembers each of their names and still keeps in touch with many of them. Wagner, however, works closely with a few of these alumni in particular, as three former players currently serve as his assistant coaches.
While all three men share the experience of having suited up in the Red and Blue for Wagner, they did so at various points in the coach’s tenure — former wide receiver Dave Hubsher and linebacker Sam Biddle both graduated from Penn in 2011 while former defensive end and fullback Chuck Hitschler played for the Quakers during Wagner’s first years at the helm, from 1970 to 1972.
Each coach has had to make sacrifices to serve on Wagner’s staff, as all three come to practice after completing their respective day jobs. Hitschler has been a math teacher at William Penn Charter School for the past four decades, while Biddle works for Lincoln Financial Group and Hubsher for the software company SAP.
“I wish these guys got paid enough so they could quit their jobs and come help me out full time,” Wagner joked.
“Although they do have very good jobs,” he added.
For Hubsher and Biddle, this often means they must hurry to Franklin Field after completing their day jobs for the team’s 6 to 9 p.m. practices — a 12-hour day for the coaches. However, those final three hours are far from work.
“This isn’t really work for me,” Hubsher said.
“This is the fun part of the day,” Biddle added. “It’s good to end the day with your best couple of hours.”
It can get a little hectic, as Hitschler pointed out, when the team travels to face far-flung opponents such as Cornell in Ithaca, N.Y., or Franklin Pierce in Rindge, N.H. On the other hand, managing both his teaching and coaching duties is easy for Hitschler, as the school day ends at 3:30 p.m. for him.
For Hubsher, whose job allows him to refrain from traveling or working during the sprint football season, the opportunity has been especially significant, as he missed most of his senior season with a knee injury.
“It was weird for me not having that closure of knowing it’s your final game,” Hubsher said. “I always just wanted more, I guess.”
Hitschler also had a unique path back to the Quakers. After graduating from the Wharton School in 1973, he pursued a teaching career and coached high school football for over 40 years.
But three years ago, Hitschler ended his run as William Penn Charter’s head coach. His son, who also attended Penn, suggested that he call Wagner to ask if he had any openings on the staff.
“That’s why I’m back down here,” Hitschler said. “It’s been a hoot.”
Each coach often envisions their own playing days when watching the current team take the field.
Hitschler recalls a game against Cornell during his career when Franklin Field had first been installed with artificial turf. It was a wet day, and when he tackled a Big Red player, the two skidded 20 yards out of bounds. The players crashed into a pole vault pit, whereupon buckets of rainwater poured onto them.
“The Cornell kid and I looked at each other, shrugged, and were like, ‘So be it, we’ll get back up and play some more,’” Hitschler recounted.
“Chuck was always tough as nails,” Wagner noted.
All three men revel in the opportunity to be as close to the action as they are now. But they still sometimes yearn to be back on the field themselves.
Last year, in Biddle’s first as an assistant coach, the Quakers took the field first on defense in their opening game. When the defensive unit was called to the field, Biddle took a few steps from the sidelines before realizing his role.
“I realized, ‘Oh it’s not my turn. Better stay back on the sidelines,’” Biddle said.
Hubsher also often brings his cleats to practice to demonstrate techniques and plays for his players. On top of that, his relative youth also created an interesting situation in his first year as an assistant in 2013, as he had played with that year’s senior class when they were freshmen.
However, the awkwardness did not create any conflicts of interest. While the players had been good friends with Hubsher when he was on the team and continued to be so when he returned as a coach, they had few issues with his authority as a coach.
“I was pretty good friends with the guys at the same time that I was coaching them, but there was never any problem with that in terms of having to enforce what I was saying,” Hubsher said. “They were pretty good about separating the two.”
Although the trio’s jobs and roles on the team may have changed over the years, some things have remained the same, namely the wily veteran on the sidelines.
“[Wagner] hasn’t changed,” Hitschler said.
“Wags never changes,” Biddle added.
“He doesn’t hop in quite as often [during practice] and run the offense,” Hitschler said of the septuagenarian coach. “But there’s still the enthusiasm, the spirit and the organization — he’s right on top of things.”
Hubsher agreed, stating that serving alongside his former coach has allowed him to see a different side of him.
“You see all the work he has to put in just besides the Xs and Os to organize everything,” Hubsher said, “The football team, the administrative stuff and also managing the individual kids and trying to help them in terms of school and life after school.
“It’s interesting to see all of the other stuff he does for us besides just putting together a football team.”
And as Homecoming approaches this weekend, for each coach, returning to the team they once played on has been nothing short of a joy.
“I wanted to come back because of how much this program has given me,” Biddle said. “I just wanted to give back to the program as much as it gave me.”
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