Photo by Don Anders
By Mark Hendricks (Hillviews)
If you ever knew Jim Wacker, picture him in your mind’s eye for a moment. He’s smiling, isn’t he?
Jim Wacker strode through life smiling.
The legendary football coach who led the Bobcats to back-to-back NCAA Division II national championships in 1981 and 1982, died Aug. 26 at the age of 66 after a lengthy, courageous and often inspirational battle against cancer.
Wacker coached the Bobcats from 1979 to 1982. His 42-8 record in that span is the highest winning percentage in school history. He also had collegiate head coaching jobs at Texas Lutheran (where he won consecutive NAIA national championships in 1974 and 1975), North Dakota State University, TCU and the University of Minnesota. He returned to Texas State to serve as director of athletics from 1998 to 2001.
Although he won four national championships and virtually every national coaching award offered, the defining moment of Wacker’s career may have come while he was at TCU when he self-reported several NCAA violations that had occurred at the school before he arrived. That led to the most severe penalties ever imposed by the NCAA and set the TCU football program on its heels. Wacker stayed at TCU and eventually rebuilt the team into a winner again. The incident forever branded Wacker as a coach – and a man – of impeccable integrity.
When she learned of his death, Texas State President Denise Trauth said, “Jim Wacker was an important part of the history of this university, but he was also so much more. He embodied our spirit and our enthusiasm. He was an inspirational leader not only to the players who played for him, but for all of us. He touched so many lives.”
The measure of how many lives Wacker touched was demonstrated on Aug. 29 when his funeral service was held in Evans Auditorium on campus. So many former players, family members, colleagues and friends attended that the event was standing-room-only. Attendees were asked to park at Aquarena Center and rode shuttle buses to the service.
The Rev. Roland Martinson conducted the funeral service and spoke of Wacker’s infectious enthusiasm.
“Can you hear him?” Martinson asked. “Booming voice. Hearty laugh. He always spoke the way he walked. Can you hear him? Unbelieeeeevable! Amaaaaazing! You’ve GOT to be kidding! Some thought, ‘Was he for real?’”
Oh, yes, Coach Wacker was for real. Measure the man by what was said of him on that day we remembered him. Measure him by the column inches devoted to his legend and the quotes from those who revered him.
The child of a Marine Corps officer, Mark grew up on the move. A barefoot childhood on the beaches of Oahu, coming of age in the Commonwealth of Virginia, Mark made his way through five universities before settling in as a Texas State University Bobcat. He was a news, crime and sports reporter as well as news editor for the Laredo News, and served time at the San Marcos Daily Record. After a decade or so in the newspaper business, he went into higher education communications, and has spent almost a quarter-century back at Texas State, where he is now the Director of the University News Service.