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Interim head coach answers Rutgers call to action

<p>Interim head coach Norries Wilson is no stranger to leading a Division I football team. Wilson became the first African-American head coach of an Ivy League program when he took the helm at Columbia in 2006.</p>

Interim head coach Norries Wilson is no stranger to leading a Division I football team. Wilson became the first African-American head coach of an Ivy League program when he took the helm at Columbia in 2006.

Walking into his first Monday press conference as the interim head coach of the Rutgers football team, Norries Wilson wiped the sweat that was beading from his forehead.

All 6-foot-6 inches of his former Big Ten offensive lineman build stood behind the podium and he answered questions with bass in his voice that bellowed — Wilson did not need a microphone. 

The assistant head coach never thought he would be in this position with the Scarlet Knights, but that’s what the situation called for.

Things were a little different this Monday for him. He usually doesn’t have to address the media or wear a suit.

“This part's different,” Wilson joked when asked about what’s changed in a week. “But having to be well versed in what's going on with everything is a little bit different for me. It's taken a three extra hours today out of what I would usually be doing, having to meet with the people who have the information, so I can be able to convey it in the right way if I'm asked about it.”

Things will be different for Wilson in the coming weeks. But circumstances were almost completely different following his firing from the Columbia football team.

Wilson received only three opportunities after he left Columbia in 2011 following his six-year stint as the man in charge of the Lions.

One of those offers he declined was from current Miami Dolphins head coach Joe Philbin. Another offer was from New York Giants head coach Tom Coughlin, who he also snubbed in favor of Rutgers.

But one of the reasons Wilson chose to come to the Banks was because of a conversation he had with Coughlin. Looking back, the decision Wilson made before the 2012 season was the right one, he said.

“I'm proud to be here. I'm proud to stand in for Coach Flood, who I have a ton of respect for, and I'm very happy to work for — and I'm very happy to be here at Rutgers,” Wilson said. “Rutgers gave me an opportunity — three people gave me an opportunity when I got fired at Columbia: Tom Coughlin, Joe Philbin and Kyle Flood. I interviewed for Tom Coughlin, and I told him that Kyle Flood offered me a job, and Tom Coughlin said, 'Norries, you'd better take that job.' I'm happy he told me that.”

It is no secret that the Scarlet Knights named Wilson as Flood’s replacement last Wednesday in the wake of a three-game suspension levied by University President Robert L. Barchi. Wilson started serving that duty in Saturday’s 28-3 loss against Penn State.

The ones who know Wilson arguably the best are the running backs — the position Wilson coaches along with serving as the assistant head coach.

Senior running back Paul James played under Wilson since he first came to work with the Knights in 2012. Since then, Wilson never changed one bit since the first time the pair met, James said.

“He’s always the same humorous guy around us, but he can also be really serious with us,” James said. “He hasn’t really changed. He really has a way of getting to a player and helping them. He makes you feel important when he is talking to you and teaching you, which is what I like most about when I sit down with him.”

What may surprise some is the trail that Wilson blazed on his way to where he is right now — serving as the top man of the school that played the first collegiate football game back in 1869.

Wilson was a finalist in 2004 for the Frank Broyles Award — the prize given to the best assistant coach in college football. Wilson garnered the recognition while working as the offensive coordinator for the University of Connecticut.

Following his time at UConn, Wilson was hired to the head coaching position at Columbia, where he did something that had never been done.

In the 145-year history of the Columbia football team, and the Ivy League as a whole, Wilson was the first head coach of African-American descent. And since 1869, no African-American acted nor coached in a head role for the Rutgers football team, changing this past Saturday with Wilson.

But Wilson doesn’t consider himself a trailblazer. He’ll let others decide that fate long after he leaves Rutgers.

“I'll tell you the same thing I said when it happened at Columbia: That's probably going to be something for my children's children,” Wilson said. “I tell the players a lot, ‘don't be scared to be first.’ I don't like the circumstances that it's occurred upon, but sometimes like I said the other night, you have to do things because that's what the situation calls for.”

For updates on the Rutgers football team, follow @TylerKaralewich and @TargumSports on Twitter.

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