MB’s Wilson, CCU’s Moglia show true coaching colors

col-tbuzz (2)Horry County is known for producing rice, indigo, timber, turpentine and even hermit crabs wearing miniature football helmets. This year, we can add championship-caliber football coaches to that list.

Through my 20-plus-year career as a sports writer, I encountered two of the best coaching jobs ever on the Grand Strand this fall – Myrtle Beach High’s Mickey Wilson, who took the Seahawks to the Class 3A state title, and Coastal Carolina’s Joe Moglia, who led his Chants to the Elite 8 of the FCS playoffs.

While the two had very different types of seasons, both showed the leadership, determination and football IQ to take their programs to the elite level. Wilson’s challenge was turning around a team that got started down the wrong path, while Moglia’s biggest obstacle was getting a team to believe.

If the true test of a coach is measured in his team’s improvement from the season opener to the final horn, then Wilson had the best coaching season I’ve ever witnessed. His Seahawks surrendered 63 points in their debut and started 1-3 after losing to Carolina Forest for the Panthers’ lone win of the year.

Myrtle Beach slowly showed signs of turning it around, primarily because of Wilson’s ability to adapt his preferred run-and-gun offense to give his team its best chance to win. The next week Myrtle Beach came out in an all-Wild Hawk attack to run the ball and the clock and give his young defense a break.

The Seahawks beat lesser teams on their schedule but continued to struggle, losing to Socastee 37-21 and battling a battered Georgetown team for a 17-10 win. It wasn’t until the final game of the season, the second half to be exact, that Myrtle Beach finally started to put all the pieces together.

The Seahawks rallied from a two-touchdown deficit to defeat North Myrtle Beach and earn a No. 2 seed, which was key to their postseason run. After shutting out Berkeley in the opener, Myrtle Beach used second-half comebacks to beat No. 1 seeds Crestwood 31-27 and Strom Thurmond 21-16 on the road.

Suddenly the surprising Seahawks were playing their best ball of the season at the right time, and the peak came during their 20-6 dismantling of a powerful Marlboro County offense in the Lower State title game. The defense that was decimated on the same field 90 days earlier help beat the Bulldogs 20-6.

Wilson had the Seahawks playing such inspired football that they never doubted they would beat No. 1-ranked and undefeated Daniel in the state title game. Each time Myrtle Beach was faced with an impossible obstacle in that game, the young team rose to the occasion and fought for a 24-21 victory.

Wilson, who served as offensive coordinator at Myrtle Beach when the Seahawks won it all in 2008, took a more talented team to the 2009 title game only to fall short to Clinton. He made up for it in 2010 by beating South Pointe, but a couple of second-round playoff exits in 2011 and 2012 had fans wondering the direction the program was going. This year he turned a sub-par team into a state champ.

Normally a sports writer would be lucky to cover one story like that in his career, but Moglia made it a double feature. The multi-millionaire CEO-turned-college coach brought the success he had on Wall Street to the gridiron in his second season at CCU, leading the Chants on a remarkable playoff run.

Like Wilson, Moglia’s Chants showed improvement as the season progressed. Hard-fought wins over SC State and Furman, which turned out to be playoff teams, saw the Chants open the season 2-0, but it was their 51-32 at nationally ranked Eastern Kentucky that Coastal showed any signs of competing for a national title. That began a string of seven straight wins, scoring more than 50 in six of those games.

Following losses to Charleston Southern and South Carolina, CCU fans had to be wondering what kind of team would show up for the playoffs. But Moglia saved his most impressive feats for the postseason by routing Bethune-Cookman in the opener and upsetting national power Montana in its own backyard.

The toughest challenge came in Saturday’s game at two-time defending national champion North Dakota State and the Chants finally ran out of miracles. But for Moglia to take a .500-type team to an 8-5 mark last season and a 12-3 mark this season with a trip to the national quarterfinals, he proved he can get it done in the locker room ans well as the board room.

Ironically, there were other coaching performances that would warrant coach of the year honors in most seasons. Socastee’s Doug Illing inherited a team that went 12-1 and reached the Lower State semifinals and did the same in his first year. North Myrtle Beach coach Perry Woolbright took a team that was only one season removed from a 22-game losing streak and posted a school-record nine wins.

But the jobs done by Wilson and Moglia rank among the best coaching performances I’ve seen in a single season and their teams only look to be better in 2014 and beyond. Like the hermit crabs that make the Myrtle Beach area famous, we can only hope that these two coaches don’t become our best exports.

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