Staff Writer: Samuel Rodriguez
After the Wingate football team’s 17-10 upset loss at home to Emory &
Henry in the fourth week of the 2022 season, the lack of execution on
offense was troubling the Bulldogs’ longtime offensive coordinator, Mike
Long. There were too many three-and-outs for a team with a highly
experienced starting quarterback and as many weapons as that fourth-year
starter, Shaw Crocker, possessed.
Long and his offense went to work the next week at practice and emerged as
a unit that would begin realizing its potential, outscoring its next two
opponents—Erskine and Catawba, both on the road—59-7. The Bulldogs
would go on to win all but one of their remaining regular-season games and
add two more postseason victories before losing in the NCAA quarterfinals
at West Florida, the school’s best-ever NCAA finish. Wingate completed the
season 11-3 and, perhaps most impressively, won eight of nine games
played away from home.
“I always tell my players that patience is key,” said Long, who credits an
improved performance by the offensive line for the turnaround.
Long said he helped build the execution for the offense with intense two-
minute drills focused on scoring touchdowns—by any means necessary.
“[You have to] trust in each other in order to win games together,” wide
receiver coach Shaedon Meadors said.
Long, who is in his 20th year as Wingate’s offernsive coordinator, began his
coaching career in 1996 at Severna High School in Severna Park, Md. He
coached as a graduate assistant at Lehigh University from 1999-2000.
“With any sort of profession, you want to move up the ranks,” said Long,
who makes his home in nearby Indian Trail. “When the coordinating job
opened in 2003, I talked to Wingate head coach Joe Reich, and he was
gracious enough to give it to me.”
“The guy is a great leader. I think he sees the big picture as he would make a
great head coach one day,” Reich said. “He does a good job in preparing the
players for each game as a whole. For an offensive coordinator, he will be
Growing up in PeachTree City, Ga., the Atlanta Falcons were Long’s favorite
football team. “My favorite player was a running back named William
Andrews,” Long said. “The Falcons were my hometown team. My father
took me to two live games to witness Andrews on the field.”
Long won a college scholarship and played offensive line at James Madison
University in Harrisonburg, Va. from 1990-95. “It was awesome and a
phenomenal experience playing O-line because I enjoyed playing with my
teammates and working with coaches,” Long said of his JMU playing days.
“There wasn’t anything I did not enjoy.”
The Dukes went to the FCS playoffs twice in 1991 and 1994 during Long’s
time at JMU.
Long says Wingate has been the perfect fit for him.
“The thing I like about Wingate is that it has a growth mindset,” Long said.
“It has a culture of always improving, staying true to who we are, but not
staying the same. Since I have been here, all medical, professional graduate
and pharmacy schools have updated. Facilities such as the McGee Center
have grown and our dorms have increased.
“The campus has radically changed since I’ve been here for the last 20 years
and I’ve always appreciated that about the mindset of the school. I don’t
think all schools have that, especially smaller schools in our conference.”
Brian Folkerts, the Bulldogs’ tight ends coach, says Long is a players’ coach
who’s always ready with a pep talk to get the troops fired up.
“He’s a loose, fun-loving person, but at the same time, he gets the team
rallied up,” Folkerts said.
As with most offensive coordinators, Long spends a lot of time working
with quarterbacks, especially Crocker over the last five years.
“Quarterbacks usually get a ton of mental stress, so it is my job to hold
them accountable,” Long said. “At the same time, you don’t want to stress
them and rather show them how to be successful. In a quarterback position,
you have guys trying to tackle you, then you have to process what’s going on
in the blink of an eye. You have to make a great decision with all of that in
three seconds when people try to cause you bodily harm.
“In anything, you want to find out what is the best way your player learns.
You look at what his strengths are and build them. Find any deficiencies
and work on correcting those. It is a big repetition game as a lot of muscle
memory is involved. Cleaning up little things such as footwork and arm
Crocker, who played 52 games under center for Long at Wingate in his
career and threw for 90 touchdowns and more than 9,500 yards, is effusive
in his praise for his longtime mentor.
“I would just say he is a really good guy,” Crocker said. “He loves the sport
of football and wants the best for all of his players. I think he tries to put us
in the best position to win. He loves all of us as players on the offensive
The unexpected loss to Emory & Henry produced its share of skeptics
regarding the potential of Wingate’s offense.
“I always have a mindset for learning and wanting to improve,” Long said.
“If you get into coaching or really anything, in my opinion, you can’t be
dissuaded by criticism. You have to listen to it and try to grow from it.”
Wingate’s 2022 finish proved the adage that Long has always preached to
his players: patience pays off.