Over the past two decades plus, Joe Reich has steadily built a consistent winner as head football coach at Wingate University. Marked by their balanced offenses and suffocating defenses, his teams have become mainstays in the NCAA playoffs.
This week, Reich is leaving his post to take over full-time as the University’s director of athletics, but don’t expect any hallmarks of the program he built to change. Rashaan Jordan, defensive coordinator for 18 of Reich’s 23 seasons at the helm, is being promoted to head coach.
Reich leaves as by far the most successful football coach in Wingate history, going 158-92, including 11 seasons with at least eight wins. Wingate is 65-22 since 2016, including an 11-win season last year, when the Bulldogs reached the quarterfinals of the NCAA Division II playoffs.
Jordan’s handling of the defense is a big reason for the Bulldogs’ success. Since the 2014 season, Wingate has had one of the top four defenses in the South Atlantic Conference each year the league played a full slate of games, peaking last year, when the team was second in the nation in total defense and third in scoring defense.
“There are other guys on the staff who could fill this seat, but he’s the most qualified out of all of them,” Reich says.
Reich should know. He got to know Jordan in 1994, when they met on the coaching staff at the University of Buffalo after Jordan’s All-American career as a running back at Alfred University. When he was hired to take over the Wingate program in 2001, Reich brought Jordan along with him as defensive coordinator, a job Jordan has held ever since, save a four-year stretch when he left to coach closer to his hometown of Buffalo, N.Y.
“It’s been a 29-year interview,” Reich says.
Aside from Jordan’s knowledge of defensive schemes and ability to analyze opponents’ offenses, Reich says his longtime assistant brings plenty of intangibles to the job too.
“Rashaan is just a great leader of men,” Reich says. “He’s very emotionally intelligent. He and I are different personality-wise. He knows when to press the buttons, he knows when to back off, he knows when to hug a guy. And I think he has a good feel for dealing with people around campus and seeing more than just the football program.”
Jordan takes over a program that got incrementally better during Reich’s tenure and is now a threat to make the postseason each year. From 2017 to 2022, Wingate made the NCAA playoffs four out of the five years they were held, and the team finished 8-3 this year, winning seven of its last eight games; its three losses were by a total of 14 points. With that level of success, Jordan anticipates tweaking the program, not making wholesale changes.
“When you follow somebody who’s basically a legend at the University, you have to be careful about making too many changes too quickly,” he says. “At the same time, you have to find your own voice, to make sure you’re not copying or being a mimic of the person, but still upholding the principles that made the program great.”
“I bring a lot of energy and passion. I’m a tough guy, but fair. I’m going to hold people accountable for doing their job and executing, but still be very concerned about them as a person on a daily basis. I think that’s what makes any coach a great coach: to be able to connect with players.”
Jordan is getting his chance to lead the program because Reich has opted for a new challenge. Since taking over as interim director of athletics in April, Reich says, he has felt energized by a new set of challenges.
“I appreciate the fact that they’re giving me the opportunity to conquer some of those challenges,” he says. “I’m humbled by that, and I don’t want to let them down.”
Reich takes over an athletics department that in many ways sets the standard for NCAA Division II. In May, Wingate won its 15th consecutive Echols Athletic Excellence Award, handed out annually to the top overall athletics program in the South Atlantic Conference. The University also had its highest finish ever in the Learfield Directors’ Cup, a similar competition but for all NCAA Division II schools, finishing fifth. And Wingate has the second-highest number of Academic All-Americans in Division II since 2000. The University is first among North Carolina Academic All-America-producing colleges in the 2000s with 135 selections.
Aside from helping coaches maintain success on the field and in the classroom, Reich will focus on facilities improvements. The University is raising money for the Smart Center for Athletic Excellence, which will triple the size of Wingate’s current athletics weight room and will feature space for a leadership-development center for student-athletes.
The department is also in something of a transition phase, with four highly successful coaches with at least 15 years’ experience at Wingate having moved to new positions in the past two years, including Reich.
“I feel very good about taking over as AD,” he says. “I think there’s tremendous potential. Facility-wise, we want to get the Smart Center finished. That would be an unbelievable game-changer for us. And then, what facilities are next? What do we need to build? What do we need to fix? What do we need to replace? We’re obviously very good to begin with, but we’ve got so much potential for what we can be.”
“Having watched him build a football program the right way over the past couple of decades, I have full faith that Joe is the right person to lead our athletics department,” says Wingate President Dr. Rhett Brown. “Joe will build upon our very strong foundation and take us to a new level of excellence.”
Learn more about Wingate football at wingatebulldogs.com.