When legendary Kentucky Offensive Line Coach John Schlarman lost his battle with cancer at the age of 45 last November, Wildcat Head Coach Mark Stoops turned to a former Youngstown State University head coach, Eric Wolford, who was just ending his fourth season as offensive line coach at South Carolina.
Little more than a month later, ‘Wolf’ was named to replace Schlarman. Wolford is among five Wildcats, including Stoops, who are member’s of the football staff at Kentucky.
“I’m honored to have Eric Wolford join our staff,” Stoops said. “I’ve known Eric and worked with Eric for a long time. I knew it would take a special person to fill this role and we found the best candidate. I know what we are getting with Eric Wolford and he will continue to build on the legacy that John Schlarman started. He’s intense, he’s detailed but he also has the unique ability to connect with people.”
Last season at South Carolina, Wolford’s unit helped pave the way for running back Kevin Harris to lead the Southeastern Conference in rushing and rewrite the Gamecock record books. Harris finished the regular season with 1,138 yards rushing, just the ninth player in school history to rush for 1,000-plus yards in a season. He had five 100-yard games, including two with 200-plus yards, joining George Rogers and Marcus Lattimore as the only players in school history with multiple 200-yard games.
“I’m excited to come to Kentucky as the offensive line coach,” Wolford said. “I’ve known Mark Stoops a long time and I’ve been very impressed with how he’s built his program. I’ve had a front row seat, playing against Kentucky the last four years, and Kentucky is blue collar, they are tough, they have pride, they have attitude, and they have discipline. His strength coaches, Mark Hill and Corey Edmond, have done a great job in developing players and in recruiting, his staff has done a wonderful job of going out and finding players who can play in the SEC and at a high level.
“I’m blessed to have the opportunity to coach the ‘Big Blue Wall,” Wolford added, “I want to continue the legacy of John Schlarman. He was a wonderful man and watching film and seeing how his line played, it’s not hard to see what a great offensive line coach he was. We are always going to remember Coach Schlarman in our room. Always.”
Under Wolford’s tutledge, the Gamecocks offensive line’s ‘number of sacks allowed’ dipped from 41 in 2016, the year prior to Wolford’s arrival, to 29 in 2017 and to 23 in 2018, the fewest since the 2013 season. Even more impressively, in SEC play the sacks allowed number dropped from 31 in 2016, to 18 in 2017, to just 12 in 2018.
Off the field, Wolford was named a top-25 recruiter by Rivals following the 2018 February signing date.
Before coming back to Carolina, Wolford spent the previous two seasons (2015-16) in the NFL as the San Francisco 49ers assistant offensive line coach.
Prior to his stint with the 49ers, Wolford logged 19 seasons as a coach at the collegiate level, including five (2010-14) as the head coach at Youngstown State University. After a 3-8 mark in his first season, the Penguins compiled a 28-18 mark over his final four campaigns, were ranked in the top-10 three times, and broke 32 school records during his tenure. Highlights included a 2012 win over Pitt – the first win over a BCS team in school history, and a 2011 win over top-ranked North Dakota State, while overseeing the squad’s highest GPA on record for four-consecutive seasons. He finished 31-26 overall at the helm.
Among other assignments, Wolford spent three seasons (2004-06) at Arizona as the offensive line coach, where he was on the same staff as Mark Stoops. UA led the league in fewest sacks allowed in 2004 and was second in 2005. He was also an integral part of back-to-back top-25 recruiting classes.
Wolford spent the 2003 season at North Texas, where his offensive line paved the way for tailback Patrick Cobbs, who earned the Sun Belt Offensive Player of the Year Award. Wolford also helped lead UNT to its third-consecutive bid to the New Orleans Bowl.
Wolford began his coaching career at his alma mater, Kansas State, where he worked as a graduate assistant with the offensive line under John Latina. He then spent two years as the offensive line and strength coach at Emporia State.
Wolford was a four-year starter as an offensive guard at K-State under Bill Snyder. He went on to start 34 games in his career, including 21 at right guard and 13 at left guard. During his senior year, the Wildcats won the school’s first bowl game in the 1993 Copper Bowl, defeating Wyoming. After college, Wolford signed a free-agent contract with the Arizona Cardinals before returning to Manhattan to embark on his coaching career.
A native of Youngstown, Wolford, 49, attended Ursuline High School where he was enshrined into the school’s athletics Hall of Fame in 2009. He and his wife, Melinda, have two children, Stone and Marlee. In the 1990s, now Wildcat Head Coach Stoops worked as South Florida defensive backs coach and Wolford was the Bulls offensive line coach while then-USF head man Jim Leavitt started the school’s football program from scratch.
“We weren’t making any money, I can tell you that right now. We were living in the dorm,” Wolford recalled at a Kentucky Wildcats football Media Day last December. “I think our first-year salary was $12,000 a year.” To make ends meet, Stoops and Wolford would hire themselves out at night to remodel and paint apartments.
Wolford, 50, is inheriting responsibility for Kentucky’s offensive front in the first season in which the installation of a new offensive system is going to require the UK line to fundamentally alter the way it plays.
During UK’s current five-year bowl streak, the four primary foundation pieces that allowed the Kentucky program to ascend have been Benny Snell, Josh Allen, Lynn Bowden (Warren G. Harding) — and The Big Blue Wall. Wolford says he would rather come into a program with a recent track record of offensive line success than inherit a front that needs to be built from the ground up.
“It gives me a lot of confidence,” Wolford says. “Coach Schlarman set a very high standard here. He did a wonderful job. … We’re going to embrace everything (Schlarman) did here with these players, this university and this community. We are going to keep a high standard.”
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Eric and Melinda started a non-profit organization, in spired by their son, Stone, who was diagnosed with Cardiofaciocutaneous
Syndrome (CFC Syndrome) as a baby. Their foundation is called the No Stone Unturned Foundation and is dedicated to embracing, engaging, and empowering children with special needs and their families, with a major focus on any child with any disability. For more
information on the No Stone Unturned Foundation, visit the website here: NSUF.org.
This article was republished here with permission from the Boardman News.