FRISCO, Texas – This is sad.
Wade Wilson passed away on Friday. On his 60th birthday, born Feb. 1, 1959, Greenville, Texas.
Most know him as the Dallas Cowboys’ former quarterbacks coach and backup quarterback. Backed up Troy Aikman for three seasons, 1995-97. Earned a Super Bowl XXX ring with the Cowboys. Then know him as the Cowboys quarterbacks coach, 14 seasons over two terms, the second from 2007 through the 2017 season.
But on a need to know basis, he was so much more. Touched so, so many more over his 60 years. Played his high school ball at Commerce High. Stayed at home to play his college ball at what was then known as East Texas State University, where he became an NAIA All-American quarterback.
Played well enough to become an eighth-round draft choice of the Minnesota Vikings in 1981, back when there were 12 rounds in the draft. Spent 10 seasons with the Vikings, mostly as a backup. But he did start 22 of the 28 games he played in 1988-89, selected as a Pro Bowl quarterback that ’88 season.
Ended up playing 19 seasons in the NFL. Spent one in Atlanta, two in New Orleans, the three in Dallas and another two in Oakland, before retiring from his playing career at age 40.
He served then as Dave Campo’s quarterback coach with the Cowboys for three seasons, spent three more coaching quarterbacks for East Texas-born Lovie Smith with Chicago, where under his tutelage Rex Grossman had his finest year in the NFL, leading the Bears to a 13-3 record and into Super Bowl XLI. He would then in 2007 return to the Cowboys, where he was instrumental in developing a young Tony Romo and became an advocate of the Cowboys selecting Dak Prescott in the fourth round of 2016.
Think about this now. Over a 36-year NFL career, Wade touched players, coaches and fans for six different franchises, mostly as a backup quarterback and then as a quarterbacks coach. That’s a lot of lives.
And never, over all those years, all those stops, did you ever hear a discouraging word about Charles Wade Wilson, father of four. Never ever did he raise a ruckus over a career backing up the likes of Tommy Kramer, Rich Gannon, Chris Miller, Jim Everett, Troy Aikman, Rich Gannon again and Jeff George.
His nickname, especially around here, was “Sticks,” as in tall (6-3) and thin (210).
That nickname very well could have been “Easy,” because, well, to steal a line from Lionel Richie, Wade truly was “Easy as Sunday morning.”
Saw where someone out there either stole or copied my exact sentiments, saying Wade “was one of the nicest persons I’ve ever met.”
Why he became my sounding board during his three seasons as Aikman’s backup, and truth be told, those were not three easy seasons for the Cowboys, despite winning Super Bowl XXX that first year. Remember, the Cowboys were struggling until reaching the playoffs that season. Then in 1996 the Cowboys’ streak of four consecutive NFC Championship-game appearances ended. And in 1997 the Cowboys’ streak of six straight winning seasons ended, too, as did Barry Switzer’s four-year run as head coach.
But gosh darn, if I ever needed someone to give a complete explanation of what went right – or what went wrong – on a certain play in a game, and with the crowd around Aikman doing interviews, I would slide over to Wade. His insight was honest. Forthcoming. Insightful.
Same as when an assistant coach. Wade didn’t say much. Didn’t go out of his way to attract attention. But if you made the effort to stop him, that Texas boy, son of a football coach, in him would come out. Straight-forward, to the point.
Spent 17 years around Wade. That’s why Friday’s news of him passing away hit hard. Came somewhat out of the blue, though knowing for many years Wade struggled with Type 1 diabetes for 30 years, knowing how he would be giving himself insulin shots, seeing him snacking to keep his blood sugar count at proper levels.
In fact, during training camp in 2016, Wade suffered a foot abrasion, causing an infection, and, complicated with his diabetes, landed him in the hospital where he was placed on an antibiotic-laced IV. One of his toes eventually was amputated.
Yet he continued coaching.
He was quoted at the time saying, “I have to take better care of myself. It got infected. I waited too long to do something about it and it got too bad. I should have been better about it. Now I'm going to be better.”
Let me personally vouch for how serious foot infections can become.
So, it was about a year ago this time the Cowboys decided against renewing Wade’s contract. They would turn his job over to former backup Kellen Moore, recently named the team’s offensive coordinator. That 36-year NFL career would come to an end.
Remember his last day here seeing him from a distance walking down the hallway, heading toward the coaches locker room. I’m grateful, especially now, that I fast-walked to catch up with him. Wanted to wish him well and thank him for all his insight over the years.
He didn’t seem ready to retire, only saying the Cowboys had decided to go in another direction. Wasn’t mad, or anything, but seemed disappointed. Said there would have to be a really good situation to take a coaching job somewhere else.
Coaching seems to get in guys’ blood. It’s what keeps them going. Seen evidence of that like 36 years ago. Covered the final game of Paul “Bear” Bryant’s 25-year career at Alabama, a Liberty Bowl victory over Illinois on Dec. 29, 1982. He had announced his retirement prior to the game.
Bryant died of a heart attack Jan. 26, 1983, less than four weeks later at the age of 69. He seemed much older than that.
My understanding is Wade missed coaching. He missed the game. He had been doing some consulting work for a friend of mine who had been working on a virtual reality-type coaching video for quarterbacks. He had just spoken with Wade a Sunday ago by phone. Said he sounded good, upbeat.
There has been no official word yet of Wade’s cause of death, though word of having a heart attack has been circulating. He was found unresponsive at his home in Coppell that Friday morning, efforts to resuscitate him having failed. EMS workers responding to a 911 call found him already having passed away.
How we go seems irrelevant at times like this.
It becomes more about how we stayed, lives we impacted. And if Twitter is emblematic of Wade Wilson’s life, there has been an outpouring of tweets from the Cowboys organization, former teammates and former players he coached, from Troy Aikman to a man of few words Larry Allen to Emmitt Smith and even the troubled Ryan Leaf, who was trying to revive a failing career with the Cowboys in 2001, one of four starting quarterbacks Wade coached that season, calling him an “amazing mentor, friend and father.”
Then there was this succinct Tweet from DeMarco Murray: Great coach and even greater Man! RIP sticks, will be missed!!
Yep, he will be.
Because Wade, he stayed awfully well.