Jeff Wilson grew up watching his dad share moments with his friends and closest rivals. He remembers Larry Wilson sharing hugs and handshakes with fellow coaches after wins and losses. He remembers his dad and his peers going out for a bite to eat after games and discussing the game of football.
"It's kind of sad to see that generation of guys faze out a bit," said Jeff Wilson, the offensive coordinator at Herriman High School, who worked under his father for the last three seasons. "They were a different group of guys."
On Thursday afternoon, Larry Wilson announced his retirement from coaching after 40 years in an open letter posted on the Herriman Mustangs football Facebook page. Former Hunter coach and Granger offensive coordinator Dustin Pearce, who coached Herriman's defensive line in 2012, was named coach effective immediately.
The decision came after state officials informed him a year and a half ago that he and his son Jeff had violated a newly implemented State of Utah nepotism law. After searching for any alternatives and looking into a possible extension with the law, Wilson had a decision to make: by June 2014 either he or his son Jeff, both of whom teach at Herriman, would have to transfer schools.
"It's a state law. I respect that. I don't have any problems with the law," Larry Wilson said Friday afternoon. "It was a long, drawn out process, and there weren't many options. It became a matter of when."
Wilson made the decision to retire after consulting with his wife, Wendy, who is a sixth-grade teacher in the Granite School District. He said one of the biggest factors in his decision was setting up his family for retirement. Wilson teaches a college athletic prep class as well as physical education and driver's education at Herriman and plans on staying on the teaching staff ironically until June 2014.
After making his decision to hang up his whistle, Wilson said it came down to deciding when he would retire. He had the choice of walking away now or waiting until November later this year.
"The overriding factor has always been in the best interest of this program and this school, and that was probably the thing we looked at the most. It was always about [the players]," he said, stating that the decision to walk away now would be crucial for Pearce to piece together a staff as quickly as possible.
Up until now, Wilson was the first and only coach the Herriman Mustangs have had after opening its doors in 2010. The Mustangs had their best season in 2012, winning a share of the Region 7 crown and finishing 8-3. The program went 20-14 during Wilson's time at the helm.
For Pearce, following in the footsteps of a legend isn't as pressure-packed as one would think.
"I'm definitely doing what I love," he said. "This is a great community and a young program where I believe the sky is the limit."
Pearce said the hiring process "happened pretty fast," stating that when he was approached with the opportunity to succeed Wilson, he leapt.
Jeff Wilson will remain on the coaching staff at Herriman as the offensive coordinator and assistant head coach and had decided to take his name out of the hat of potential replacements for his father.
"Emotionally, it's a little bit tough," Jeff Wilson said, adding that he started the Herriman rugby team and still is the coach of that program. "One of the really important things I learned from my dad is it's important to have balance. I want to be fair to my family. Coaching is tough on a family. I love my wife and kids and want to be fair to them. I'm not in a hurry. I'm waiting for the right time."
He said the sting of deciding to not follow directly in his father's footsteps was eased a bit by the hiring of Pearce, who he called "a steal."
"I got to coach for the old man, which was incredible, and move on and coach for Dustin, who is going to be a great coach," Jeff Wilson said. "The program is not going to miss a beat."
Larry Wilson won't either.
He said he's ecstatic at the prospect of going golfing more and taking more vacations, but one thing is certain: the sidelines won't be the same without him.
"When you're a coach, you'll always have that yearning and missing the relationships with your players and coaches," he said. "I don't think that will ever go away."
Larry Wilson's career
• Coached at Murray, Highland and Herriman
• Was coach of the Mustang program since its inception in 2010
• Coached football at the high school and collegiate level for 40 years
• Was defensive line coach and recruiting coordinator under former Utah coach Jim Fassel
• Also coached baseball and softball at the high school level