Peter Wagner Jr. became the newest head coach of the Baldwin High School football program on Wednesday night, and if the Baldwin-Whitehall School Board's vote on his hiring is any indication, Wagner will—rightly or wrongly—have something to prove.
Three board members voted against hiring Wagner—six voted for him—and that was after B-W School District administration recommended somebody else for the job.
Coincidentally enough, that somebody else is somebody whom Wagner is very familiar with—Greg Perry, who was the head coach at Seton-La Salle Catholic High School in Mt. Lebanon for the past eight seasons and an assistant coach at Seton-La Salle for the 11 seasons prior to that, including the entirety of Wagner's high school playing career. The new Baldwin coach graduated from Seton in 2000.
"I know Coach Perry very well," Wagner said. "I have the utmost respect for him. He's a fantastic teacher of the game. Can't say enough about him. He had a tremendous impact on me as a player, as a person."
But Wagner, who has been the dean of students and an assistant football coach at Baldwin High for the past four years, said that his own experiences, especially his time at Baldwin, give him the confidence to be able to succeed with the Highlanders.
In addition to the relationships that he has built with the team's current players—Wagner has been Baldwin's offensive coordinator for the past two seasons—the new head coach said that he voluntarily stepped into the high school's weight room over the past two weeks to work with newcomers, as well, in preparation for the upcoming season.
"We've had a fantastic response from kids," Wagner said. "We've had 35-plus there (in the weight room) every day."
Wagner also said that his playing days and his time learning from accomplished head coaches before reaching Baldwin four years ago made selling himself to the district an easier process.
"5:45 (a.m.) every day, you're out in formation," he said. "A lot of structure."
Following that were three years at Morehead State University in Kentucky, where Wagner helped the NCAA Division I Eagles to a 17-6 overall record in two seasons (2002 and 2003) and earned a bachelor's degree in business administration in December 2004 after serving as an assistant coach for the Eagles for one more season.
Wagner was a Mid-Major honorable mention All-American in his senior year.
After graduation, he followed former high school head coach Lou Cerro to Cerro's new head coaching gig at Montour High School, serving as an assistant under Cerro from 2005 to 2008.
"I was looking to go into the business world," Wagner said, "but I really knew I wanted to get involved with coaching and liked working with kids. Ultimately, my heart was with high school football.
"We did a phenomenal job building that (Montour) program from the ground up. I was really hands-on throughout that process, and watching Louie Cerro do what he did out that there was a phenomenal experience."
When the opportunity arrived for Wagner to become the dean of students at Baldwin High, he jumped at the chance to also become an assistant football coach at Baldwin, he said.
At the same time, Head Coach Dan Pallante was headed out at Baldwin, making way for new coach Jim Wehner, the man now being replaced by Wagner.
It was during the Pallante-to-Wehner transition that Wagner says that he came to appreciate the Baldwin-Whitehall School District.
"I had a great response from kids and parents at the time," Wagner said, "holding the program together, working with those kids, being that solider on the ground, so to speak.
"It's an awesome district. I knew this was the place where I wanted to be and spend my career."
As for any controversy surrounding his hire—this is Wagner's first head coaching job—he knows that a bright spotlight comes with the territory of being a Quad A, or highest-level, head coach in football-mad western Pennsylvania.
"High school football's like a cult here," he said.
More importantly, he is focused on the upcoming Highlanders season—and beyond.
"Winning takes care of everything," he said, "and it's something I want to establish here.
"We're looking to hit the ground running. Something that we're going to strive for is sustained success. We want to be a force to be reckoned with in this (Southeastern) conference on a yearly basis.
"We have a fantastic group of individuals coming back for next year, and we're gonna build a program around these kids.
"It's something that I'm very excited for. I've had conversations with some kids throughout the course of the day (Thursday) just coming up to me and expressing that excitement. Obviously, it's early on, but we're gonna be ready to roll. I'm setting our goals extremely high.
"I believe in our kids. I believe in our district. I have great relationships with these kids. I know we can building something special."