Whether as an athletic director or football coach, Wagner’s Walt Hameline has earned distinction for his work. As the Seahawks’ football coach for 34 years, Hameline ranks fifth among FCS coaches in wins and owns a national championship after leading Wagner to the Division III crown in 1987. As the longest-tenured athletic director in Division I, Hameline has overseen Seahawks athletes who routinely finish near the top of the Northeast Conference in grade-point-average. “Walt Hamline represents the best of what Wagner is all about – high achievement, integrity and hard work,” said Wagner President Richard Guarasci. In this exclusive interview with FootballMatters.org, Hameline reflects on the mentoring he received from his college coaches, the parallels of being a football coach and athletic director, and the role football played in his life.
Football Matters: What was your first experience with the game of football? When did you first start playing?
Walt Hameline: It goes all the way back to Pee Wee football. They put me at quarterback and I kept going the wrong way. Finally they moved me to offensive guard, and then I played defensive end. I’ll tell you what that did, it really made me appreciate and understand what those guys had to go through. I did everything in my power to become a quarterback and was a quarterback in high school. Then I wanted to be a quarterback in college but they made me a defensive back, which was the right decision.
FM: Were there any coaches who were particularly influential in your development?
WH: My dad passed away when I was a young kid, so it was just my mom. My football coaches really became mentors. My college coach, Gerry D’Agostino at Brockport, was a great mentor. Those were the guys that sort of got me going in keeping me going in the right direction. I knew what I was going to do at a young age.
FM: When you say you knew what you wanted to do, did that develop because of your coaches?
WH: Yes, it developed because of those coaches. It started back then, when I was a young guy, and the direction they gave me. I needed a kick in the tail a few times along the line to get me going. I just had a vision that I wanted to be a coach.
FM: Were there certain coaching philosophies that you tried to mimic when you got into coaching yourself?
WH: Without question. I think I look back and it was a couple of things. One, it was the technical aspect of it, and along with that the discipline aspect of it. I went with what my high school basketball coach put in place, and that is not to be out there for more than an hour and 45 minutes, and make sure you stop practice on a good note. Bob Ford at Albany where I was for a year coaching with him, I took the direction and the organizational aspect of things and brought that along with me here. The guy who hired me, P.J. Carlesimo, was a guy that really brought me along from a standpoint of dealing with people and being open-minded. I always say you’re only as good as the people around you, and I was really, really fortunate to have so many good mentors around me.
FM: You not only have football coach on the resume, you also have athletic director, a position you’ve held longer than anyone else in Division 1.
WH: I’ve been pretty fortunate. I was on the NIT committee for a long time when the five schools owned the NIT. That was a great experience for me too. I actually had the ability to go to different universities and talk to athletic directors, talk to football coaches, go to football practice. That gave me the ability to learn so many different things and get so many different views from different people, see how things worked at each and every place. I was really fortunate to have those different avenues as doing two jobs, and the experience to meet so many great people along the way.
FM: Were there any parallels between being a football coach and being athletic director?
WH: There’s no question there was. I tied both things together. There were two things that I really realized: you have to surround yourself with good people and you have to be on the same team. I think there was a lot of correlation and overlap. I think the other thing I learned is that football is a little bit different than the other sports in that you have so many people involved. You have to be able to pass off responsibilities and keep people accountable, but let them do their job too. I think that was something that really helped me when I was doing both. I had good people around me. I had to let them do their job and it showed me it was OK to let the coaches coach. That was a big thing where I cross-referenced that way.
FM: The athletic department has piled up academic accolades in your time as athletic director. Did you put a premium on academic performance?
WH: Without question. The key there is that you set goals for yourself. Our football team for two years in a row got to a 3.0 GPA index. That was a goal of ours, to get our football team to a 3.0, and we did that two years in a row. That was something that we preached to the kids. We made sure they were doing the right things academically. We have good student-athletes who are good kids, but at the same time we did set those goals and we made sure everyone was on the same page.
FM: What was the decision like to step down from coaching after the 2014 season?
WH: It was a really, really difficult decision. A scary decision, to be honest with you. I still had such a love for the game. I was so leery that I had no idea. It was a hard decision because it has been my whole life. To step away from it was one of those gray areas. You never know what the right time is. I was fortunate enough that we had been having success, but at the same time I felt the program was in good shape and things were going in the right direction. I talked to my wife and family and made that final decision. I’m not a guy to look back. I think it has worked out fine. I’m handling it fine. I go to every game and I’m on the sidelines and I want to yell at the official every once in a while, but still being able to go to the events has been a plus.
FM: How has football influenced you are as a person?
WH: I think it has influenced me by helping me to care about other people. From a discipline standpoint, the game has made me very task-oriented to want to be successful. Setting goals and then getting after it. Being able to see kids that you’ve dealt with and worked with and then they graduate and then they come back to campus. You get to see them grow as people. That’s probably been the greatest thing.