SAN MARCOS — Southwest Texas State University is mourning the loss of one of its most inspirational leaders, legendary football coach and former athletic director Jim Wacker.
Wacker died Tuesday morning, Aug. 26, at the age of 66 after a lengthy battle with cancer.
Funeral services will be held at 11 a.m. Friday, Aug. 29, in Evans Auditorium on the SWT campus. Burial will follow at 3:30 p.m. at San Marcos City Cemetery. A lunch will be served following the funeral service at the First Lutheran Church on Holland Street. Visitation will be from 6 to 8 p.m. Thursday, Aug. 28, at Pennington Funeral Home in San Marcos.
The family asks that, in lieu of flowers, donations be made to the Bobcat Athletic Foundation, The Texas State University-San Marcos Geography Department Endowment, the football programs at Texas Lutheran University or TCU, the Hope Hospice of New Braunfels or Lutheran Social Services.
Jim Wacker celebrates with his players after winning the 1981 NCAA II championship.
“Jim Wacker was an important part of the history of this university,” said SWT President Denise Trauth. “But he was also so much more. He embodied our spirit and our enthusiasm. He was an inspirational leader not only to the players who played for him, but for all of us. He touched so many lives. We have lost a very dear member of the SWT family.”
Wacker coached the SWT Bobcat football team from 1979 to 1982. His 42-8 record in that span is the highest winning percentage in school history. The Bobcats won back-to-back NCAA Division II national championships in 1981 and 1982 under his guidance.
He also served as director of athletics at SWT from 1998 to 2001.
Current Bobcat head football coach Manny Matsakis announced the 2003 Bobcats would dedicate their season to Wacker’s memory. All Bobcat players will wear the initials “JW” on their helmets this season.
Wacker’s coaching career began in 1960 at Concordia High School in Portland, Ore., where he served as head football, wrestling and track coach. He later served as assistant football coach at Concordia College in Seward, Neb., and at Augustana College in Sioux Falls, S.D.
His first college head coaching job came at Texas Lutheran University from 1971 to 1975. He led the Bulldogs to NAIA national championships in 1974 and 1975.
From Texas Lutheran, he went to North Dakota State University, where he served as head coach from 1976 to 1978. He led the Thundering Herd to two North Central Conference championships and to two national semifinal playoff appearances in NCAA Division II.
He left NDSU to join SWT in 1979 and led the Bobcats to unprecedented gridiron glory. His SWT teams played before throngs of fans, drawn both by his teams’ success on the playing field and his infectious enthusiasm. Bobcat football was so popular during Wacker’s tenure that the school opened a new football stadium — Bobcat Stadium — in 1981. In some circles, it was affectionately called “The House That Wacker Built.”
Wacker’s 1982 Bobcat team finished 14-0, and he was selected College Division Coach of the Year by the American Football Coaches Association. From 1974 to 1982, Wacker’s record was 88-18-1, the best record in the nation during that nine-year period.
Wacker left SWT to accept the head coaching position at TCU. In 1984 he led the Horned Frogs — a team that had gone 17-90-3 from 1973 to 1982 — to an 8-3 record and an invitation to the Bluebonnet Bowl. His success earned him National Coach of the Year honors from The Sporting News, United Press International and ESPN. He also received the American Sportsmanship Council’s Bobby Dodd Coach of the Year Award.
Wacker and his staff also doubled the graduation rate during their nine years at TCU, including a 100 percent mark in 1991 that earned the CFA Award for Academic Excellence.
From TCU, Wacker went to the University of Minnesota, where he led the Golden Gophers from 1992 to 1996. His focus on academic excellence allowed Minnesota to lead the Big 10 Conference with record-setting Academic All Big 10 selections during three consecutive seasons.
He left college coaching in 1996 with an overall record of 160-130-3.
A Detroit native and the son of a Lutheran minister, Wacker held a bachelor’s degree from Valparaiso University, a master’s degree in geography from Wayne State University and a doctorate in education from the University of Nebraska.
Wacker, a lifelong Lutheran, remained active in church work wherever he lived, including San Marcos, where he and his wife are members of the First Lutheran Church.
He and his wife, Lil, have three sons, Mike, Steve and Tom.