HARRISBURG -- Hickory Ridge High School administrators moved swiftly to find a new head football coach when the position surprisingly became open late last week, and they didn’t have to leave the building to make the hire.
On Monday afternoon, the school announced that assistant coach Jupiter Wilson has been promoted to the top job after Sam Greiner’s sudden resignation Thursday after just one season.
Wilson, a former University of North Carolina offensive lineman, becomes Hickory Ridge’s fourth head coach in five years.
Wilson spent last season as the Ragin’ Bulls’ defensive line coach and offensive coordinator. Greiner, who declined to say why he was stepping down, had publicly lobbied for Wilson to get the job.
“It’s an unfortunate situation with how everything shook out (with Greiner), but I’m excited about the opportunity of being the head coach at Hickory Ridge,” the 37-year-old Wilson told the Independent Tribune. “I definitely wanted to be at a place with support from the students and all those types of things.”
Wilson also is Hickory Ridge’s head track and field coach, where he led the boys squad to the Southwestern 4A Conference title and was named the league’s coach of the year.
“Being the track coach was probably a defining moment, because that was a chance for me to be in a head role (at Hickory Ridge),” Wilson said. “And then for those kids, guys and girls, to see me in that role and to have the success that we had was probably a tip of the cap for me.”
This isn’t Wilson’s first head football coaching job, either. Before arriving at Hickory Ridge, he spent seven years leading the program at Chesapeake, Virginia-based Hickory High, his alma mater, where he posted an 18-51 record.
Wilson said he and his wife, Melanie, decided they needed a change, so they headed to back to North Carolina, where they originally met as teachers several years ago. Wilson subsequently joined Greiner’s staff, and Melanie became an English teacher at Hickory Ridge Middle. The couple has a 5-year-old daughter, London.
The Bulls finished the 2018 campaign with a 5-6 record, although the team was forced to forfeit the final two games of the regular season after a fracas broke out along the sidelines during a game at East Mecklenburg. Players from both teams were suspended, and the Bulls missed the playoffs for the first time in a decade.
The previous season, Hickory Ridge reached the state quarterfinals under then-coach Jason Seidel, who spent two seasons at the school. Seidel had replaced Marty Paxton, the first football coach for the Harrisburg school that opened in 2007.
Wilson teaches weightlifting and physical education at Hickory Ridge. But after Greiner’s abrupt resignation, he wasn’t quite sure what would be next for him. A short time later, he had a meeting with Hickory Ridge Principal Shaun Poole and athletics director Phil Furr.
“Mr. Furr and Dr. Poole just talked to me about what they felt they needed to have the guy they wanted to lead the team from their standpoint,” Wilson said. “I had some decisions to make over the weekend.
“I definitely felt there were going to be some opportunities for me next year to maybe be a head coach.”
At UNC, Wilson played under coaches Carl Torbush and John Bunting, and after graduating in 2004, he developed a strong reputation as a high school assistant. He previously had stops at New Bern (strength and conditioning), Monroe (offensive line) and Vance (offensive coordinator).
It was at Vance that Wilson met Greiner, who also was a coordinator, and they developed a bond that’s remained strong throughout the years.
Wilson said his close relationship with Greiner is part of what made accepting the Hickory Ridge job bittersweet.
“We’ve talked pretty much every day since he made his decision,” Wilson said of Greiner. “It was a little bit tough, but as we talked, he said ‘Jupe, I think it’s time for me to do something different or go to a different spot, but I really believe that you could be the guy for the job.’
“There was a little tear shed, because that was my boy, and I love him dearly,” Wilson added. “Walking into this position, I’ve got his blessing on it.”
While his first go-round as a head coach didn’t go as well as he’d wished – Hickory High never reached the Virginia state playoffs during his tenure – Wilson said he believes his collective experiences have made him more equipped than ever to succeed with the Ragin’ Bulls.
That includes being on the Hickory Ridge staff for a year with Greiner.
“Just coming here and being able to see all the ins and outs of being at a program that’s probably always been on the mid-to-higher tier, in terms of wins and losses, is big,” Wilson said. “And all the things I’ve gone through as a coach – good, bad or indifferent – just kind of puts you in position to see everything for what it is and not to get too high or too low.
“Being 37, getting back into it is a lot different from when I was 28 or 29, when I got my first head job. You just kind of feel good about the situation. You get to put your own stamp on a program again.”
One of the first orders of business as Bulls head man for Wilson is to build a coaching staff. But he said he’s definitely going to make sure he’s there for his players during the transition, even though he’s a familiar face around campus.
“It’s kind of been hard on them,” he said, “not necessarily just from Greiner’s standpoint but in totality, especially with the rising seniors. Those guys have had three (head) coaches in three years.
“I’m just going to try to bring them stability. I told them I didn’t want to be an interim head coach. I didn’t want to have that label, and I’m happy to be their coach.”