When Dan Wagner took over the reins of the Franklin & Marshall men’s soccer team in 2002, he was a high school social studies teacher trying to commit as much time to the program as possible while juggling his family and teaching responsibilities. His first Diplomats squad went 1-5 to open the season, and his 2003 team won just three contests.
How times have changed.
With the Diplomats’ 2-1 victory over Elizabethtown on Sept. 12, Wagner reached the 100-win plateau while also becoming the program’s all-time leader in coaching wins. His 100th victory moved him past coach Robert Smith, who amassed 99 victories on the F&M sidelines from 1947-63. Wagner becomes the eighth coach in Centennial Conference (CC) history and the third active conference coach to achieve the mark.
“Reaching this milestone is reflective of the soccer program as a whole, which has consistently performed at a high level for a decade,” Wagner said. “In athletics, we often deal with the highs and lows of our squad’s most recent performances, so it was nice to take a step back after the Elizabethtown win and look at the wider picture of what our student-athletes have accomplished over the years.”
In 2007 Wagner became the full-time coach of the Diplomats, and success quickly followed. A two-time National Soccer Coaches Association of America (NSCAA) Mid-Atlantic Region Coach of the Year, Wagner has turned the Diplomats into a consistent national contender. As of Oct. 4 he held a record of 103-61-28 (.609 winning percentage), and he has coached two All-America selections, 12 All-Region, and 35 AllCC performers during his time at F&M.
While Wagner’s first two seasons were humbling, they were building blocks for what would become one of the most successful stretches in the program's history. Since 2004, the Diplomats have lost only 39 times in 144 contests while consistently having one of the toughest schedules in the country. Since 2006 the Diplomats have participated in the NCAA tournament twice and have earned a top-25 national ranking in all but one year.
“The credit for the success of F&M soccer belongs to the 100 or more players who’ve dedicated so much to our program,” Wagner said. “Not just the ones you see on the website, but the many who may have seen little time on the field. We have high standards in our program, and many of our players have made year-round commitments to help achieve them.”
Forward Ben Beaver ’14 is grateful to have Wagner as his coach. While the two-time All-CC selection and 2011 AllRegion pick has seen plenty of success on the field, he is comfortable seeking advice from Wagner about topics that stretch beyond soccer.
“Coach Wagner is not only a coach to us players, but a mentor as well,” Beaver said. “Whether it’s about soccer, school, family, or whatever else is on my mind, I know that I can talk to him about anything. Ultimately, besides being someone to confide in and talk to, coach is a no-nonsense adviser who helps put life into perspective. I am thankful he helped bring me here, and I wouldn’t trade my F&M experience for anything.”
Wagner’s soccer pedigree is rich. In the early 1990s he was a three-time All-Middle Atlantic Conference selection at Messiah College and the only player to captain the Falcons for three seasons. He first made the transition from player to coach at Northern York High School in Dillsburg, Pa., coaching the girls’ junior varsity in 1994 and varsity squad in 1995. From Dillsburg, it was on to Lancaster’s Pequea Valley High School, where he stood at the helm for two seasons. He then served as the head boys’ coach at Penn Manor High School in Millersville, Pa., from 1999-2001.
While he has come a long way since his early days of coaching, Wagner remains humble about his accomplishments over the years, preferring to deflect the attention from himself and focus the attention on those who supported him and the teams he has served.
“While reaching the 100-win mark is nice, I have to thank those around me for the rise of the program,” Wagner said. “I couldn't have done this without my wife, Shelby, a tremendous coaching staff, (Director of Athletics & Recreation) Patty Epps and the athletic department, and the quality players and people we've brought onto campus.”
“I take great pride in the individual growth I’ve seen in so many of our players over the years, and I cherish having a job that allows me to be a part of so many young adults lives.”
—by Tim Mowrer