Part 4: Coach Wolfgang (1977-1979)
A Hero’s Welcome
Wolfgang Halbig left Lake Weir High School for the 1977-1978 school year, and took a job at Vanguard High School, across town in Ocala. It was another assistant-coach role, but he must have felt he’d have better chances of reaching head coach at the new school. That was what he wanted.
His fortunes changed when the head football coach and athletic director back at Lake Weir, Tom Perrin, announced he was retiring at the end of the year. In a March 15, 1978 article from the Ocala Star-Banner, the principal of Lake Weir High, Clyde Folsom, laid out his plans to replace Perrin. He said the basketball team’s head coach, Bobby Hall, would take over as the school’s athletic director. And returning to Lake Weir, now as the new head coach of the football team, would be none other than Wolfgang Halbig.
In statements to the press, Folsom acknowledged that Wolfgang would have his work cut out for him. “He has a big challenge in front of him. Hopefully in given time he can build the program back to competitive level so we can compete.” The past two seasons had seen mediocre performances from the Hurricanes: 4-6 in 1975, and 2-8 the most recent season. What Lake Weir really wanted out of their new coach was a long-term commitment; they weren’t expecting an overnight miracle.
Wolfgang agreed, and even admitted being “scared to death” when he thought of the challenge awaiting him. “I even have butterflies now.” Wolfgang acknowledged that his first year would be about rebuilding. “It’s got such a long ways to go. In a couple years, Lake Weir will be on top.”
He had a “three pronged plan” to improve the team’s performance: “the three things he said he wants out of the players are enthusiasm, dedication, and loyalty.”
When Wolfgang first returned to the Lake Weir campus on March 16th, the sports columnist for the Ocala Star-Banner described it as nothing less than a hero’s welcome. “Wherever Wolfgang Halbig went Thursday, he didn’t go far before being surrounded by well-wishers… If the likeable, towheaded coach were running for office, he would have been a shooin.”
He set about getting the practice fields re-sodded, and planning spring training. In the meantime, his head-coaching role also meant teaching classes at the school. So, if you went to high school in Ocala that year, there was a good chance you’d be taught History or US Government by Mr. Halbig.
In September, with the start of the football season approaching, the Star-Banner ran a lengthy profile on Halbig, and his plans for the Hurricanes that year. Again, he emphasized that they were focusing on the long-term, such as by getting the juniors on the team into play as much as possible (so that they could return to the team for their senior year, with experience under their belt.)
“I’ve got some good young kids. I’m really looking forward to two years from now and not right now. We’ll try to be respectable. […] I think by the fifth game this year you’ll see a different team.”
The paper’s sports writer commented, at the end of his profile of the Hurricanes, that “the most optimistic look in the crystal ball can come up with no better than a 3-7 season.”
Failure to Launch
The first game was on September 8th, against Buchholz High School. The Hurricanes lost 28-0. They lost again the following week, 27-0, against Forest High School.
Worse still, their fullback, responsible for most of the yards they’d managed to gain in those two games, got injured and would be out for the rest of the season.
Wolfgang wasn’t letting it get to him. “I believe we can win. Things are going to start going our way real soon… We started off the season with the toughest teams in the district but want my boys to know there are two halves to the schedule and we can still have a good year.”
But, it was not to be. The Hurricanes lost every game that season. Wolfgang’s record, at the end of his first season as a head football coach, was 0-10.
Principal Folsom held “several meetings” with Wolfgang at season’s end in November, with (athletic director) Bobby Hall also in attendance. As Folsom would tell a sports reporter, “At the conclusion of those meetings, Coach Halbig expressed a sincere interest in remaining at Lake Weir High School.” And despite the dismal season they’d just had, Folsom decided to keep Wolfgang as head coach for next year.
A Villain’s Exit
Six weeks later, Wolfgang was fired as head coach.
Principal Folsom released a statement on January 27 1979, explaining the sudden decision; as it turned out, while Wolfgang had said he was committed to rebuilding the Hurricanes, and was demanding loyalty from his players, he was also keeping an eye on the exit. “Within the past week,” Folsom said, “I have learned that Coach Halbig was interested in another coaching position in a high school in the state. It is my responsibility to secure someone who is totally committed to develop the football program at Lake Weir High School. Therefor, in the best interest of the football program, a change was necessary.”
Wolfgang insisted it was all a misunderstanding. He wasn’t looking for a job; he hadn’t even contacted Sebring High School himself. He had simply reached out to “an acquaintance who had worked at Sebring to do it.” He said he had inquired about an opening at that school that school because Sebring is closer to Avon Park, where his mother still lived. If wanted to move back home, it was only because his mother was in ill health.
Wolfgang went on to explain that while he didn’t tell Folsom or Hall about any of this, it was only because he was too loyal to the Hurricanes. “If I were interested in leaving Lake Weir, I would have told the kids first and Clyde second. That’s how I feel about the Lake Wier kids.”
And anyway, the response he got was that Sebring was looking for an older coach, “with more experience.” Wolfgang was 32 years old, and in his first year as head coach. So really, he was going to stay put at Lake Weir anyway. (I guess his mother got better after that. Gertrude sticks around for another couple decades.)
“All I wanted to find out was what they were looking for,” Halbig told reporters. “I never sent a resume. I never had an interview. If that’s a reason to show unloyalty, if that’s a reason to be fired for, then I don’t envy the next person coming in there.”
The Lake Weir High School Conspiracy
Wolfgang had doubts that his totally-not-looking-for-a-job contact with Sebring was the real reason Lake Weir was firing him, anyway.
He told reporters that the ten months he worked at Lake Weir were “somewhat stormy in regards to his relationship with Folsom and Hall,” ever since they had let one of his junior-varsity coaches go “for not following the chain of command.” Wolfgang had stood up for his coaching staff, and as a result, “The reason they’re firing me, I think, is because I’m backtalking them and defending my coaches.” The Sebring call was just a cover story from Folsom and Hall. “They don’t like it because I’m giving them fire.”
It’s a conspiracy, in other words.
Wolfgang was still an employee of the school district, despite losing his coaching spot. So the district moved him down to Lake Weir Middle School, probably just so they didn’t have to see his face around the Hurricanes campus for the rest of the year.
He got an offer to work as a defensive coordinator at Forest High School in 1979, and would do that for just a week before turning around and accepting a job back at Vanguard, as assistant football coach. Exactly the same spot he had back before he took the head coaching job at Lake Weir.
And it’s funny: When you look at his resume from 2012, Wolfgang doesn’t mention any of this at all. He just puts down that he worked at Vanguard High School all the way from 1975 to 1983. Like the last year of Wolfgang’s life, and his first season as a head football coach, had never happened at all.
To be sure, for years afterward, there were many at Lake Weir High School who would prefer to imagine the same thing.
(continued in Part 5: Student Driver)
Austin “Blade” Tompkins is a certified forklift and order-picker operator located in the province of Ontario. He was an active Sandy-Hook “hoaxer” from 2013 to 2014. He has been sober since 2015.