Callahan Adds Former Head Coaches Wagner and Blake to Nebraska Football Staff

By NU Athletic Communications
Coach Callahan announced the hiring of two assistant coaches on Wednesday.
Coach Callahan announced the hiring of two assistant coaches on Wednesday.
Photo by Design Bret McVey

Lincoln -- Just five days after his own hiring, Nebraska Head Football Coach Bill Callahan quickly secured John Blake as his defensive line coach and Dennis Wagner as his offensive line coach on Wednesday.

Callahan hired Turner Gill as his receivers coach and Scott Downing as recruiting coordinator on Tuesday, leaving just five vacancies on the staff.

Known as an excellent recruiter and top defensive coach, John Blake, former head coach at Oklahoma, and Mississippi State defensive line coach in 2003, joins the Husker team to coach the defensive line.

Callahan said Blake's college and NFL experience is extensive and impressive. "John has coached and won two Super Bowls and a national championship. Even more importantly, he has gained national respect for his recruiting ability, as indicated by his contributions to Oklahoma as a head coach. He is a great addition to our staff."

Blake, 42, comes to Nebraska from Mississippi State where he served as the defensive line coach on Jackie Sherrill's staff for one year. He was the director of a professional developmental camp for defensive linemen called "A Chance To Advance Football Camp."

A former All-Big Eight nose guard at Oklahoma, Blake played for Coach Barry Switzer from 1979 to 1982. He coached at OU under Barry Switzer and Gary Gibbs at OU and also paired with Switzer in the NFL at Dallas, serving as the Cowboys' defensive line coach from 1993 to 1995. At OU, Blake began as a student assistant working with the defensive line in 1985, and earned a national championship ring that season. He received his degree from OU in 1986, and was elevated to graduate assistant coach in 1986.

Blake's first full-time assistant position was at Tulsa in 1987 and 1988, where he coached the tight ends and wide receivers. He returned to his alma mater in 1989 as the Sooners' defensive line coach, then served as Gibbs' linebackers coach from 1990 to 1992. Lured by Jimmy Johnson to Dallas, Blake's defensive front led the league in rush defense in 1994 as five players made the Pro Bowl during his three seasons. Dallas won two Super Bowls (1993 and 1995) during his Blake's term with the Cowboys, the first under Johnson and the second under Switzer.

Blake returned to his alma mater to serve as head coach of the Sooners from 1996 to 1998. He posted a three-year 12-22 record at OU and recruited 18 of the 22 starters on Oklahoma's 2000 national championship team.

"Joining Coach Callahan's staff here at the University of Nebraska is a very special point in my life," said Blake. "I will serve this university in every way I can, with all the experience I have obtained as a football coach and as a person, in order to make this University and Coach Callahan a champion once again."

Blake earned his bachelor's degree in public relations and recreation from Oklahoma in 1986. He and his wife Freda (Tulsa, Okla.) have one son, Jourdan (7). A native Oklahoman, Blake attended Charles Page High School in Sand Springs, Okla., graduating in 1979.

Dennis Wagner, 45, comes to Nebraska from Fresno State where he has served as assistant head coach and offensive line coach for the past seven years. He will coach the storied offensive line at Nebraska, which returns three starters that helped lead NU to a No. 7 ranking in rushing last season.

"Dennis has extensive knowledge of our offense and will help our players make the transition quickly to the West Coast Offense," Coach Callahan said. "He is familiar with the Midwest and has established recruiting ties in California, Utah, Nevada and Arizona."

Wagner quickly helped Fresno State's offensive line become one of the top units in the country as his 2002 line was ranked among the top 10 in 2002 by The Sporting News. His offensive linemen helped David Carr post record-shattering passing numbers in 2001 (4,299 yards, 42 touchdowns passing), while running back Paris Gaines rushed for more than 1,000 yards as the team averaged 501.6 yards per game. In each of the last two years, one of his freshmen have earned first-team frosh All-America honors, including tackle Logan Mankins in 2002 and center Kyle Young in 2003. Wagner helped Head Coach Pat Hill led the Bulldogs to bowl games in each of the last five years.

An Iowa native (Waverly), Wagner has other Midwest and Nebraska ties as he was the head coach at Wayne (Neb.) State from 1989 to 1996, leading the Wildcats to a 46-35-1. He quickly turned around the Division II program which had lost 30 consecutive games prior to his arrival. He was named the Nebraska Coach of the Year by the Omaha World-Herald in 1990 and 1993. In his last four seasons at Wayne State, the Wildcats finished no lower than third nationally in total offense, leading the nation with 581.5 yards per game in 1993.

Before his eight-year stint at Wayne State, Wagner coached four seasons at St. Cloud (Minn.) State (1985 to 1988), serving as offensive coordinator, offensive line coach and also oversaw the strength and conditioning program.

With more than two decades of coaching experience, Wagner was an offensive line coach at Luther College in 1980; served on the UNLV football staff in 1981 and 1982 coaching the tight ends and offensive line; was the head track coach at William Penn College in 1983 and served as assistant strength coach for UNLV's PCAA and California Bowl championship team in 1984.

"I'm very honored to be a part of Coach Callahan's staff," Wagner said. "I believe he is assembling a great group of coaches and I'm looking forward to the opportunity to build Nebraska back into Big 12 and national championship teams. I'm also looking forward to being back in Nebraska and being a part of the wonderful Husker tradition."

Wagner was a team captain his senior season for Utah, earning All-WAC honors and honorable-mention All-America honors as an offensive guard. He was a junior college transfer from Ellsworth (Iowa) Community College where he was a JUCO All-American and team captain as a center.

He and his wife, Cyndi (Newhall, Iowa), have a daughter, Whitney (12) and a son, Joshua (5). He earned his bachelor's degree in psychology/physical education from Utah in 1980 and his master's degree in athletic administration from St. Cloud State in 1987.


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