For Rahne, who spent six seasons at Penn State, the past two as its offensive coordinator, the dialogue with Wilder was a logical early step as he puts his stamp on Old Dominion football as its second head coach.
A few weeks earlier, before Rahne formally had accepted the job, he phoned Wilder to get his thoughts on the position, the program and the university.
Rahne had forged a working relationship with Wilder when Penn State hosted satellite camps at ODU.
“I’d be foolish not to take all that experience from a guy who cares so deeply about Old Dominion and Old Dominion football,” Rahne. “He made himself available and I reached out to see if I could chew his ear off on a couple of things and it’s been good. Obviously, the things he did for this program, to build it, that’s something the university will always be thankful for.”
Wilder took over at ODU two years before the team started play in the 2009 season. The Monarchs spent their first five seasons at the FCS level before transitioning to FBS in 2014. Three years later, Wilder had the start-up program at 10-3 after a win in the 2016 Bahamas Bowl.
But the success fell off from there. Old Dominion went 10-26 the next three seasons, including last year’s 1-11 campaign, the one that led to the school’s decision to dismiss Wilder.
Meeting with Rahne a few weeks later to turn over the keys to the car he had built from scratch like a weekend mechanic, wasn’t easy for Wilder. But he decided his passion for the program and his commitment to his son, Derek, a senior defensive lineman at ODU, outweighed his disappointment over his dismissal.
“That was difficult. It was about two weeks after I had been asked to step down as the head coach,” Wilder said. “I had to put aside my personal feelings and think about Coach Rahne, and think about my son and everybody else who was still there.”
Derek Wilder underwent a similar internal debate. After initially considering transferring following his father’s dismissal, Derek Wilder has decided to stay and play for Rahne, the man who sits in his father’s old office.
“It was uncharted territory,” Derek Wilder said. “I never knew ODU without him being the coach and, at that point, no one else did either.”
The younger Wilder said his father’s positive attitude toward the program and support of Rahne made it easier for him to return to school after being granted a sixth season of eligibility by the NCAA.
“The first thing we had to get through was his tremendous loyalty to his father and his head coach,” Bobby Wilder said. “His first though was, ‘I’m not coming back.’ His first thoughts were anger and frustration.”
The elder Wilder can relate to those emotions. After his firing, Bobby Wilder spent a few months looking for another coaching job. He explored possible opportunities, he said, but none panned out. He then shifted his focus to securing work as a broadcaster and had lined up interviews in that field.
But with COVID-19
D. Wilder putting college football on pause, those plans have been put on hold. So, after 32 years of college coaching, Bobby Wilder is finding new ways to spend his days. That’s included a lot of reading, a good helping of golf and a healthy amount of time walking the family dogs, Jack and Khaleesi.
Khaleesi is a plott hound-border collie mix, a rescue dog that Derek got his father as a gift last spring. Jack is Derek’s malamute-pitt bull mix he rescued from a kill shelter.
“If my son could, he would rescue every animal in the world, and we’d have it in our house,” Bobby Wilder said.
This fall, assuming games go on and he hasn’t landed a broadcasting gig, Bobby Wilder plans to be at Old Dominion’s S.B. Ballard to watch Derek play and Rahne coach, while also attending Navy games, where his younger son, Drew, will be a freshman center.
And if ODU wins when he’s there, most likely as a guest in the suite of the school’s retiring president, who cochaired the search committee when Wilder was hired, Wilder will cheer.
“This is Ricky Rahne’s program now,” Wilder said. “He needs that and deserves that space. But I made it clear to him that I’ll always be there for him to help in any way I can.”
“I’d be foolish not to take all that experience from a guy who cares so deeply
about Old Dominion.”