Russellville Cyclones' new head football coach David Wheeler said he's always hoped to return to Russellville after leaving at the end of the 2016 state championship football season.
"Russellville is a home away from home for me," he said. "I not only coached at Russellville High School, I was defensive coordinator at Arkansas Tech University and had a really good run there. I like Russellville. I like the people here, the community and the school treated me well when I was here.
"This was something I was really hoping to get a chance to do."
Wheeler was hired by the Russellville School Board of Education with a unanimous vote on the recommendation of athletic director Johnny Johnson in a called meeting on Wednesday.
Wheeler was the defensive coordinator at Rogers in 2020, where his team finished with a 6-3 record.
Wheeler was on staff at Arkansas Tech University between 2003-06. During that time, the Wonder Boys reached the second round of the 2004 NCAA Division II playoffs and won 10 games for the fourth time in program history.
Wheeler was brought to the Cyclones by former head coach Jeff Holt in 2014 and kept on by former head coach Billy Dawson in 2015.
In 2016, the Cyclones went 12-1 and won the Class 6A state championship.
But what will it take to bring Russellville back to dominance? Wheeler said it will start with an attitude shift.
"The first building block of success is always getting the right mentality," he said. "That's attacking offseason correctly, attacking every day, on and off the field, correctly. We have to win in the classroom, win in the weight room and do things the right way.
"That's the way we built it in 2015 and 2016, and a lot of the things we did then still apply today. A lot of the principals we used will remain the same. We want to try and instill character and the culture we need to be a winning program."
In 2016, Wheeler's defense recorded 16 interceptions, recovered nine fumbles, 26 sacks, 78 hurries and 186 tackles for loss.
But Wheeler wouldn't say whether he'd call the defense for the Cyclones or not.
"Right now it'll depend on who we hire," he said. "We have some opportunity to hire some people. Obviously, I'm well-prepared to call the defensive, but I've called offenses before too. If I need to, I will. I've done both sides of the ball, so we'll just have to see where we are with the staff. We'll take the next month to evaluate and look at what we need."
Russellville's junior high team finished the season 8-2 and as River Valley Central Conference runners-up, while the seventh-grade team recorded a perfect 8-0 season. Wheeler said he is excited about the incoming talent at Russellville.
"I've had people on staff and in the community who have told me about these kids," he said. "There's some good talent and good football players, and that always excites you, especially when they are young and you can mold them. That says a lot about our junior high coaches and middle school coaches and staff to get those kids going in the right direction."