A Coke sweats on his desk, neighboring two Coney’s and some chips, which compose the usual lunch. Across the way, names and plays litter the white board, while the other three walls remain bare. A statue of Bill Edwards and a helmet signed by Dave Maurer loom over two championship rings on a nearby shelf.
The 23rd season at the helm is well under way for Head Coach Joe Fincham, who calls the simple eight-foot-by-ten-foot office space home. It may be a temporary space, but it is where Wittenberg football continues its tradition.
“[My day] is like all people, trying to juggle professional and family life,” Fincham said. “Going to practice, spending time with your staff, trying to get home in time to say good night to your kids.”
While the modest West Virginian doesn’t see his usual day as glamorous, his resumé would beg to differ. Beyond his 205 career wins and counting, Fincham has mentored many players and coaches that have come through his ranks since arriving as an assistant 29 years ago.
“You never quit learning,” Fincham said. “I learn as much from players and coaches that come in and out of here as they do from me. Trust me.”
Today, he follows his former coaches and players and the teams they now reside with. Fincham’s mentees and mentors are among the ranks of Miami (Ohio), Ohio State, Duke, Western Michigan, Notre Dame and many small colleges.
His leadership has seen 11 all-American linemen develop within
the offense alone. In total, he has seen 35 of his players collect 73 all-American awards.
In addition to the field, Fincham’s athletes also excel in the classroom, as he sports an academic all-American and three NCAA Postgrad Scholarship recipients.
His alma mater is the team he cheers on the most though. Fincham was an offensive lineman himself, graduating from Ohio University in 1988. Young Fincham served as a four-year letter winner and three-year starter for the Bobcats.
“I wouldn’t attach my name with being an athlete,” Fincham said, “I was only a lineman.”
From athlete to coach, Fincham has etched his name into Wittenberg’s, the NCAC’s and NCAA’s record books due to his successes on the field.
His name fits perfectly in a list complete with names such as Ohio State’s Urban Meyer and Alabama’s Nick Saban, falling between the two ranked seventh in all-time winningest by percentage among active coaches across all divisions.
In 2010, the West Virginia native surpassed National College Football Hall of Famer Maurer to claim the school record for wins by a coach, which counted 129 at that time. In 2017, Fincham continued his streak to amass 200 wins, becoming the 86th coach in college football history, joining the likes of Penn State’s Joe Paterno, Michigan’s Bo Schembeckler, Ohio State’s Woody Hayes and Jim Tressel, and Alabama’s Bear Bryant.
In the last two years, his teams have set records with two four-overtime thrillers. In 2016 against Thomas More, the game was credited to be the longest NCAA playoff game to date, resulting in a Wittenberg win. This past Saturday, the Tigers took home a “W” after defeating Denison 68-66, an NCAC record for largest combined score of 134.
Fincham, however, does not take credit for building Wittenberg success on the field. Instead, he credits Edwards and Maurer, along with Doug Neibuhr, who Fincham first assisted under, to have built the foundation for today’s football program.
“Everything that [past coaches] did has created the platform of which we work out of now,” Fincham said.
When recruiting, coaches mention the tradition held by the Tiger program. Key lines include “One losing season since 1955” and “The second-most all-time wins in division III.”
“Those are all things those guys started back in 1955,” Fincham said. “I certainly don’t want to screw it up on my watch. In a few years, someone else can worry about it.”
Fincham’s recruiting tactics work through the offseason, pulling in large freshmen classes annually. Many are Clark County natives or from surrounding areas. Several others pack their bags from Florida to call Ohio their new home.
Several coaches stay on staff with their alma mater and former coach, if not coming from other institutions around the country. All coming together to be part of a program Fincham mentioned that expects, and loves, to win.
“If you look around our offices we have a pretty young staff,” Fincham said. “I think it helps keep me young somewhat. It reminds me of how old I am too.
“I think that there are guys here that enjoy the comradery that’s in the office,” he continued. “They have fun together. I was a 24-year-old assistant here at one time too. I get it.”
One of the greatest stories in Wittenberg football history has been 29 years in the making. With a fifth grader still in school, Fincham expects to be around for many more years.
“The tradition,” Fincham said, “it’s something I’ve truly enjoyed being a part of. It’s probably what has kept me here since 1990.
“What are my future plans?” he continued. “Right now, I’m gonna finish this can of Coke, I’m gonna do my practice plan and I’m gonna have my butt in a meeting here soon. Everything else is [about] going to get on a bus on Saturday and go win.”