Offensive assistant coach Kenny Wheaton has been around the triple option offense for decades and brought his knowledge of the game to this university five years ago.
You do not see Wheaton coach from the field on Saturdays. Instead, he is in the press box helping the offensive staff decipher what the opposing defense is doing.
Wheaton was born into a military family and moved more than he can remember as a child.
“My dad was a retired lieutenant in the Air Force and moved all over the world,” Wheaton said. “Between my junior high and high school years we probably moved 14 times, sometimes two to three times a year.”
Wheaton said the life of a military family was pick-up-and-go type mentality. He said that he can hardly recall his time in high school, his teachers, classmates and friends from the constant moving.
After high school, Wheaton went to Henderson State University, not to play football, but to get an education and excel at a different sport.
“I was actually a professional water-skier and won a few national championships,” Wheaton said.
After college in 1979, Wheaton got his first coaching job in the option offense at Kansas State University. Wheaton, who knew nothing about the option going into Kansas, has now coached this offense for the last 35 years.
“Coach Wheaton has been the heart and soul of this offense since Harding’s transition in 2010,” offensive assistant Luke Cullins said. “He is a tireless worker and has become a key part in our Bison family.”
Wheaton currently lives in Arkadelphia, Ark., and travels almost four hours and 200 miles round trip every day to practice. Wheaton is not on pay from the University, he is a volunteer.
Cullins said Wheaton lives and breathes football and has set a great example for the players with his time volunteering the last five years.
Senior quarterback Keenan Kellett said Wheaton is essential to their offense and knows every type of defense that opponents can throw against them.
Wheaton’s expertise in coaching the triple option is so well respected that multiple Division II schools make the trip to Harding’s practices every year to learn from him first-hand.
“Teams have been here watching Harding practice in the spring,” Wheaton said. “Our kids are a tremendous example on how to practice efficient and fast in this offense.”
Wheaton said that this offense is built for teams that are selfless and Harding’s Christian environment is perfect for the triple option.
Harding has improved their record over the last five years going 9-2 in back-to-back seasons for the first time in school history. The triple option was not created by Wheaton, but a different style of it was created by mistake one day at practice.
“In 1992, at Lake Highlands High School, it just happened by accident one Sunday afternoon,” Wheaton said. “We were running a trap play and decided to read the guy instead of trapping the end over the tight end. Eventually we just said we can read the guy of the tight end, the guy over the tackle, why not read the guy over the guard. Pretty simple concept.”
Wheaton said that he has coached at a number of schools over the last 35 years, and he is blessed to have the opportunity to coach in such a great atmosphere full of tremendous young men and cannot imagine coaching anywhere else.