Despite standing a modest 5-foot-4, nobody stands taller than Sheridan (Indiana) High School head football coach Larry “Bud” Wright in the annals of Indiana high school football.
With a career win-loss record of 392-177-2 from 1965 to 2014, he is the winningest football coach in Indiana – on both the “All-time Coaching Wins” list and the “Active Coaching Wins” list.
Entering the 2015 season, Wright leads now-retired Jerry Brewer of Jasper (368-105-2) by 24 wins on the former list, while he holds a comfortable 68-victory lead over runner-up Russ Radke of New Prairie (324-125) on the latter list.
In addition, according to the NFHS’ National High School Sports Record Book, Wright ranks No. 16 in the nation on the “All-time” list, No. 9 on the “Active Coaches” list, and No. 13 on the “Wins at the Same School” list.
During his 50-year coaching career, Wright has coached at Mt. Ayr (Indiana) High School and Sheridan High School. He was at the now-defunct Mt. Ayr just one year (1965), when he led the program to a 1-4 win-loss record. From 1966 to 2014, he directed his high school alma mater Sheridan to 391 wins, 173 losses and two ties.
In addition, he has led Sheridan to a state-record nine Indiana High School Athletic Association (IHSAA) Class A state titles (1980, 1984, 1987, 1988, 1992, 1998, 2005, 2006 and 2007). He also paced the Blackhawks to 10 semi-state, 14 regional and 19 sectional championships. Any player who was on the 1980 to 2002 teams and the 2005 to 2011 teams was on either a state championship or state runner-up team. In recognition of Wright’s amazing career, he was inducted into the Indiana High School Football Coaches Hall of Fame on September 28, 2002.
As a youngster, Wright learned a strong work ethic while doing twice-daily chores on the family farm four miles north of Sheridan. By the time he reached high school, Wright was a two-way performer at running back and linebacker, but was moved to quarterback as a senior.
“Growing up on the farm, I milked the cows both in the morning and the evening,” Wright began. “That taught me a lot about discipline - no matter the job and the situation. That carried over throughout my entire life. Despite being just 122 pounds as a freshman and then 138 as a senior, I was a four-year starter at linebacker.”
After graduating in 1959, Wright attended Ball State (Indiana) University, where he walked on and played two seasons for the Cardinals football team. “My greatest claim to glory there was I made the travel squad,” Wright recalled.
Though just a reserve, Wright’s college football playing experience helped clarify for him his eventual career goals as high school coach and teacher. Upon graduation in 1963, Wright was an assistant coach two years at Denver (Indiana) North Miami High School and subsequently accepted his first head coaching position at Mt. Ayr High School. After one season there, he returned to his high school alma mater of Sheridan High School, where he led the Blackhawks to a 5-4 win-loss record during his inaugural coaching season.
“The year I started at Mt. Ayr, it went from eight-player to 11-player football,” Wright said. “I had just 17 players on the team. Two decided not to play and then injuries dropped the roster to 13 kids. About all of them played both ways.
“I thought long and hard about taking the Sheridan job. We went 6-3-1 during my senior year there, but the program hadn’t had a winning season since that time. I came back to visit my parents and the school administration asked me if I’d like to come in for an interview. I never applied for the job, but got hired to do it.”
Sheridan’s win-loss record improved to 6-3 during Wright’s second season, followed by 4-5 and then 8-2. Over the years, Wright enjoyed many memorable seasons, some of which included coaching his sons.
“I think my most gratifying season might have been 1975, which was our first undefeated team,” Wright recalled. “Our first state championship team in 1980 was also very memorable. We went undefeated that year and my son Kevin was a starting sophomore defensive back on a defense that had 10 senior starters. Four years later, my son Kent was a junior linebacker on the 1984 state championship team. I also coached my third son, Travis, on a state championship team. He is currently a special education teacher at Sheridan and is one of my assistant coaches.”
Coaching football seems to be a family affair for the Wrights, as Kevin currently is the head football coach at IMG Academy in Bradenton, Florida, while Kent was head coach at Lebanon (Indiana) High School for 14 years. One of Bud’s daughters, Cheri Hume, likely sees him every day as she is Sheridan’s technology integration specialist and assistant athletic director. To provide a measure of gender equity among his children, Bud was Cheri’s basketball coach during her senior year. His other daughter, Lana McHugh, is Graphic Design Supervisor at the Delta Faucet Company and she and her family live next door to Bud.
In 1987, Sheridan won its third state title, and then made it two in a row in 1988 with an undefeated team that was led by junior running back Brett Law, who set six national records that season. The Blackhawks’ closest game that year was a 29-0 semistate win over South Putnam. Wright noted, “That team had everything – size, speed and depth.”
According to the NFHS’ National High School Sports Record Book, Law currently ranks fifth for Most Points in a Career (952); first for Most Points in a Season (453); second for Most Points Per Game in a Season (32.4); fourth for Most Touchdowns in a Season (66); seventh for Most Touchdowns Per Game in a Season (4.7); and eighth for Most Touchdowns in a Career (141).
The 5-11, 195-pound Law holds the Indiana state records for both Most Points in a Career and Most Points in a Season, and ranks eighth for Rushing Yards in a Career. He went on to play for Indiana University, where he rushed for 1,134 career yards and averaged 4.4 yards per carry during his four-year Hoosiers career.
“Brett was a very solid player with excellent speed,” Wright noted. “He had sprinter’s speed – he ran the dashes in the state track meet a couple years. In 1988, he averaged 16½ carries a game during the regular season, but that increased to 22½ during the playoffs as we went to him more often against the stronger competition.”
Another highly skilled running back at Sheridan was Nick Zachery, who ranks second in the state behind only Law for Most Points in a Career (904 from 2005 to 2008) and fourth for Rushing Yards in a Career (7,331, also from 2005 to 2008.).
From left: Nick Zachery, Brett Law and Brad Maynard
“Nick was in the 6-0, 6-1 range and weighed about 180,” Wright said. “He was a very intense, tremendous athlete who could dunk a basketball in junior high. He competed three years in the sprints in the state track meet, had great speed and a strong desire to win. During his career, Nick took us to the state finals all four years, with titles his first three seasons. We also won 56 of 60 games during his career at Sheridan.”
Yet another standout player was Brad Maynard, who graduated in 1992. The 6-1, 175-pound Maynard played several positions including wide receiver, defensive back and punter, was a freshman on the 1988 state championship team, and went on to play for Ball State (Indiana) University and for 15 seasons in the National Football League.
While Law and Zachery were clearly great running backs who generated Sheridan’s high-powered ground attack, the ultimate credit for the program’s success goes to Wright. However, in his customary selfless manner, he spreads around the credit for that success to a myriad of deserving individuals.
“The big key as far as I’m concerned is I’ve had some really great football players, and particularly for a town our size,” Wright began. “I’ve also been blessed with great administrations – I don’t think you win consistently without that support. In addition, we’ve had tremendous support from the fans - even during the years when we didn’t win. We’ve had great coaches and great parents supporting their kids.
“I’ve also had great support of family. My first wife, Jayne, was the backbone of our family of five kids. She’d wash the uniforms and even ran the concession stands. Jayne passed away and I married my second wife, Ellen. She has also provided really strong support.
Bud Wright (right) with sons Kevin (left) and Kent (center).
“The most influential person in my career was my Sheridan High School football coach, Bob Day. A lot of everything I did for years and years – my philosophy, how I run the program, the games themselves – came from him. We’ve been in the state championship game 11 times and he’s attended every one of them.
“I’m 74 now and am going one year at a time. I still have goals that I want to reach – among those is winning 400 career games. Right now, we’re just trying to win each game that comes up. If it happens, it happens. “
John Gillis is the associate director of development of the NFHS. If you have any comments or articles ideas, please forward them to Gillis at firstname.lastname@example.org