Willie Mack Garza isn’t unlike a lot of Wyoming’s assistant football coaches in that he’s got a connection to head coach Craig Bohl. Yet there’s one substantial difference for the Cowboys’ newest assistant.
Garza on Tuesday was hired as Wyoming’s 10th and final assistant following the departure of linebackers coach Jay Niemann, who was on the job for less than three months before joining Iowa’s staff earlier this month. First-year defensive coordinator Jake Dickert has taken over coaching the linebackers, meaning Garza will coach the Cowboys’ safeties.
Garza is the sixth assistant to join Bohl’s staff that previously worked under him at North Dakota State, where Garza was a defensive assistant from 2005-08. But Garza is the only coach on staff with NCAA baggage.
“First and foremost, this is a blessing that Coach Bohl and the University of Wyoming athletics department has provided me this opportunity to come coach here,” Garza said in a statement. “I love coaching. It is in my blood.”
Garza quickly moved up the coaching ladder after his stint at NDSU. He was hired as defensive backs coach at Tennessee in 2009 before taking the same position at Southern Cal in 2010, but Garza abruptly resigned his post at USC after just one season for what he initially cited as personal reasons.
In 2012, the NCAA hit Garza with a three-year show cause penalty stemming from major recruiting violations. At the crux of the matter was Garza’s relationship with Houston-based talent scout Willie Lyles, who said Garza wired him $1,500 as reimbursement for plane tickets Lyles purchased to get former five-star recruit Lache Seastrunk and his mother to Tennessee for an unofficial visit in the summer of 2009, according to a Yahoo Sports report.
A show-cause penalty requires any NCAA member institution that wants to hire a sanctioned coach during the designated period of time to “show cause” as to why it should be allowed to do so. But with most schools not wanting to associate with such a coach, the penalty significantly hinders the coach from finding another job.
“Our compliance staff has worked with the NCAA to gain a thorough understanding of exactly what occurred in relation to Coach Garza’s ‘show-cause’ order,” Wyoming athletic director Tom Burman said. “Our compliance staff also reached out to other schools who have hired coaches who previously had ‘show-cause’ orders imposed upon them to get a better understanding of education they provided to those coaches and other processes they put in place.”
Garza didn’t coach again until 2013 when he was brought on as defensive coordinator at Pearl River Community College, a junior college in Mississippi. After two seasons there, he spent a year each at Prairie View A&M and Lamar before landing at Division II member Dixie State in 2017. He was set to be the defensive coordinator at Texas A&M Commerce, another Division II school, next season before Wyoming came calling.
It’s the first job at the Power Five or Group of Five levels for Garza since his lone season at USC. Nearly a decade later, Wyoming was comfortable giving Garza another chance.
“I do want to make one thing clear, Willie Mack has acknowledged a mistake he made 10 years ago that resulted in him being disciplined by the NCAA for a recruiting violation,” Bohl said. “Since then, he has been reinstated by the NCAA. We have a reputation of holding ourselves to high ethical standards here at the University of Wyoming, and I expect Coach Garza to follow those high standards.”