The football stadium at Rowan University that bears Richard Wackar's name is surrounded by sturdy pine trees.

They stand tall, with deep roots in the soil in Glassboro just like the man who planted them.

"That's how much he was a part of things," former quarterback Herb Neilio said of Wackar. "He planted those trees that are around the field."

Wackar, a coaching legend at Rowan University (the former Glassboro State College), died Monday at the age of 88. He had been in declining health in recent weeks, the university said in a statement.

"Coach Wackar was far more than a coach at Rowan," Rowan president Dr. Ali A. Housmand said in a statement. "I considered him a person who truly exemplified the soul of Rowan -- tough, kind-hearted, hard-working and family-oriented. 'Coach' will be sorely missed by all."

Wackar coached four sports and served as a health and physical education teacher at Glassboro State from 1956-88. He is the only coach in New Jersey Athletic Conference history to win conference titles in four sports -- football, basketball, golf and cross-country.

"Coach Wackar was one of the most honest and sincere individuals who I have ever met," current Rowan football coach Jay Accorsi said. "Everyone will miss his wit and sense of humor. The football program, the athletic department and the University lost a great man today."

Wackar started the Glassboro State cross-country program and coached it from 1957-62. He was the golf coach for 25 years. He coached the men's basketball team from 1956-62.

But he is best known as the school's former football coach. He resurrected the program, which had been shut down in 1950, in 1963. He coached the team until 1980, winning five conference titles.

The university's football field was named Richard Wackar Stadium in 2009.

"Coach Wackar was one of the most respected coaches in the country," said Rowan athletic director Dan Gilmore, the former long-time men's soccer coach at the school. "Not only was he instrumental in the lives of his players, but he was respected by his colleagues and opposing coaches alike.

"Coach was what every person wants to be, a man that no one ever said a bad word about, a true gentleman and a person that all of us are better for having him in our lives."

Neilio, a Gloucester Catholic graduate, played quarterback for Glassboro State from 1975-1979. He later became a highly-successful coach at Glassboro High School.

Neilio said Wackar was one of those coaches whose impact continues long after the end of an athlete's playing career.

"It's a sad day," Neilio said. "I don't think I fully understood when I was playing for him what he was trying to do. It's only as you get older when you look back and you realize what kind of an impact he had

"He was one of the most respected people I ever had the opportunity to be around in sports. Any success I had later in life, he always was there, writing a note, picking up the phone. He was truly something special."

Wackar resided in Pitman and stayed active in the Rowan community after his retirement. He was inducted into the Rowan-Glassboro State Athletics Hall of Fame as well as the South Jersey Football Coaches, Gloucester County and South Jersey Chapter of the National Football Foundation halls of fame.

Funeral services were pending. The university is planning a memorial service in Wackar's honor in the fall.

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