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AKRON, Ohio – Nov. 2, 2013 marked the 56th all-time meeting between the Akron and Kent State football programs and the 43rd occasion the squads faced off with the coveted wooden Wagon Wheel at stake.
Along with all the emotion tied into the "Battle for the Wagon Wheel", this date also served as "Jim Dennison Day" during which UA Athletics honored its winningest football head coach. Former student-athletes, assistant coaches and staff affiliated with Dennison's 28-year UA tenure filled the FirstMerit Foundation Club Level of InfoCision Stadium – Summa Field for a pregame reception to honor the former coach and his wife, Sue.
Mayor Don Plusquellic declared it "Jim Dennison Day" in the City of Akron by way of a proclamation on the field prior to kickoff.
"Coach Dennison is one of the most beloved figures in the 113-year history of Zips football, and we're excited to recognize his outstanding career," Director of Athletics Tom Wistrcill said. "Several former Zips volunteered to help organize today's festivities, and we're thrilled to bring back an entire generation of Akron football players so they can join our fans in showing their appreciation for Jim and his wife, Sue."
Dennison, who served as the head coach of the Zips from 1973 to 1985, led Akron to the finals of the 1976 NCAA Division II playoffs, where they fell 24-13 to Montana State in the Pioneer Bowl. He was the Kodak National Coach of the Year that season, which was UA's first 10-win campaign. Dennison finished his tenure with an 80-62-2 overall record, the most wins in program history. His 13-year Zips head coaching career immediately followed the eight years he served on Gordon Larson's staff, first as an assistant and then as associate head coach.
In December 1985, Dennison became an associate athletics director before serving as UA's athletics director from 1986 until 1993. He helped Akron become the first school to transition from NCAA Division I-AA to I-A, and spearheaded its move into the Mid-American Conference.
The 2013 season marks the 10-year anniversary of the induction of Dennison and his 1976 Division II national runner-up team into the UA Athletics Ring of Honor.
This semester, Dennison teaches a coaching course at UA with Jim Tressel, his former graduate assistant who currently serves as the school's Vice President for Student Success.
"Coach Dennison has inspired and prepared countless young people in his illustrious career as a teacher, coach and administrator," Tressel said. "We, at The University of Akron, were so blessed to be on the receiving end of his lessons for 28 wonderful years. Knowing I speak for many others, without Coach D, the opportunities that I have enjoyed would not have happened."
A passionate believer in positive mental attitude (PMA), Dennison recently retired after serving as head coach at nearby Walsh University for the last 18 years. He guided the Cavaliers to 14 winning seasons and a 119-77 record, and served as their athletics director from 1993 until 2007.
In 31 years as a collegiate head coach, Dennison amassed a record of 208-139-2, including victories in all three games at the Rubber Bowl against Kent State.
The Zips closed out "Jim Dennison Day" by winning the "Battle for the Wagon Wheel" with a 16-17 victory over the Flashes, and took possession of the Wheel for the first time since 2009.