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Side by side: Bond between WU alums Wilhoite, Hastings continues with NFL coaching jumps

 By RICK PETERSON

TopSports.news

When Highland Park graduate Michael Wilhoite and Wichita native Joe Hastings arrived on Washburn University's campus in 2005 they became fast friends.

That bond has continued ever since, from standout careers for Craig Schurig's Ichabods to playing together for the San Francisco 49ers to becoming coaches in the NFL -- Wilhoite with the Los Angeles Chargers after a two-year stint with the New Orleans Saints and Hastings a recent addition to the Indianapolis Colts' staff.

"Those two really have a neat story together,'' Schurig said. "Their careers are almost mirror images with all the ups and downs they've had and even their playing career here was so similar. Their work ethic, their drive, their communication, just about everything you could imagine they've done it almost side by side and not on purpose, it just happened that way. It's just really cool.''

MichaelWilhoiteFormer Washburn standout Michael Wilhoite went to play six seasons in the NFL and was recently named linebackers coach for the Los Angeles Chargers. [Photo courtesy of Washburn Athletics]

Wilhoite, who played linebacker and special teams for six years in the NFL for the 49ers and Seahawks before launching his coaching career, said he's extremely thankful for his friendship with Hastings.

"I thnk that's obviously God and that's just us loving each other,'' said Wilhoite, who was recently named linebackers coach for the Chargers. "One thing about us both is we always do things with the right intentions, I think, and we always try to be the best that we can be individually and I think we always want the people around us to be the best they can be. So we'll always travel in similar circles with similar people and accomplish similar things because we both have the same mindset.''

JoeHastingsactionJoe Hastings, former star receiver at Washburn, was recently named to the Indianapolis Colts' coaching staff as special teams assistant. [Photo courtesy of Washburn Athletics]

Both Hastings, a wide receiver, and Wilhoite had to overcome injuries at Washburn during six seasons for the Ichabods and that's when Hastings, recently named special teams assistant for the Colts, said that both he and Wilhoite learned how not only to survive, but thrive.

"It's really where it all started,'' Hastings said. "When I was at Washburn I was a walk-on there and I had two ACLs and missed two years basically and there was a lot of adversity through those times, but if you quit you never learn how to overcome that adversity.

"For me, looking back now, all that stuff I went through, be it injuries or not playing or buried on the depth chart, it all kind of prepares you for later in life because when I got to San Fran as a player, because of my knees they didn't give me a signing bonus, so I was basically a walk-on in the NFL again. I had been there, done that, and had injuries and was coming off my third surgery at that time and knew how to handle it because I had been through it.

"I think (Washburn) is where I learned so many life lessons about not giving up and something that me and Mike always talked about was there's always a way to get what you want. You just have to want it bad enough and then be willing to make the sacrifices necessary. I think what Mike and I took away from Washburn is if you want something bad enough you can find a way to do it.''

COACHES IN TRAINING

Schurig, the winningest coach in Washburn history, knew when Wilhoite and Hastings played for him from '05 to '10 that they had the attrbutes to be great coaches if that was the path they chose after their playing careers ended.

"Usually if something comes real easy to somebody I don't know if they're going to be a great coach, but if they've had to work through things and they've had some of the struggles and they've had to listen to coaching and also coach themselves, they're going to be a really good coach and both of them are like that,'' Schurig said.

"Their training habits were really thought out when they played here. They studied film, they didn't just watch it, and they were engaged with their teammates to the point where they tried to push another player to be better than they probably would have been. Their interest in the team was moreso than the interest in themselves.''

And although Wilhoite went on to have the longer playing career in the NFL, playing 79 games (45 starts) with 263 tackles, 4 interceptions and 13 tackles for loss, Schurig said it was Hastings that opened the door for his teammate.

"Their senior year they're both going to have great senior years and both had injuries and they came back for a 6th fall and that propelled them to the NFL,'' Schurig said. "Joe got the first look and the scout that came to see Joe met Mike, so Joe was an avenue for Mike to get that first look.''

CLIMBING THE LADDER

Following two stints with the 49ers and some time with the Dolphins, Hastings landed a job with the Philadephia Eagles in '14 as a pro personnel assistant before the desire to coach led him to Michigan as a graduate assistant and then offensive assistant ('15-'17) before he served as wide receivers coach and pass game coordinator at Indiana State ('18-'19) and then went to Ole Miss in '20 as senior player personnel analyst.

But Hastings' big break came when he got the call from the Colts. And, as usual, Wilhoite was in the middle of the situation.

"The crazy thing about that was Indy had tried to get me to go there, but it wasn't a vertical move, it was a horizontal move so I didn't think it was going to happen,'' Wilhoite said. "So I called Joe and said, "You should call Bubba (Ventrone, Colts special teams coordinator), because he's  going to need a Plan B and you could be that plan,' It worked out perfect.''

About that same time Hastings returned the favor.

"Joe calls me, maybe two weeks ago, and we're just talking, normal conversation, and he asked if I had talked to (the Chargers) and I told him no. Joe said, "Well, you should call them because I think the Chargers might need a linebackers coach soon.'  In my head I'm thinking, 'I don't think Joe knows what he's talking about because they already have a linebacker coach.'

"That was on Tuesday and on that same Saturday I got a text that the Chargers were inquiring about me to be the linebacker coach. It's crazy. I called him and gave him a little bug, he called me and gave me a little bug and it worked out perfect for both of us  That's kind of been our friendship and our relationship since Day 1. There's always good, crazy things that happen to us and it's always because of one another. This is another great story to put in our book.''