A man who spent 20 years of his life tracking down criminals will be in charge of chalking the Payson High School football team's x's and o's next season.
Mike Wheelis, a retired Phoenix Police detective, was recently appointed the new Longhorn coach by Athletic Director Barry Smith. His appointment was later unanimously approved by the school district governing board.
Wheelis replaces Jim Beall who resigned last month after leading the Longhorns to the Class 3A state championship in 1998.
In resigning, Beall said the time commitments required of the head football coach and a special needs teacher at Rim Country Middle School had become too great.
Wheelis takes over the head coaching reins as no stranger to the program.
As an assistant coach to Beall the past four seasons, he served as the Horns' defensive coordinator and was responsible for helping mold the rock solid '98 defense. That crew, arguably the best defense in the history of PHS football, played a huge role in the Longhorns' run to the state title.
Prior to Wheelis' tenure alongside Beall, he served for two years as freshman coach under Dan Dunn.
Wheelis first arrived on the Payson scene in 1992 after retiring from the Phoenix Police Department where he worked several beats including homicide, drugs and gang enforcement.
Wheelis is a graduate of Ottawa University and Maricopa High School where he played football, basketball and baseball.
In taking over the Longhorn program, Wheelis plans to continue most of Beall's traditions.
"The program needs continuity," he said.
About the only change fans might notice is that Wheelis will turn over the defensive coordinator duties he once held to assistants Jack Morris and Brett Morris.
"They'll share the job," he said.
But don't expect the Horns' philosophy on "D" to change much -- the team will stick with the basic 5-2 alignment that has been successful the past two seasons.
By assigning the defensive duties to others, Wheelis says he'll take over the duties of the offensive coordinator and do the play calling. He'll keep intact the power option offense that Beall installed when he first arrived at PHS in 1995.
Wheelis wasted little time in jumping cleats-first into his new job. Monday afternoon he was on the field with a turnout of about 30 prospective players putting them through their paces.
In addition to spring football, Wheelis' goals are to have a strong passing league and weight program in place by this summer.
Because every athlete who played a role in the 13-0 championship season of two years ago has graduated, Wheelis said he realizes he faces a monumental task in building a new team from the foundation up.
"We might not have the (athletes) or size we had before so we'll have to be better at what we are doing," he said.
The key to success, Wheelis acknowledges, will be hard work.
In addition to his assistant coaches, Jason Sweeney returns to the program as a jayvee coach.
Beall will take over the freshman program where he'll share coaching duties with Pete Greer.