Wilson grew up in Montreal but his family moved to Guelph, Ontario when he was sixteen. A defenceman, he played junior hockey for the Guelph Platers in the Ontario Hockey Association, then went on to college at Bowling Green State University in Ohio. He played four years (1980–1984) for the NCAA Division I Bowling Green Falcons, serving as captain in his senior year and leading the team to the 1984 national championship. He graduated with a degree in health, physical education, and recreation, then went on to get his master's degree in education from Bowling Green. While a grad student, he helped out as a part-time coach for the hockey team.
After graduating with his masters, he spent one year as an assistant at the University of New Hampshire under coach Bob Kullen, but Kullen fell ill and that left his job in jeopardy. Seeking stability, he accepted a position as an assistant coach at his alma mater in 1988, a position he held through the 1998–99 school year.
In 1999, after five years of seeking a head-coaching position, he was hired to be head coach at Division III Rochester Institute of Technology. He led the RIT Tigers to a nearly-undefeated season in 2000–01; their only loss was on home ice in the 2001 national championship game. That year, he won the Edward Jeremiah Award for the top coach in Division III men's hockey.
In his first six years at RIT, he compiled a 116–31–12 record (.767 winning percentage), with four ECAC West regular-season championships, three ECAC West tournament titles, and three NCAA tournament appearances. However, those all came in his first years at RIT; in 2003, the Tigers missed the D-III national tournament for the first time since 1995, and they would never return.
In late 2004, despite a couple of "down" years for the program (including "only" a 13–7–5 record in 2003–04), RIT President Albert J. Simone announced that RIT would move their hockey program up to the Division I level, retaining Wilson as head coach. RIT would join Atlantic Hockey starting in the 2006–07 season.
The rest of the 2004–05 campaign was rough, and the Tigers finished with their worst record of Wilson's tenure to date, including a painful loss to arch-rival Elmira College in which the Tigers squandered a late two-goal lead by allowing a pair of short-handed goals in the last three minutes of regulation.
The Tigers' first season as a Division I program, in which they played as an independent was even harder, although the highlight was a home win over the St. Lawrence Saints (ranked #18 in the nation at the time). The Tigers won only nine games that season, mostly against future Atlantic Hockey conference opponents.
Since joining Atlantic Hockey in 2006, though, success has been the Tigers' hallmark. They have won three regular-season conference championships in four years, and in 2010 they won their first conference tournament. That granted them the conference's autobid into the national tournament, where they stunned Denver and New Hampshire to win the East Regional and advance to the Frozen Four.
In 2010, in recognition of reaching the Frozen Four, Wilson won the Spencer Penrose Award, for the top coach in Division I men's ice hockey. He became the first coach to win both the Spencer Penrose Award and the Edward Jeremiah Award. He also signed a five-year contract that year, keeping him at RIT until at least the 2014-15 season.
Wilson and his wife Lynn live in Pittsford, New York. Their daughter Stephanie attends Bowling Green State University, and their son Stuart is playing junior hockey.
- Mandelaro, Jim. "RIT hockey's Wayne Wilson takes long road back to Frozen Four", Gannett Company, 8 April 2010. Retrieved on 19 April 2010. Archived from the original on 19 April 2010.
- 2009-10 Men's Hockey Coaching Staff - Wayne Wilson. Rochester Institute of Technology. Archived from the original on 19 April 2010. Retrieved on 19 April 2010.
- Venniro, Joe. "Men’s hockey head coach Wayne Wilson signs five-year deal", Rochester Institute of Technology, 18 May 2010. Retrieved on 18 May 2010. Archived from the original on 18 May 2010.
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