One of the big stories of 2014 in college wrestling had to be the sheer number of coaching changes in the off-season. On Labor Day, College Wrestling Examiner had tallied approximately 90 coaching hires, ranging from the naming of new volunteer assistants, to the hiring of new head coaches… a number far exceeding the typical number of new coaching staff changes in a typical year.
At least a dozen of these changes were at the top – coaches who command NCAA Division I wrestling programs. There are new faces in head coaching positions stretching from Arizona State to Hofstra. According to the August 8, 2014 issue of “WIN” (“Wrestling Insider Newsmagazine”), that’s twice as many head coaching changes as the previous summer. Just one indicator of the number and scope of changes at the top: Three Division I service academies – Air Force, Army and Navy – all had new head coaches, as did the Coast Guard Academy, which wrestles in Division III. Sam Barber is now piloting the mat program at Air Force, after the Falcons head coach Joel Sharratt took the helm at Navy… while Kevin Ward left the program he established at Arkansas’ Ouachita Baptist University to become head coach at the US Military Academy at West Point. What’s more, Kevin Bratland now heads up the Coast Guard mat program.
Head coaching changes aren’t limited to a particular type of school, or a geographic region. In the west, in addition to the Air Force Academy, other programs with new head wrestling coaches include Arizona State (Zeke Jones, freestyle wrestler and coach, returning to his college alma mater)… University of Northern Colorado, where Cornell University four-time All-American Troy Nickerson replaces Ben Cherrington… and Grand Canyon University, now headed up by Jon Sioredas. (More on that situation later in this article.) At the opposite end of the country, the east can claim a handful of programs with new leadership. In addition to Army and Navy, eastern schools with new head coaches include Long Island’s Hofstra University (hiring Dennis Papadatos), and University of Pennsylvania, with former University of Illinois standout wrestler and Stanford assistant Alex Tirapelle filling the opening left by Rob Eiter’s departure. Within middle America, David Bolyard now heads up the wrestling program at Eastern Michigan… Tony Ersland is the new head coach at Purdue… Sammie Henson at West Virginia University… and Cary Kolat at Campbell University in North Carolina.
Every year after the NCAA wrestling championships in March, the retiring/firing/hiring process begins in earnest… an activity likened to the game of musical chairs, as younger coaches seek to move up from assistant positions to take a head coaching job, while others hope to advance to bigger, more successful programs. This summer, there have been some situations where head wrestling coaches announced their departures long before reaching traditional retirement age… and without any rumors of being asked to leave. Some examples: Troy Letters announced in September he was leaving Clarion for a job in the private sector. Rob Anspach left the head coaching job at Hofstra University for a sales career. Derek DelPorto, who headed up the Eastern Michigan mat program for eight years, departed Ypsilanti for a non-wrestling job in Nashville. Augsburg’s Mark Matzek resigned to accept a middle-school teaching and high school coaching job in his Wisconsin hometown. Rob Eiter announced his resignation as University of Pennsylvania head coach earlier this summer… only to surface weeks later as an assistant at Maryland.
This summer, two schools with highly successful mat programs said goodbye to head coaches under mysterious circumstances. Grand Canyon fired head coach head wrestling coach R.C. LaHaye and assistant Larry Wilbanks in July. No explanation was provided in the school’s terse, 50-word statement which said the two coaches “had been dismissed for violation of institutional policy” without further explanation. University of Wisconsin-Whitewater failed to renew the contract of ten-year coach Tim Fader, who had led the Warhawks to a best-ever second-place showing at the 2014 NCAA Division III Wrestling Championships. Fader explained the situation in an exclusive interview with the amateur wrestling website InterMat; when contacted for comment, the school declined. Former Iowa Hawkeye wrestler Ned Shuck is now the head coach at UW-Whitewater.