It might have not made big headlines across the nation or on ESPN, but the wrestling world had a monster story occur over the past few days. Wrestling legend Cael Sanderson has taken over as head coach at Penn State University.
After three years as head coach at his alma mater Iowa State, Sanderson was hired Friday as Penn State’s new leader. He takes over for Troy Sunderland, who resigned this month after 11 years as coach of the Nittany Lions.
It is nearly impossible to land a better candidate than Sanderson. He is the only collegiate wrestler to go undefeated during his entire career (159-0) while claiming four national titles. Sanderson also earned the prestigious Dan Hodge trophy three times, which is like the Heisman Trophy of wrestling. To top it off, Sanderson won a gold medal at the 2004 Olympics in Athens.
Success followed Sanderson in the coaching profession. In three years at Iowa State, none of Sanderson’s teams finished worse than fifth at the national tournament (2nd, 5th, 3rd). What is even more impressive is that Sanderson has never had a wrestler not qualify to the national tournament. There are 10 varsity weight classes on a college team and in three seasons Sanderson had 30 national qualifiers. He had 15 all-Americans, two national champs and was 44-10 in dual meets.
Why go to Penn State?
Sanderson’s move is shocking to most. I’ll be the first to admit I shunned the early rumors of this story. It seemed like nonsense. My first thought was why would a legend of the sport leave his alma mater, especially when one brother was an assistant coach and another brother wrestled there? However, two primary reasons for the move have started to come to light.
The chance to start over at a program like PSU looks like it was too good to pass up. Sanderson has the opportunity to break away from the Iowa State mold and image. Despite his success with the Cyclones, Iowa State was a national power before he took over as head coach. The move to Penn State is an opportunity to establish himself as a selfmade coach who can build his own team.
The second reason is the deal Sanderson got. I’m not insinuating that money was the primary reason for the move. Sanderson is as classy as they come, but it certainly raises some eyebrows considering the numbers. In a recent Associated Press story, Sanderson said his new salary will be just about 10 percent greater on a yearly basis than his salary at Iowa State.
However, that can be deceiving as schools often add incentives that take a coach’s pay well above the base salary. It’s likely that Sanderson is getting a much better pay package than he did with the Cyclones. Although the exact salary numbers are unclear, it is believed Sanderson will be one of the highest paid, if not the highest paid, wrestling coaches in the country.
Big Ten implications
What does Sanderson’s move mean to the Big Ten? There is no mild way to put it other than it has huge implications. The Big Ten and the Big 12 are the two power conferences in collegiate wrestling and adding a legend like Sanderson to the Big Ten will make the league that much tougher.
Last March, the NCAA nationals had two Big Ten teams in the top three (with the other being Sanderson’s Iowa State team) and eight in the top 20. In 2008, the Big Ten had arguably its best year. It boasted the top three squads at the national tournament, crowned seven national champs out of a possible 10, and of 20 finalists the Big Ten claimed 14. Throw in the success Sanderson has had at Iowa State and the Big Ten’s dominance on the national stage is bound to increase.
Another dynamic Sanderson brings to Penn State is the recruiting factor. Pennsylvania, Ohio and New Jersey are regarded as the top three wrestling states in the country and now he is smack dab in the middle of those hot beds. When Sanderson was at Iowa State he had to battle national power Iowa for recruits, but with this relocation Sanderson will have a major edge in bringing in some major talent from Penn State’s back yard.