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Friday, April 09, 2010

Penrith Out at UNI; Who's Next?

I was saddened to hear that Brad Penrith had been fired from his duties as head wrestling coach at the University of Northern Iowa. When Don Briggs was fired after the 1996-1997 season, Penrith was my #1 pick. Fortunately for UNI, we got Mark Manning and Penrith came as an assistant. Manning is a class act, and Nebraska was wise to hire him away. I liked Penrith from day one and was happy to see him take over the job. I liked his humor, how he treated his athletes, and how he treated me. Under Penrith, UNI wrestling had a number of highly successful wrestlers, although team results against top-caliber competition were generally lacking. I was especially proud of UNI wrestling's academic successes, a sign Penrith was recruiting high-quality kids both on and off the mat. UNI did not wrestle well this year, but I understood that Penrith, in year one of a three-year contract, was redshirting some talent and bringing in a good class of recruits in the hopes of having a much stronger team in another year or two. It was a rebuilding year, and even the best programs have them sometimes (think Oklahoma State in 2008-2009.) Nevertheless, I'm sad to see Penrith go, especially (and sentimentally) since he was the last face remaining in UNI's program from my years volunteering there.

When Cael Sanderson left for Penn State a year or so ago, I played the "who's next" game like everybody else. Having bumped into Kevin Jackson at a tournament earlier that season and knowing his desire for a Division I job (at the time he thought it might be Arizona State), he was my #1 pick, so long as ISU could bring in another top pick, someone equally qualified for the job. When ISU brought in Jackson and Chris Bono, I felt like I had been accurate in my prediction. Now I feel obligated to predict UNI's next coach, this time in print where I can gloat if I magically turn out to be right.

I just read K.J. Pilcher's post "Who's next at UNI?" His news tonight on Mark Schwab is nothing less than 100% ace wrestling reporting, something I'm always happy to see in my home state. (I had lost a little faith after the Register let Dan McCool go last summer.) According to Pilcher, Schwab says he doesn't want the head job, but is interested in an assistant position under the right head coach. Perhaps Pilcher is right - who would Mark rather see take the head job other than his brother Doug, now assisting at the University of Iowa?

Pilcher throws out a bunch of names other than Schwab - Terry Brands (now at Iowa), Chris Bono (now at ISU), Dave Malecek (head coach at Wisconsin-La Crosse), John Oostendorp (head coach at Coe), Heath Grimm (head coach at Upper Iowa), Tolly Thompson, Joel Greenlee, and a name I was happy to see, Bart Chelesvig. (Even if he is from Webster City. My pride in NCC wrestling runs deep, so long as you aren't from Humboldt.) The balancing act for UNI athletic director Troy Dannen is to bring in someone who can attract recruits and manage a competitive D-I program. Brands and Bono can do both, but both have strong ties to their current positions and I would expect neither to defect for UNI. If the goal is to bring in someone with UNI ties, then do everything possible to get the Schwab brothers. I'm not sure Malacek has the necessary name recognition to recruit native Iowa kids at the same level as ISU. (I felt Penrith was close, but neither program seems to be catching up with Brands and Company, however.) As intrigued as I am by the mention of Chelesvig, I don't see him as a significant upgrade over Penrith, and I don't think he left wrestling this past year because he's dying to be a head coach.

Unfortunately for UNI, they don't have a stockpile of former national champions and gold medalists to lure home like Iowa and Iowa State. Bill Koll is not coming back. (Getting Rob Koll would be a dream, but it's probably best for him, and best for wrestling overall, if he continues his success at Cornell for a long, long time.) Unfortunately for Randy Pugh, Sean Stender, and Mark Rial, there's little reason to think they'd fare better than Penrith. (I like all those guys, and I hope they can land somewhere. I'm sure Pugh is more than ready to take over a D-III or higher program right now.) There are two names I have in mind that are out-of-state long shots, but deserving of a call: Mark Branch (Wyoming) and Kerry McCoy (Maryland). Both are doing impressive things with their program and have some name recognition. I think Joe Heskett is head coach material, and he's as qualified as Doug Schwab (and no longer competing).

Honestly, I don't feel as sure about this one as I did about Jackson/Bono at ISU. I think the Schwab/Schwab combo is very enticing, especially if UNI can find a way to keep Doug happy through the 2012 Olympics. What if Mark agreed to head coach for the next two seasons before swapping places with his brother? No one else would take a two-year interim position (which is what was left on Penrith's contract, incidentally) while Doug pursues a gold medal. It doesn't seem likely, but getting Bono to leave a head position for an assistant position didn't sound likely, either. I'd be very happy with Schwab and Schwab, and I think it would be good for UNI, but that's not my prediction. I'm going out on a limb and picking a name Pilcher didn't mention:

Sammie Henson.

World gold medalist. Olympic silver medalist. Assistant coaching experience in both the Big Ten and Big 12. I don't know anything about him but he seems primed for a head coaching job, much like Manning was when he came from Oklahoma, where Henson is now. Want the best of both worlds? Suppose Mark Schwab wanted to assist Henson, and convinces his brother Doug to join him at UNI as the second assistant. If it's possible, let's hope Troy Dannen can land all three.

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