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The end of Old Dominion’s wrestling program was doubly devastating for the coaching staff.
They watched in disbelief as wrestlers they recruited and mentored scrambled to find new teams following the April 2 announcement from ODU Athletic Director Camden Wood Selig that the school was dropping the sport after more than 60 seasons, citing financial reasons.
While heartbroken for their guys, assistant coaches Daryl Thomas, Steve Bleise and Kevin Beazley also faced their own uncertain futures during uncertain times caused by the coronavirus pandemic.
Fortunately, the uncertainty didn't last long and all are still teaching the sport they love.
Thomas (Campbell) and Bleise (California State-Bakersfield) have found new coaching homes while Beazley has returned home to the staff of his high school alma mater, national power Detroit Catholic Central.
Here is a closer look at their new gigs:
What initially seemed liked horrible timing for a job search was actually a case of perfect timing for Thomas, who spent three seasons with the Monarchs, the last two as assistant head coach.
Scotti Sentes had been named Campbell head coach less than a week prior to ODU dropping wrestling and needed to fill out his staff. Thomas, who has developed a reputation as a top-notch recruiter, was named to Fighting Camels staff on May 4.
"As the assistant head coach at Old Dominion, Daryl was likely to be the next in line to lead the Monarchs," Sentes raved at the time. "He has all of the attributes you would expect to find in a head coach. He is well recognized and respected in the wrestling community, he has a great track record, he is someone people want to follow, and he comes highly recommended for the position. We are lucky to have someone of Daryl's caliber joining the staff and I am excited for all that he brings."
Beazley added his thoughts via Twitter:
“@GoCamelsWrestle got a great one!,” he posted. “Coaching with and learning from coach DT was a true pleasure. Keep crushing the game @DarylThomas8025! Those light weights better come back ready…coach still has it.”
Thomas appears to have stepped into a rising program.
Campbell returns seven starters who finished with winning records from last season’s team which captured its second straight Southern Conference championship and finished 11-2.
The group includes NCAA qualifiers Korbin Meink (125 pounds), Josh Heil (141) and Andrew Morgan (184). Heil and Morgan were both first-team National Wrestling Coaches Association All-Americans. Thomas has also been reunited with former ODU wrestler Shannon Hanna (141).
Last season, Thomas helped guide Killian Cardinale, Sa'Derian Perry, Larry Early, and Antonio Agee to NCAA Championships berths as the Monarchs finished 10-9 overall and 6-2 in the Mid-American Conference.
In 2018-19, Thomas coached Michael McGee, Perry, and Early to the NCAA Championships. Early was as an All-American as ODU finished 9-7.
Thomas primarily worked with the lower weights in his first season and helped McGee to a MAC title as a true freshman while guiding McGee, Early, Alex Madrigal and Seldon Wright to the NCAA Championships.
Prior to ODU, Thomas spent one year as the head coach at Lincoln (Illinois) College during which the Lynx finished fourth in the National Junior College Athletic Association National Tournament. Thomas was named NJCAA Midwest District Coach of the Year after seeing five of his grapplers become All-Americans.
Before Lincoln, Thomas coached five NCAA qualifiers in two seasons as a Northern Illinois assistant.
Thomas’ first coaching gig after a noteworthy college career at Illinois was at Edwardsville (Illinois) High School, his alma mater.
Thomas finished with a 53-47 record, including six pins, for the Illini. He was an NCAA qualifier as a senior and was ranked among the nation’s top ten 133-pounders. Thomas finished sixth in Big Ten Championships as junior and senior.
He was a four-time high school state qualifier as well.
After just one season at ODU, Bleise was hunting for another coaching job. He found one on Aug. 17, joining then-head coach Manny Rivera’s CSU-Bakersfield staff.
“It's always exciting to bring a hungry, young coach onto our staff," Rivera said at the time. "We look forward to the immediate impact Steve will have on our wrestlers. He brings a contagious enthusiasm and ambition that will serve our program well."
Rivera resigned roughly five weeks later and assistant Luke Smith was promoted to interim head coach. That development is bound to expand Bleise’s role.
“Big thanks to Coach Rivera and Coach Smith for bringing me on board!,” Bleise tweeted on Aug. 17. “Couldn’t be more excited for this opportunity!”
Bleise coached a contingent of ODU wrestlers at the March 1 National Collegiate Open and was voted as the tournament’s Coach of the Year, along with California Baptist’s Derek Moore. McGee claimed the program's first-ever NCO title and five teammates placed at the event.
Upon learning of the program’s demise, Bleise posted a photo of himself, Thomas and ODU head coach Steve Martin on Twitter.
“Can't thank these guys enough for bringing me down here to Norfolk,” he wrote. “Couldn't have asked for a better group to work with. While I no longer have the honor of sharing the corner with you. I'll take what you taught me to the next one.”
CSU-Bakersfield returns three starters who had winning records from last season’s team which went 7-6 and placed third at the PAC-12 Tournament, including 184-pound NCAA qualifier Josh Loomer.
A four-time NCAA qualifier, Bleise racked up an 87-36 record at Northern Illinois and Minnesota, including 8-8 at the NCAA Tournament. He twice reached the round of 12.
Bleise won 18 of his college matches by major decision, 10 via pin and eight by technical fall. He was third in the MAC Tournament as a freshman and fourth as a sophomore before placing seventh at the Big Tournament as a junior and sixth as a senior.
Bleise laid some of the foundation for his current career by coaching youth wrestling and earning the Verne Gagne Leadership Award while at Minnesota.
A standout at Chelsea (Michigan) High School, Bleise finished in the top five at the Division 2 state tournament four times, winning the 145-pound state championship as a senior. His high school record was 176-14, including 89-1 as a junior and senior.
Joining the coaching staff of his collegiate alma mater was thrilling for Beazley, but that chapter in his life did not even last a year.
"Sun came up this morning. Last night I wasn’t sure it would," Beazley tweeted a day after learning he was out of a job. "Going to dust myself off and keep fighting. As (ODU head coach Steve Martin) would say “gonna have to sweat it out”.... Today it might just take a little longer."
Beazley, a two-time NCAA qualifier and one-time All-American at 197 pounds for the Monarchs, worked mostly with the team's upper-weight wrestlers.
He took a little time pondering his next move before returning to Michigan and landing a job with a financial firm. DCC head coach Mitch Hancock announced Beazley's return to the program on May 29. He previously coached its youth team, Shamrock Select, during the 2018-19 season.
His father, Dave Beazley, is also a member of DCC’s staff. The elder Beazley was previously head coach at Montrose, leading the Rams to four Division 3 state titles between 1997-2005.
"Welcome home @k_beazley24, awesome to have you back on the mats in Michigan! #GoBlue," tweeted University of Michigan coach Sean Bormet at the time.
Added Thomas: "Let’s go @k_beazley24!! Keep building killers!"
Beazley wrestled for DCC his final two years of high school after transferring from Farmington Hills Harrison. He was a Division 1, 189-pound state champion as a senior in 2012 and state runner-up as a junior.
Beazley finished seventh in the state as a sophomore and was a state qualifier as a freshman. His high school record was 190-22. He was also a four-time Fargo All-American and two-time finalist.
In addition to his NCAA Championships berths, Beazley was also fourth in the MAC as a freshman, third as a sophomore and second as a junior while at ODU before transferring to Michigan for his final college season (2017-18).
Beazley placed fourth at the Big Ten Championships and again qualified for the NCAA Championships, but an injury forced him to withdraw. He finished with an 86-48 college record, including 22 points, 14 major-decision wins and five technical falls.
Beazley returned to coaching action Oct. 3-4, helping four DCC wrestlers reached at least the semifinals of the loaded Grappler Fall Classic.
"Good to see @k_beazley24 back in the mix this weekend," fellow Shamrocks assistant Anthony Biondo tweeted. "One of the best young coaches around, dude was born to coach @DCCWrestling."
Biondo was a three-time state Michigan champion at Clinton Township Chippewa Valley and three-time NCAA qualifier for Michigan.
DCC is seeking a fifth straight Division 1 team state championship and eighth in 10 years. The Shamrocks return six state medalists including nationally-ranked Manny Rojas (10th, 170), Drew Heethius (12th, 106) and Dylan Gilcher (18th, 126).
Mark Spezia is a freelance writer based in Lapeer, Michigan. He has written for ESPNW, Flohockey, Flint, Michigan-based My City Magazine, the Detroit Free Press, Hour Detroit Magazine and Troy, Michigan-based Oakland Press. He previously worked for the Flint Journal, Lapeer (Michigan) County Press and Daily Mining Gazette in Houghton, Michigan.