The Super Staffs Of The NCAA

The Super Staffs Of The NCAA

Which programs have the best coaching staff to roll with in practice? We break it all down.

Sep 17, 2021 by Rich Perez
The Super Staffs Of The NCAA

For some time now the topic in major team sports leagues has been the formation of super teams and what they can accomplish. With the movement in coaching this summer the question should now arise: what about coaching super staffs in college wrestling? Some may come easily to mind but there are more than you may think.

1) Oklahoma State

The Cowboys like Iowa are one of the most storied programs in all of NCAA wrestling holding the most NCAA team titles of any program. Since taking the helm in 1992, John Smith has led the Cowboys to five NCAA team championships and 21 conference titles. Coach Smith and his staff have coached Daton Fix to two NCAA finals appearances and a spot on the world team. They’ve also coached AJ Ferrari to a national title and Wyatt Sheets to an All-American finish. Coach Smith is regarded as the greatest American wrestler of all-time winning four world championships and two Olympic gold medals from 1987 to 1992. As a competitor at Oklahoma State, Smith was a three-time All-American and two-time NCAA champion. 

Associate head coach Zack Esposito is entering his fifth season as the associate head coach of the Cowboys and was instrumental in coaching previously mentioned Sheets, and Ferrari. As a competitor, Esposito was a four-time national qualifier and three-time All-American finishing second as a sophomore and third as a senior. In 2005, Esposito captured an NCAA title at 149 pounds helping the Cowboys secure their third team title in the process. 

Assistant coach Chris Perry enters his fifth season in this position on staff after serving two years as a volunteer assistant. As a competitor, Perry was a four-time national qualifier with four Big 12 titles. Perry was a three-time All - American capturing national titles as a junior and senior. 

Former Cowboy Tyler Caldwell is also on staff as the recruiting coordinator for OSU. During his college years, Caldwell was a four-time All-American finishing fifth and second for the Oklahoma Sooners and third and second for the Cowboys. Caldwell also won a university world title in 2014 for the United States.

2) Penn State

The Nittany Lions have been a dominant force in NCAA wrestling for the last decade now only missing out on two national team titles since their first title under the Sanderson regime in 2011. Head coach Cael Sanderson has spearheaded it, coaching 78 All-Americans between his time at Iowa State and Penn State. Sanderson has also coached 25 NCAA champions during this amazing run, most recently Roman Bravo-Young, Nick Lee, Carter Starocci, and Aaron Brooks

As an athlete, Cael Sanderson is regarded as the greatest collegiate wrestler of all time. Sanderson went a perfect 159-0 with four Big 12 titles and four NCAA titles. Sanderson closed out his competitive career with an Olympic gold medal at the 2004 Athens games. 

Associate head coach Cody Sanderson has been alongside brother Cael since his coaching career began at Iowa State. As an athlete, Sanderson was a Big 12 champion and two-time NCAA runner-up for the Iowa State Cyclones. Sanderson's run to the NCAA finals helped Iowa State to a second-place team trophy at the 2000 NCAA championships. 

Assistant coach Casey Cunningham has been regarded as another crucial piece to this well-oiled machine. Before his time with the Sanderson’s, Cunningham was an assistant at Central Michigan for seven years helping with the development of 18 All-Americans, and 35 MAC champions.

As an athlete, Cunningham had one of the most decorated careers in Central Michigan wrestling history. Cunningham was a three-time MAC champion and was the conference wrestler of the year in 1998 and 1999. Cunningham was a two-time All-American finishing as a runner-up in 1998 and winning the first individual division one national title in school history in 1999. Cunningham wrapped up his college career amassing an overall record of 134-19. 

Jake Varner rounds out this staff having been an official member since the 2016 - 2017 season. Varner can be regarded as the original protege to head coach Cael Sanderson wrestling at both 184 and 197. Varner was a two-time big 12 champion and four-time NCAA finalist, winning back-to-back national titles in 209 and 2010 at 197 pounds. Varner went on to achieve much success on the senior level representing the United States at the World Championships in 2009 and 2011. Varner was a bronze medalist at the world championships in 2011 before capturing gold at the London Olympic games in 2012. 

3) Iowa

The Hawkeyes are one of the most storied programs in all of NCAA wrestling, winning the second most NCAA team titles in history. At the helm of the Iowa program are the Brands brothers, Iowa alumni who between them have seven All-American finishes and five NCAA individual titles. 

On the senior level, Tom Brands is a world and Olympic champion with two world cup golds to go along with that. Terry Brands was a two-time world champion while also winning two world cup golds. At the Sydney Olympic Games in 2000, Terry Brands captured the Bronze medal to close out his athletic career. 

The Brands brothers have helped guide wrestlers like Spencer Lee, Austin DeSanto,  Jaydin Eierman, and many more to high-level NCAA success and captured their first NCAA team title in a decade at the 2021 NCAA championships. Prior to that Tom Brands led the Hawkeyes to three straight NCAA championships. 

Assistant coach Ryan Morningstar can be credited for his work with wrestlers such as Kaleb Young, Alex Marinelli, and Michael Kemerer. As an athlete, Morningstar was a Big Ten runner-up and two-time All-American for the Hawkeyes placing third, and seventh. 

Bobby Telford rounds out the staff as the volunteer assistant and can be credited for his work with wrestlers like Jacob Warner, and Tony Cassioppi. 

As an athlete, Telford was a three-time All-American compiling an overall record of 108-27 to close out his Hawkeye wrestling career. The Hawkeyes return their full lineup and will look to repeat their title in 2022.

4) Cornell

The Big Red have consistently been one of the better programs in the country under Rob Koll but after Koll’s departure many wondered where the program was headed. Cornell chose to hire from within, promoting former Big Red All-American and assistant coach Mike Grey to the head position. Grey’s resume as a coach is outstanding in itself developing multiple-time NCAA champ Yianni Diakomihalis, and All-American Vito Arujau

Grey’s success as an athlete also shouldn’t be understated. At Delbarton, Grey was just the second wrestler in program history to win the New Jersey State high school tournament. Grey was also the first four-time state champion in New Jersey wrestling history. 

At Cornell, Grey was the 2008 Ivy League wrestler of the year, and 'Rev Wrestling Freshman of the Year'. Grey was an All-American at Cornell as a freshman and senior and helped lead Cornell to a second-place finish at the NCAA tournament in 2010 and 2011. 

Associate head coach Donnie Vinson makes his return to the Cornell staff after spending four seasons with the NC State Wolfpack. While with the Wolfpack, Vinson assisted in the development of All-Americans Tariq Wilson, and Hayden Hidlay. As a competitor, Vinson was a high school, and junior All-American. At Binghamton, Vinson was a two-time CAA champion and finished third in the nation at 149 pounds during his junior season. Vinson was one of the few wrestlers in college who posted a win over Kyle Dake during his run to four NCAA championships. 

Assistant coach Kellen Russell comes to the Cornell staff after six years on the Michigan Wolverine staff. During that period, Russell was influential in the development of wrestlers such as Dylan Ragusin, Stevan Micic, Will Lewan, and Drew Mattin. Russell also helped lead the Wolverines to five top 10 finishes and a team trophy at the 2018 NCAA championships. As a competitor, Russell was a two-time Big Ten champion as well as a two-time NCAA champion for the Wolverines. Russell capped off his collegiate career with a 134-12 career record which is tied for eighth on Michigan's all-time wins list. 

Volunteer assistant Nick Gwiazdowski closes out this coaching staff as a newcomer to coaching. Gwiazdowski had one of the most decorated careers in NCAA heavyweight wrestling history. After finishing seventh in the nation as a true freshman at Binghamton, Gwiazdowski transferred to NC State where he went on to be a two-time national champion and NCAA runner-up. Gwiazdowski has also been a mainstay on the freestyle circuit representing the United States at the world championships in 2017, 2018, and 2019.

Gwiazdowski secured Bronze medals at the world championships in 2017 and 2018 while helping catapult team USA to a world championship team title in 2018. What makes this staff so unique is not just their accomplishments as wrestlers, but the fact that they can resonate with the newer generations of high school wrestlers.

5) Ohio State

Ohio State has always had some well put together staffs, but this staff in particular has 13 All-American finishes and six national titles between them. The Buckeyes have been led by Tom Ryan since the 2006 - 2007 season and the turnaround since coach Ryan took over has been tremendous. 

Ryan’s head coaching career began in 1995 at Hofstra University where he coached up six All-American wrestlers and led the Pride to six straight conference championships and a coaching record of 109-83-1. At Ohio State, Ryan has coached 53 wrestlers to All-American honors with 15 of them making the finals and 12 winning titles. 

As an athlete, Ryan was a two-time NCAA qualifier and EIWA champion at Syracuse before transferring to Iowa to wrestle for legendary head coach Dan Gable. As a Hawkeye, Ryan finished 2nd and 3rd in the nation helping propel the Hawkeyes to two national championships as a team.

Associate head coach J Jaggers has helped coach up wrestlers like Malik Heinselman, Dylan D'Emilio, and Sammy Sasso through their Buckeye careers and is in his twelfth season as a member of the Buckeye coaching staff. Jaggers is an alumnus of Ohio State coming in with very good credentials as an athlete. Jaggers was a three-time All - American for the Buckeyes winning national titles as a junior and senior. Jaggers was known as a wrestler who rose to the occasion as he went from slow starter to show stopper at the NCAA championships. 

Like Jaggers, Bo Jordan is also an alumnus to the Buckeyes and has been on staff since his senior season back in 2018.  Jordan can be credited for his work with wrestlers such as Kaleb Romero, Ethan Smith, and Rocky Jordan. As an athlete Jordan was a four-time All-American and a member of one of the most star-studded recruiting classes in Ohio State history. Jordan finished third at the NCAA tournament as a freshman and sophomore and was an NCAA runner-up as a junior before finishing fifth to close out his career. Jordan was also a three-time Big Ten finalist and champion at 174 pounds as a junior. 

Rounding out the staff is newly appointed volunteer assistant Logan Stieber. Stieber led a group that was a part of a huge resurgence for Buckeye wrestling during his time as an athlete. After receiving a medical redshirt for his true freshman year, Stieber came out on fire going 33-2 to finish the season winning a Big Ten and National title. Stieber went on to win three more conference and national titles in his college career leading Ohio state to a team national title as a senior in 2015. As an international competitor, Stieber represented the United States at the world championships twice winning a world title at 61 KG in 2016.

6) North Carolina

The Tar Heels have been on a steady rise under head coach Coleman Scott and don’t appear to be going anywhere anytime soon. The staff has developed Austin O’Conner into an NCAA champion while also developing wrestlers like Joey Melendez, Jaime Hernandez, and Max Shaw. As an athlete, Scott was a four-time All-American at Oklahoma State winning the 133-pound title in 2008. Scott went on to bring home a bronze medal from the 2012 London Olympic games. 

Associate head coach Tony Ramos is entering his sixth season on staff with the Tar Heels where he’s had a tremendous impact. As an athlete, Ramos was a three-time All-American for the Iowa Hawkeyes. Ramos captured the 133 pound NCAA title as a senior in 2014. Ramos also represented the United States at the senior world championships on two separate occasions. 

The Tar Heels also have Gary Wayne-Harding who was a three-time NCAA qualifier and five-time Oklahoma 5A state champion. 

Most recently UNC added Jamill Kelly to the staff who has had a tremendous coaching career at places like NC State, Cal Poly, Harvard, and Arizona State. Kelly wrestled at Oklahoma State from 1997 to 2000 but it is his freestyle wrestling career that brings another level of experience to this staff. Kelly was a member of the US national team for four years and represented the United States at the World Championships on two separate occasions. In 2004, Kelly captured a silver medal at the Athens Olympic Games at 66 KG.

7) Illinois

The Fighting Illini are in a new swing of things as Mike Poeta enters his first season as head coach. Poeta served as an assistant on the Illini staff for five years helping produce numerous All-Americans and was instrumental in the development of wrestlers like Danny and Zak Braunagel, and Dylan Duncan. Poeta is regarded as one of the greatest wrestlers to never win an NCAA title finishing as a runner-up during his junior and senior year. Poeta was a three-time All-American for the Fighting Illini as well as a two-time Big 10 champion. 

Jeremy Hunter has been a long-time assistant for the Illini entering his 16th season on staff. Hunter was instrumental in the development of Lucas Byrd who became an All-American for the Illini in 2021. A graduate of Penn State, Hunter was a three-time All-American for the Nittany Lions finishing fifth and second. Hunter captured a national title at 125 pounds in 2000 capping off his career with 123 victories. 

Newly appointed assistant Ed Ruth comes in with a wealth of experience as a member of the first wave of national titles under Penn State head coach Cael Sanderson. Ruth was a four-time All-American for the Nittany Lions and a three-time NCAA champion.

Ruth made a world team in 2014 before settling into a career in MMA. prior to joining the Illini staff Ruth was the head coach of the Wolfpack RTC.

Honorable mentions