January 24, 2012 by David Gillaspie
(originally posted on oregonsportsnews.com)
Coaches come in all flavors, some sour, some sweet. If you’ve done anything in sports, you’ve had a coach. What binds them together is their desire to win.
What separates them is how far they’ll go for that win.
You can say the same for athletes looking for a school to continue their sport. Some expect the world to bow toward them. Some arrive with the effects of a hard life and wonder if they even belong.
How often do you find the right school with the right coach recruiting athletes who fit their program?
The news of drop-outs and transfers, investigations and sanctions, makes you wonder if it ever happens the way it’s supposed to.
One place it does happen is Clackamas Community College.
The biggest sports news of 2011 was the Oregon Ducks in the BCS National Championship game against the Auburn Tigers. Their last second loss by a field goal robbed them of a chance to sit atop the world of D1 big boy football like they play in the SEC.
A national championship at any level, for any sport, is the peg you want to hang your hat on. Coming close gives a certain hope for the future, but it leaves a bitter taste when you feel the glory within reach and miss.
Luckily, CCC bailed the state of Oregon out last year by winning the junior college wrestling national championship. It wasn’t an NBA world title, or an NCAA national title, and it didn’t get the same press. All it did was impress.
The National Junior College Athletic Association championship in wrestling shined a light on Oregon that usually points to places like Iowa and Oklahoma, the traditional wrestling hot spots, though Pennsylvania is the current NCAA Division I team champ.
Winning does that, it changes the temperature.
The people who show up on campus to wrestle for the Cougars already know Coach Josh Rhoden. They’ve met his wife and family in the course of their recruiting trip. I met him the night matches were canceled due to some of the worst weather in Oregon history.
Even without wrestling, it was one of the best night of sports.
First I got lost in the dark and missed my turn for the gym. By the time I turned around and parked, other coaches were telling sports fans the wrestling was canceled.
I asked one of them if Coach Rhoden was still around. They said he was just leaving in the next car pulling out. I asked them to flag him down, and they did. From there, Coach Rhoden spent the sort of time with a stranger, a blogger, that you can’t schedule.
Here’s a man with his wife and daughter waiting on him for dinner and he gives the championship tour. From his office, to the trophy case, to the gym set up for that night’s wrestling matches, Coach Rhoden came across as a man of trust.
In today’s climate of big-time athletic scandals in Penn State and Syracuse, trust is the first casualty. Not at Clackamas.
Josh Rhoden answered questions with the sort of words most sports fans never expect. It wasn’t all about sports. While he is the head coach of the reigning team champions, he had an air of inevitability. Without saying as much, you get the feeling Coach Rhoden knows the questions before they’re asked. He’s polished enough in his thirty one years that he gives better answers to those questions. Instead of a yes or no, he gives of himself.
“We balance our program with wrestling and academics,” he said. “Student athletes come here for many reasons, but academics is what we push. My coaches, Brett Born and Rich Vigarito, and I all have Masters degrees and that’s the standard we set for our wrestlers from the beginning. We have regular academic meetings, study tables, and my office door is always open. My wrestlers’ problems are all our problems and we find a way through.”
As if on cue, two of his former wrestlers walked through the gym door.
Seth Roy and Brian Jacobs, all-Americans at Clackamas, made the jump to Southern Oregon University where they were also all-Americans. Their relaxed manner with Coach Rhoden felt like the sort of camaraderie you see between people who’ve shared a similar test of fire. The three together looked like part of a Special Forces team waiting for their assignment.
Any doubt about their readiness ended when Seth said he was headed for the octagon at Roseland the next night for his MMA debut. Picture a tornado in tennis shoes to get a clear image. If you’ve seen the way wrestlers work the octagon, you know why they have tap-outs.
After spending an unexpected hour, I didn’t want to keep Coach Rhoden any longer, but he had a few more things to say that are universally applicable to both athletes and sports fans. The following is my interpretation of Coach Rhoden’s advice.
Make your way to the biggest tournaments you can find, whether it’s Fargo, Reno, or Midlands. Participate if possible, but watch how the collegiate and post-college guys in the open division handle their business on the road. Talk to the wrestlers. Ask where they stay, what they eat, and how they get enough rest to stay fresh each day. Add it all to your routine so that nothing feels out of place when you hit the mat.
Get used to seeing sixteen mats on the gym floor. That’s where champions make their mark. They travel, they make weight, and they bring it back home. If that sounds like you, plan on filling up each spring with wrestling.
Get kids in your wrestling room, then ask them to spread the word. Once they believe in your coaching style and the systems you use, they will start hitting the goals you set and adding their names to your program.
Talk to your guys about wrestlers and wrestling history, the greats and near greats. Make them a student of the sport and they’ll be fans long after their competitive days are over.
Encourage your wrestlers to ‘be a thief in the room.’ Whatever beats them will be something they can use to beat their next opponent. If they’re right handed, practice going left. If they’re an upper body guy, learn more leg attacks. The lessons of the wrestling room apply everywhere. Success is waiting if you prepare right and learn how to turn a weakness into a strength.
Aim your kids toward every option available. Find camps, clinics, and regular programs for the off-season. Share the thrills, the ups and the downs, with your wrestler and their friends. Build trust in the sport so they know where their base is.
Get in the gym and stay in shape. Lose a few pounds during the season to share the effort. Set an example by running with your wrestler. Make it a life choice, a wrestling choice, and you’ve done more than anyone could ask.
In closing, I have a special request for the administrators of the PAC-12 Conference of Champions:
Use the new revenue streams from television contracts to bring wrestling back to the traditional institutions, the University of Oregon in particular. The recent concern over football coach Chip Kelly jumping to the NFL brought names of coaches to replace him. At the top of the list was Chris Peterson of Boise State.
If Oregon returns wrestling to their athletic department, one name ought to be at the top of that coaching list. Josh Rhoden knows how to run a program the right way and win.
That is a character statement, not a convenient story to roll out for fund raising. That’s the Cougar way and it translates to the next level.