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Coaches Caravan DC Stop Recap: Cael Sanderson

Next up in the DC’s stop’s lineup of coach Q&As was the National Champion wrestling coach.


Wrestling is popular in the commonwealth, and on BSD. In an effort to focus on his sport, I took over most of the questioning, with some input from BSD #teamwrestling.

Side note: Cael vs. Mauti. Discuss.

On goals for this offseason and next season:

Because our guys compete individually, each individual has his own set of goals where he can make progress. But as a staff we just want to make progress. We're very grateful; we've been fortunate to have a lot of success lately. We want to continue to do that, obviously. But, we just want to keep doing a better job, keep getting better, just like we expect our team to. We want to compete for a national championship every year, but really, we just want to be the best we can be, and if that means winning it, then so be it. But all of our guys have areas of concentration...and a lot of times it's good for them in the summer, to get away and relax, so they can kinda let things sink in. And a lot of times, when they come back, things they couldn't pick up because of the rush of the school, and the next match, and everything, they don't really pick things up until they can take a step back. It's a little different for each kid.

On the IOC’s decision to cut wrestling from the Olympics, and what the next step is for them and for fans:

It's very political. The IOC needs to know that there is a lot of support for wrestling. It's not just the US, but around the world. Just, because, wrestling IS popular around the world. It is a global sport. But the next step is...about putting together a really objective argument for wrestling, instead of the emotional, 'hey, we were here from the start, this is one of the sports the [Olympics] were founded on' argument. Because I think that's kinda what got wrestling into this position in the first place—just assuming that wrestling didn't need to politic, and we didn't have to do all of those different type of things nobody wants to do. It's just being objective and going thru their criteria and showing that they should be included based on...their own criteria. There's a conference in Moscow that's coming up that they're going to narrow it down to, I think, three sports. There's 8 maybe now, and they narrow it down to 3, and then in the fall they go to one. Obviously, we've got to get in the top 3.

It just doesn't make sense, and that's the tricky part. The IOC doesn't really answer to anybody, so they didn't really have to give any reason, it's just "that's what we decided", and there's no votes, or any logic, or anything, really, that's given to the public. You just kind of gotta figure their vision is…TV, and, it's revenue, and you can't blame them for that, and so wrestling’s gotta get in there and, start doing what they gotta do to increase TV. But that's not actually accurate either, because if you look at the TV ratings, wrestling is higher than some of the sports that were left on there, doesn't make a whole lot of sense. But I think it's a political battle, it's a battle that goes a lot further than the wrestling coaches complaining, and the wrestlers complaining, I think it's beyond that, you know, it's lawyers, and politicians, and all that fun stuff, unfortunately.

On his proposal to modify the national duals:

That was just a suggestion. I think the national duals should be dead, based on last year. You have the national duels at Minnesota, you have Minnesota, you have Oklahoma St, you have Iowa and Missouri and there's only 3,000 people there--I think the fans are telling you something there.

I think we've got to get away from that and start from scratch. That's kinda where that idea was, basically copying what football does. There's a lot of different systems that work. Obviously wrestling is different, but you've got to take those differences into consideration. You just need something different, something that builds on our strengths and leaves the national tournament the way it is because that's the biggest event in wrestling in the world and it's growing every year. We don't want to start pulling that apart. Although some coaches think we're strong enough to pull apart and have two great championships. I'm not willing to risk that--there's too much at stake…we’ve got to build up another event first before we start pulling that apart. You're talking about proposals for a wrestling championship series or duals wrestling championship series. Something like that meets their criteria--they're looking something on TV and establish a dual meet champion for the year--which would be an unofficial championship but also very important and hopefully increase home attendance. That's really what it comes down to: why are people not able to get rear ends in the seats? That's the bottom line. Is it because wrestling's boring? Well if that's the case, we need to make sure it's not. There's some rules you can tweak and make things more exciting. We're fortunate because we have some very exciting wrestlers to watch and we're in PA--people love wrestling there and have a strong history there. But why are these programs not drawing any fans? That's the question we've got to ask and got to address. The national duals aren't going to fix that because they won't be there anyways. If a team doesn't care about dual meets now, they’re not going to care about them if there's a national duals. So that's the ongoing debate.

On the potential logjam at lighter weights, and spreading them out or duking it out in the wrestling room:

You want to get your best guys in the lineup, obviously, but sometimes you're going to have a little overlap—guys are gonna have to sit for a year, two years. That's healthy for us; it's not that common, though. We had some solid depth at a few weights this year, but we don't have depth at 10 different weight classes, where if we had somebody sit out we can throw somebody out who can score some points at a national tournament. A couple weights we did. Our goal is to be strong at every weight where everyone's pushing each other. We're getting more and more depth in the lower weights and that's kind of shifting; we had more depth in the upper weights earlier over the last few years and now it's shifting to the lower weights again, because that's where our recruiting focus has been and now we gotta shift back to getting upperweights back. We're going to lose Taylor after next year, and Q's gone, so there's going to be some layover there with people in the same weight classes from time to time, but the better guy's got to wrestle and if you want to be a national champion you’ve got to make the team.

On Quentin Wright:

He's getting a lot of offers around the country but I believe he's committed to training at Penn State and he wants to compete in the Olympics. I know he's talked about going Greco a little bit--and I know the Greco coach is trying to recruit him real hard because they need some help. He has the ability to do well in either discipline.

Ed note: Cael did say that the plan was for Q to train at the NLWC.

On the potential for Casey Cunningham to leave the program to coach another program, after saying that there have been no interviews or offers for any member of the staff:

We wouldn’t lose our coaches without a major fight. And, Coach Cunningham and Coach Cody, they could be applying for head coaching jobs anywhere and getting them, but they haven’t yet, so we’re real happy about that.

On losing another NCAA wrestling program (BU) and how much of a Head Coach’s position is marketing vs. actual coaching:

I think you have to be making progress. You have to be getting better recruits, figuring out how to train them better. If you’re winning, that’s the best marketing tool you have. If you’re not winning, you better make sure your kids are doing very well in school, and they’re staying out of trouble, and they’re representing the school the way the alumni and the administration wants the school represented. It’s a difficult thing, because you can’t blame it all on the coach, you can’t blame it all on anybody. You know, it’s, where did this program start sliding to where it’s in this position now? And I don’t know, but I think it’s the coach’s job to make sure that the program’s safe. I think that’s my job at Penn State, to make sure that Penn State wrestling—I mean, I’m the steward of the program at this time, and I need to make sure that the program’s more secure now than when I took the job, and that we’re making progress in all areas. And I think each and every coach needs to do the same thing. You hate to see programs being dropped, but I don’t really want to attack anybody on that, but it’s definitely unfortunate.

On the potential for complacency within the PSU wrestling program:

I don’t [worry about it]. Every year is going to have its own challenges, you have different kids, they’re in different times of their lives with different things on their minds. So, for us, it’s just getting the best result at that time. Looking at our team on paper, we have maybe the best team we’ve ever had next year, you know, dual meet-wise, we have that potential. But we still have to compete, you have to go out there and you have to stay healthy and you have to stay eligible and you have to stay out of trouble and all these other different areas that are key. But I don’t think we’re worried about being complacent. Winning a fourth championship, that’s a heck of an opportunity to go for and definitely worth fighting for.

On any long term plans or future vision for his career:

Shoot, I don’t know. I’m just trying to do a nice job now with the program. I’m not a forty year coach or anything, by any stretch of the imagination. I’m going to coach until my passion’s not there, and then I’ll figure out what I’m going to do next. But right now, I love what I’m doing, I have a real strong passion, and I’m just staring to figure out this coaching world. It’s a lot different. That’s the exciting thing about coaching, we’re talking about different kids. You know, we’re going to lose David Taylor and Ed Ruth in a year and those are some amazing shoes to try to fill by recruiting and finding other ways to be able to have that kind of success. It’s a never-ending challenge, and I love that about coaching.

On Bill O’Brien:

I’m a big fan of coach O’Brien. I think he’s done a tremendous job here. I think he’s a very good leader. Great attitude. He’s a "one team" type of guy; he’s fighting for all the teams, all the coaches. And you look at what he’s done and how he’s handled himself and it’s very impressive. What the team’s gone through since he’s been here, and the challenges and everything that’s been put on his plate, and still to be able to keep the team focused and positive and to smile? That takes a very strong person. And they’re fun to watch. I love watching the team play. They go for it. They’re playing to win, and it’s exciting stuff.

College football, outside of wrestling, is probably my favorite sport. Just being around coach O’Brien, there’s just so much passion for the sport and college athletics in general. It’s fun to be a part of it.

Lastly, courtesy of bscaff: "You know, it’s a beautiful day out today. Are you missing fly fishing?"

No. You know, I don’t actual fish that much, that’s what I dream about. I don’t actually get out that much…I have little kids to, so when we have a day off, I can’t say, oh, I’m gonna go out and go fishing. I’d rather hang out with my kids.

But I do love fishing.

Some highlights of Sanderson's portion of the actual caravan event, for those of you not on twitter:

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