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Looking at Eight Former OSU Wrestlers Who Are Currently Head Coaches

Oklahoma State’s imprint can be seen throughout all of college wrestling.

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I’ve dug into it a bit on here before, but the legacy of wrestling coaches that matriculated at Oklahoma State University is remarkable. In fact, 10 percent of Division I head wrestling coaches wrestled at Oklahoma State and even more make up the assistant coaching ranks around the country. I thought I’d take a look at all the former OSU wrestlers currently heading D-I programs and break down some of their coaching legacies.

This list is in no particular order.

1. Neil Erisman (University of Arkansas-Little Rock)

Erisman has taken on a pretty big task in heading a brand new D1 program at UALR. The Trojans will be entering their first year of official competition for the 2019-20 season, so a lot remains to be seen regarding his career, but there’s little doubt that Neil was a great hire and will do a big-time job at Little Rock.

2. Teague Moore (American University)

A national champion at Oklahoma State in 1998, Moore is now the head coach at American University after starting his career at Clarion. Moore has coached three All-Americans and 24 NCAA qualifiers in his tenure, most notably the Terao brothers who have produced some of the most exciting matches at the NCAA tournament.

3. Coleman Scott (North Carolina)

Coleman was named head coach at UNC in August of 2015 and in the short period from then to now has taken it from an “also-ran” program to one of the best in the ACC and one that consistently produces All-Americans and top 25 finishes. Scott has definitely shown he’s a big-time coach and now that he’s starting to get a team of his recruits around him, I would expect his trajectory to continue upwards.

4. Glen Lanham (Duke)

Lanham, who started his coaching career as a grad assistant at OSU, has been the head coach at Duke since 2012. Year after year, his teams have consistently improved in their NCAA finishes and they’ve risen into the top 25 over the past few seasons.

What makes that even more impressive is that Duke does not offer scholarships in wrestling. Every “recruit” he gets is essentially a walk-on who’s completely reliant on their own money and other financial aid. That is incredibly hard to recruit to and win with but somehow Lanham is doing it.

5. Kevin Ward (West Point)

Ward was hired on at West Point in 2014 and is taking the program to heights its never seen., including beating Navy the last three years. That’s unheard of. The Academy is 8-49-5 in the history of that series and four of those wins have come under Ward. He’s only been there five years and has half of the wins against its biggest rival! Last year West Point was in and out of the top 25 all season and got a wrestler to the blood round at the NCAA tournament (this is a program has only had 15 All-Americans in its entire history).

West Point qualified seven wrestlers for the NCAA tournament — its record is eight — and had a program record of five wrestlers who won matches at the NCAA tournament. It finished 32nd as a team. West Point went 8-3 in duals this season, its best record since the 1980s.

Ward is changing the culture of a program where traditionally it has not been easy to win. He is doing an amazing job at Army and probably one of the more underrated coaches in the NCAA.

6. Pat Popolizio (North Carolina State)

Pat Popolizio is the only former OSU wrestler on this list (not named John Smith) to coach an individual NCAA champion and to win a team trophy at the NCAA tournament. NC State finished fourth in 2018. He’s also picked up two conference titles and, in his seven seasons at NC State, he’s truly built a great program in all aspects.

He’s garnered fan interest and is bringing in great crowds, he’s recruiting well and, after a recent contract extension, looks as though he’ll continue to elevate that program moving forward. Purely based on resume with his Power 5 conference titles, NCAA team trophy, and individual champ, as a head coach, he’s done the best of the former Cowboys who are not heading their alma mater.

7. Mark Branch (Wyoming)

Branch is a fan favorite in Stillwater to this day. Coming in as an unseeded freshman and winning an NCAA title gave him a special place in the heart of OSU’s fan base. He went on to win two more NCAA titles during his time at OSU and was part of the coaching staff during the run of four-straight team titles.

Since taking over at Wyoming in 2007, Branch has won multiple conference titles, crowned multiple All-Americans, and has finished in the top 25 at the NCAA tournament a number of times. Since entering the Big 12, the conference titles at Wyoming have slowed for Branch as the Cowboys have owned the league, but they have remained competitive. In 2018 he was named Big 12 Coach of the Year.

8. John Smith (Oklahoma State)

What can you not say about Coach Smith? He’s won five NCAA team titles, coached 32 individual NCAA champions, and countless All-Americans and conference champions. His 426 dual wins are the most by any single coach in Oklahoma State history. The current knock on Smith is that he, like the rest of the wrestling world, has not been able to take down Penn State and Cael Sanderson in the last 10 years. With the recruiting class he has coming in for 2020, it looks like the Cowboys could have their best shot at another title in the next few years.

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