Saturday, March 17th, prior the start of the finals of the NCAA Championships The University of Arkansas at Little Rock administration announced they would be adding wrestling as a new DI sport starting in the fall of 2019. UA Little Rock will be the only DI wrestling program in the state. While a search is underway for the program’s inaugural head coach, TOM thought that we would help out and list some great coaching candidates for the position. We tried to be realistic as well, Jordan Burroughs is not likely to retire and take over, and Terry Brands probably doesn’t leave his job at Iowa for the new gig.
Remember these are just our suggestions, we don’t know who has or has not applied. At this point, there is no insider information about potential hires.
Current Assistant Coaches
Alex Clemsen – Missouri (Associate Head Coach) – Clemsen just finished his fourth season as an assistant for the Tigers. In each of his four seasons, Missouri has placed in the top six nationally at the NCAA Championships. Missouri has also been very strong in the recruiting game, earning a top-four ranking for the Class of 2018. The Mizzou staff has been able to build the proverbial fence around the state and keep most of its top recruits home. Getting Clemsen, a Missouri native, to come down to neighboring Arkansas may start a pipeline to Little Rock from the Show Me State. During his competitive days, Alex wrestled at Edinboro so he has had experience wrestling at a smaller program and the challenges that it could present for a coach.
Jared Frayer – Virginia Tech (Assistant Coach) – After a couple of years away from coaching at the collegiate level, Jared Frayer returned in 2017-18 at Virginia Tech. The Hokies finished eighth in the country and captured an ACC title over upstart NC State in a season that some thought would be a rebuilding year. Jared was a 2012 Olympian, which always helps with training and recruiting. Speaking of recruiting, his teams have typically recruited very well at Oklahoma, Wisconsin and now at Virginia Tech. Frayer is a Florida native, and that could prove to be a fertile ground for signing high school talent.
Jordan Leen – Pittsburgh (Assistant Coach) – Another coach with ties to the south is Pittsburgh’s, Jordan Leen. His father, Mark, coached at Tennessee-Chattanooga and Jordan grew up in the area before wrestling collegiately at Cornell. Leen was a three-time All-American and 2008 NCAA champion for the Big Red. Since he has taken up coaching, Jordan has earned the reputation of an excellent recruiter. While assisting at Virginia, he brought in talent from all over the south, as well as establishing relationships in Pennsylvania that have helped at Pitt. In 2010 Leen served as a guest analyst at the NCAA Championships and proved how articulate he could be which of course, is great for recruiting and establishing relationships with donors and friends of the program.
Ben Wissel – Duke (Assistant Coach) – Two-time All-American heavyweight Jacob Kasper spent nearly every post-NCAA interview lobbying for his assistant coach Ben Wissel to get consideration for head coaching openings. His persistence has won me over. Wissel has been on Duke’s coaching staff for the past six seasons. Ben, a two-time All-American himself at 184 lbs, was undoubtedly a critical piece in the development of Kasper from a freshman non-qualifier at nationals to an NCAA title contender. Without any athletic scholarships to work with, the Duke staff has had to be resourceful when recruiting and their development of talent has been essential to the Blue Devils success.
Anthony Ralph – Ohio State (Volunteer Assistant) – This could also fall under the “outside the box” category, as well. Realistically, Ralph probably has a hard time advancing up the coaching ladder at Ohio State. J Jaggers and Tervel Dlagnev are already on staff and seem to do an excellent job. Recent Buckeye grads Nathan Tomasello, Logan Stieber and Kyle Snyder, are all focused on their freestyle careers, but someday any or all of the three could be looked at as head coaching material. Anthony has established himself as excellent recruiter in-state and nationwide his two seasons in Columbus and before that at Notre Dame College. He was part of a coaching staff that led the Falcons to a DII national title in 2014.
Tony Ramos – North Carolina (Volunteer Assistant) – Want to make a big splash of a hire? Look no further than the controversial Ramos. Tony is outspoken and has had his share of critics, but he also has a huge fan following and would be a recognizable name for recruits. Currently, Ramos is still competing, but for a new program that could also be good exposure, if it’s head coach were to make a world team. Of course, in this instance, he would need a trusted, experienced assistant that could guide the ship while he is wrestling. Some of the best head coaching hires have been the ones that may have seemed unconventional or unusual at the time. Could he be another?
Jake Varner – Penn State (Assistant Coach) – It’s not every day that you can bring in an Olympic gold medalist as your head coach. Talk about commitment from a new program. Varner could be in the same situation as Anthony Ralph. Waiting in the wings, as successor to Cael Sanderson some point, would be David Taylor and Zain Retherford and others. It’s worth a try, right?
Current DI Head Coach
Kevin Ward – Army West Point – One of the few DI coaches that have had experience coaching collegiately in Arkansas is Kevin Ward. Before his hire at Army West Point, Ward led nearby Ouachita Baptist to a fourth-place finish at the NCAA DII National Championships in 2014, earning coach of the year honors. Kevin just finished his fourth season coaching Army West Point, and their 2018 recruiting class was named 18th in the nation. It’s probably a stretch to get Ward to leave West Point right now, but again it’s worth a try. Like Jordan Leen, Ward is a Tennessee native who would be helpful working in Little Rock.
Out of the Box Hires
David Bolyard – A few days after the 2018 NCAA Championships Eastern Michigan announced they would be dropping their wrestling program, which has left David Bolyard out in the cold. This year Bolyard and Eagles produced their first All-American since 1999 and sent half of their starters to nationals. David also headed a staff that signed an eventual NHSCA Senior National Champion and put together a team that was strong academically, as well. Seems like someone that was getting it done on all fronts. Bolyard is well respected by his peers and should not be out of a job long if that is his choice.
Barry Davis – After 25 years at the helm in Wisconsin Barry Davis resigned in early March, effective after the NCAA Championships. Whatever the circumstances surrounding the resignation, Davis has indicated in multiple interviews that he isn’t finished coaching. Instead of taking the risk of hiring an unknown commodity, how about you go for a coach with decades of experience coaching in the Big Ten. Since you probably don’t anticipate Barry coaching for the next ten years, you get a “head-coach-in-waiting” that he can groom to take over for him, four or five years down the road, after the program has established itself.