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One-on-One with Tom Ryan

Andrew Hipps

7/4/2012
Andrew Hipps, InterMat Senior Editor
andrew@intermatwrestle.com, Twitter: @InterMat

Tom Ryan has guided Ohio State's wrestling program to five top-10 finishes in his six seasons as head coach, including NCAA runner-up finishes in 2008 and 2009. Ryan has twice been named InterMat Coach of the Year. The Buckeyes are coming off a fifth-place finish at the 2012 NCAA Division I Wrestling Championship in a season in which they started seven freshmen.

InterMat caught up with Ryan and talked to him about his Monroeville wrestlers, including newcomer Chris Phillips, why a takedown was not awarded in the closing seconds of the NCAA finals match at 133 pounds, what the win over the Iowa Hawkeyes meant to the Ohio State wrestling program, what makes Lou Rosselli a great coach, what his outlook is for the 2012-13 college season, and much more.

The early contact period for recruiting kicked off on Sunday. You have already landed the nation's No. 1 overall senior. Are you targeting specific needs in terms of weight classes, or are you just looking for kids that best fit into your program?

Ryan: I would say a combination of both. There are weight classes that we're still learning about with guys we brought in recently. There are other weight classes where you hope to get a little bit of depth and have some people challenging.

This past season you started seven freshmen and finished fifth at the NCAAs. Your four All-Americans tied the second most in school history. Prior to the NCAAs you talked about wanting a team trophy. Obviously, you came up a little short. But how did you and the staff feel about how this past season turned out?

Ryan: Overall we felt good. When you have individuals that you get close to and work with every day, you want to see each guy reach his goals, as well as the team. There was excitement with the Stiebers and Tessari. Campolattano and some other guys didn't attain the things they wanted to. Until you have ten national champs and win a team title, there will always be the ups and downs of coaching. But overall I think we were pleased. When we started the season, if someone said we were going to have a freshman win nationals and have three other wrestlers place, I would say we would have been pleased with that. It was a good rebound to a very tough season for us the year before.

What did you take away from that 2010-11 season in which you went 2-11 in dual meets and finished eighth at the Big Ten Championships?

Ryan: I think we learned a lot in that tough season. When you're winning, maybe you're not really assessing all the little things as much as you need to. But when you're losing the way we did, you really assess every aspect of your program, and I think we're all better for it. The athletes and staff, we're better now than we were before that season occurred.

Tom Ryan coaching at the 2011 Big Ten Championships (Photo/Tony Rotundo, WrestlersAreWarriors.com)
One of your highlights from this past season was a 21-9 victory over Iowa in front of almost 5,700 fans in Columbus. It was the program's first win over Iowa since 1966. What did that dual meet victory do for the program?

Ryan: Iowa has been the standard for so long. They've done such an incredible job. When you think about all the great teams that Coach Hellickson had, and to never beat an Iowa team is pretty amazing. I think it's testament to the University of Iowa and how they do things there. For us, I think it was somewhat of a justification for kids in the state. It's so critical for us to really fence in the state and get the guys that we want from the state. So I think it was great justification, cementing in the fact that you can come to Ohio State. You can win national championships. You can be a part of a team that beats Iowa, Penn State, and others. It was a very, very important step in the process, as was Logan winning it as a freshman ... because there are a lot of great high school wrestlers out there right now that believe in their heart that they can win it as a freshman. When you do it, I think it gives great credence to the fact that they've done it before ... If Logan can do it, then I can do it too mentally.

Your three Monroeville wrestlers, Logan Stieber, Hunter Stieber, and Cam Tessari, were freshmen All-Americans at 133, 141, and 149 pounds respectively. How much do they feed off each other?

Ryan: They have a very healthy competitive relationship. They respect each other tremendously. I think Logan is the leader of the crew. He's the oldest and sets a great standard in every aspect of his life. So it's great having a leader like that. When Logan and Hunter were in the NCAA semifinals, Cam Tessari was fired up because he wasn't there. Then obviously he came back all the way through the tournament to place as well. They are a great nucleus for the program. Chris Phillips will be joining us this year, which will be nice.

What has Chris Phillips shown you since he started training in Columbus and made a commitment to be a Buckeye?

Ryan: Well, the only time we can see Chris is during the Regional Training Center workouts. He's an extremely impressive competitor. He has the toughness that's needed to excel at the next level. Now can he be consistent like the others? We'll see. A lot remains to be seen. But I'm certainly excited to have him on board.

Do you anticipate a redshirt season for Phillips?

Ryan: No, I don't anticipate a redshirt. Right now, Derek Garcia is going down to 157 to challenge Josh Demas. They'll fight it out. I think the loser there may come up and wrestle Chris Phillips at 165. There are still some question marks about our lineup. There are some really competitive weights this year, more so than any year I've been in coaching. Wrestleoffs will be challenging.

Obviously, Logan Stieber's NCAA finals match against Jordan Oliver had a controversial finish. Some felt that Oliver had a takedown in the closing seconds. In your opinion, why wasn't it a takedown?

Ryan: We have tremendous respect for Jordan Oliver. We recruited him. He's special. We knew that. We knew the preparation would have to be incredibly intense getting ready for him. The bottom line, in my opinion, is that the proper call was made. We saw Max Askren make a living there. Guy has his legs ... they can't get their head out, and next thing you know he pulls his hips out and the other guy is on his back. Obviously, it's my guy, but I'm very confident the right call was made. If his head came out or he lifted his legs, he would have had two. Also, overall, we controlled the pace of the match. I think that was the other factor. I think the guy that controlled the pace of the match was the guy that won the match.

Logan Stieber, an NCAA champion this past season at 133 pounds, won in dramatic fashion over Russia's Akhmed Chakaev at the Grapple in the Big Apple held in Times Square (Photo/John Sachs, Tech-Fall.com)
Logan Stieber has put together a very strong spring and summer wrestling freestyle. He was runner-up at the 2012 U.S. Olympic Team Trials, won at the Grapple in the Big Apple in Times Square, and recently won the W. Ziolkowski Memorial in Poland. Where has he made his greatest gain as a wrestler?

Ryan: I think the greatest gain Logan has made is his toughness. He was tough when he got here, but now he's really tough. Greatness doesn't care how you feel. Greatness doesn't care that you may me a little tired today, you may be little sore today. You get your butt up at seven o'clock and you get in that room and you come back at three o'clock. He completely understands that. Both of his parents have an incredible work ethic. I think he saw that as a young person, how his dad works and mother works. He just understands that you have to put the work in. He continues to get stronger and tougher. Obviously, with a guy like him in your program, you feel pretty good about things.

I know that Logan Stieber and Hunter Stieber are both driven to succeed. But it seems like their personalities are quite a bit different ...

Ryan: Yeah, they're very different. One is much more laid back ... They're both kind of laid back. Hunter is more of a joker ... but when it comes time to step on the mat, they're equally as competitive. Hunter is extremely hungry to win some titles as well. They're very, very competitive people. Hunter is Logan's biggest fan. The relationship between the brothers and the parents is pretty impressive. It's pretty impressive in this day and age to see a family interact the way these guys do.

How important has the Ohio RTC been to the Ohio State wrestling program?

Ryan: It's the pillar. You look at the teams that are vying for national championships, they have a freestyle element where you have these elite athletes that set a very high standard. They're training alongside our guys. When I was at Iowa in '92, heck, any day I could pick one of ten people to beat me up. There were so just so many good people in there. Right when you think you're starting to get really good, you run across someone who is capable of winning a World championship, and you realize that you have a long way to go. They bring tremendous perspective to just how good a human being can be at this sport. They're invaluable. We have to keep it going, and we will keep it going. We've got some tremendous supporters that are backing the RTC that understand the importance of it.

Lou Rosselli coaching Tommy Rowlands at the 2012 U.S. Olympic Team Trials (Photo/John Sachs, Tech-Fall.com)
Lou Rosselli is widely considered to be one of the top coaches in the country. He was recently put on the Olympic coaching staff. What makes Lou a great coach?

Ryan: Lou is all in. Lou understands the work that has to take place for people to reach their full potential. He understands how small the margin is between victory and defeat, and how much time goes into a one-point win. He's incredibly consistent. He loves the sport. He's very knowledgeable. For Lou, it isn't about telling guys to be in the room working out, he's in there. He spends a lot of time in the room with these guys. We're a very good team because we have him. The roles are well defined. He executes his role as well as any person in the sport of wrestling. He's a pleasure to have.

Looking at the recruiting class you signed this past season, you added a few nationally ranked high school wrestlers in Nick Roberts, Mark Martin, and Nick Tavanello. You also landed an impact transfer in Chris Phillips. What are your overall thoughts on your 2012 recruiting class and how those wrestlers fit into the program?

Ryan: Most importantly, the report on all these guys is that their work ethic is fantastic, and their character is impeccable. Those are areas, quite frankly, that we need to stay true to as a staff. Work ethic and character are two non-negotiables in recruiting. I feel all those guys have those characteristics. Now the question is ... Are they going to be able to make the adjustment to the rigors of day in and day out battling? A lot remains to be seen. I think we filled our needs. We're extremely excited about all these guys.

Andrew Campolattano reached the round of 12 at the 2012 NCAAs before losing to Minnesota's Sonny Yohn, a three-time All-American (Photo/Mark Beshey, The Guillotine)
Andrew Campolattano seemed to progress throughout his true freshman season and reached the round of 12 at the NCAAs. He won the FILA Junior Nationals in freestyle this spring. How do you feel about Camp's progression?

Ryan: I think the sky is the limit for Camp. I think Camp is learning how hard he has to fight for points. This is guy that if he won the Olympic gold medal down the road, it wouldn't surprise me. He has that type of talent. When he was younger, in ninth grade, we saw a guy that was lighting people up and scoring lots of points. We want to continue to see him attack, build leads, and believe in the system, which is to get in in the morning, get back in the afternoon, and you do it regardless of how you feel. He has been a pleasure to coach. Coming out of high school, there were some questions about Andrew. There aren't any more. Andrew Campolattano wants to be great, and we're fortunate that he's at Ohio State.

Do you see Camp as a career 197-pounder? Or could we see him at heavyweight down the road?

Ryan: It's a constant discussion, really being led by Andrew, because obviously it affects our recruiting. Right now we feel like he's a 197-pounder. We've got Tavanello at heavyweight. We're still recruiting the weight. We just don't know where he's going to fall yet. 211 (96 kilos) is a perfect weight for him. We're watching that situation closely. But right now he's a 197-pounder.

Looking ahead to the upcoming season, as you touched on, you have a lot of talent returning. Wrestlers like Nikko Triggas, Ian Paddock, and Kenny Courts come off redshirt. With so many talented wrestlers returning, is there a chance you could redshirt any of last year's true freshmen, like Johnni Dijulius, Hunter Stieber, or Cam Tessari?

Ryan: There's a chance. Based on what we've seen as a coaching staff, day in and day out, the guys who are working the hardest, the guys who have done the best in the past, they teach you what to expect. We have expectations on what the lineup is going to look like. But it doesn't mean that things can't change. Ian Paddock is going to be a force in the middle weight classes. Johnni Dijulius doesn't want to redshirt. So Nikko and Johnni have been going at in the room. We're not really sure how it's going to play out. But we're excited about it. I think it's a healthy situation for us. If you're a student-athlete who is serious about winning a national championship, I don't know how you can't be excited about having somebody in the room every day that is going to push you. I know it made a difference for me as a competitor. I knew what I was getting into. When you've got an All-American in your weight class and your goal is to win national championships, well, you have to make the team first.

How is your schedule shaping up for the 2012-13 season?

Ryan: Our schedule is finalized now. Obviously, it's a grueling schedule that gets you ready for the end of the year. We're looking forward to it. Fortunately, we have a lot of depth. We're going to wrestle at Madison Square Garden at that inaugural event. We'll have Iowa on Jan. 4. I know they're looking forward to it, as are we. We have Minnesota, Penn State ... so as excited as we are, there is no time to rest because we know darn well that Cornell, Minnesota, Iowa, Oklahoma State, and even Oklahoma, after picking up those transfers, will be strong. It's very competitive at the top.

Tom Ryan has twice been named Coach of the Year by InterMat (Photo/Tony Rotundo, WrestlersAreWarriors.com)
Do you believe that Ohio State is a team that can realistically challenge for an NCAA team title in 2013?

Ryan: I do. I think we can win it. I think Penn State has around 125 returning points. We have around 78. They're going to insert four guys. We're going to insert four guys. Is it a fairly big undertaking knocking off Penn State? Yes. But I've said we can do it before, and I don't think I believe it any more than I do now. This is a team that can win it if people live their lives the right way. We have the talent to win the tournament. We know there are things a lot more important than talent. So if those things come to fruition and these guys really train and believe, then we're going to be in the hunt.

Is there anything else you want to add that we did not touch on?

Ryan: J Jaggers has been fantastic with the team. He has been a great example for our guys. He's a fantastic young coach, as is Ross Thatcher. J has done a great job with our lightweights, just as Ross has done a great job with our upperweights.

Comments

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B-OSU (1) about 2 years ago
Wow! not one mention on Nick Heflin who was All-American.