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One-on-One with Dan Chandler

Andrew Hipps

10/17/2012
Andrew Hipps, InterMat Senior Editor
andrew@intermatwrestle.com, Twitter: @InterMat

Dan Chandler's impact on Greco-Roman wrestling in the United States cannot be overstated. As an athlete, Chandler was on three U.S. Olympic Greco-Roman teams, and competed in six World Championships, placing fifth in the 1979 World Championships. He earned three medals in the Pan American Games, including gold medals in 1975 and 1979. Chandler has been on the Olympic coaching staff for every Olympic Games since 1988 and coached many U.S. Greco-Roman greats. He has also coached several U.S. Greco-Roman World teams. Additionally, Chandler has served as the state coach for Minnesota/USA Wrestling and the Minnesota Storm, coaching wrestlers in the state on all age levels.

InterMat caught up with Chandler and talked to him about Minnesota hosting a senior level event, Minnesota's streak of putting a wrestler on the Olympic Team for every Olympic Games since 1968, what needs to happen for the U.S. to get back on top of the world in Greco-Roman, MMA, and more.

I understand there are plans to bring a major U.S. senior level event to Minnesota. Can you shed some light on that?

Dan Chandler talks with Minnesota Storm wrestler Nikola Bogojevic at the 2012 U.S. Olympic Team Trials in Iowa City (Photo/Tony Rotundo, WrestlersAreWarriors.com)
Chandler: Minnesota/USA Wrestling is one of the best organizations in the United States and probably the world at tournament operations. They've always wanted to host a senior level tournament. The Sunkist Kids International was dropped this year, primarily because they don't run their Sunkist in the year of the Olympics. So we approached the Martoris about going into a rotation with the Sunkist so that every other year the Storm could host a senior level tournament similar to Sunkist, New York AC, and Dave Schultz Memorial. There is no prize money budgeted for this year. Usually USA Wrestling will help with prize money. But we will give away a cash prize for Outstanding Wrestler in each division, men's freestyle, women's freestyle, and Greco-Roman. We're holding it conjunction with the Minnesota Christmas Tournament in Rochester.

So will it be an annual event? Or will it rotate with the Sunkist Kids International?

Chandler: We don't know yet. We made a proposal to Sunkist. They're going to get back to us. If they're not interested in doing a rotation then I think we probably would be interested in doing it on a yearly basis. But we're just getting into it. We're going to try to put on the best tournament we can this year and see what kind of feedback we get.

So will the event be on Friday and Saturday during the Minnesota Christmas Tournament on different mats than the high school competition, like how the Olympic Trials Qualifier in Las Vegas ran in conjunction with the Cliff Keen Las Vegas Invitational last December?

Chandler: There is an adjacent gym in the arena. It will hold four mats comfortably. This year we set the schedule because Northern Michigan committed to sending their whole team here, but they have to get around finals for the college, which are on Thursday and Friday. So Saturday will be Greco and women's freestyle. Friday will be men's freestyle. The Christmas Tournament doesn't start until 2 p.m. on Friday. So we'll run freestyle starting at 9 a.m. ... and it should just about be done by 2 p.m. Maybe we can highlight some of the championship matches during the Christmas Tournament. For an open event we also have to have video review capability on every mat. If we are to get on the FILA calendar, then we have some added costs. We would certainly have to have prize money and bring in a FILA official and provide other things.

You were a member of three Olympic Greco-Roman teams as a wrestler, and you have been on the coaching staff for each of the Olympic teams ever since you stopped competing. Is each Olympic experience still new and exciting for you? Or does it sort of become old hat?

Chandler: It's awesome. I'm so blessed that I'm able to do this. Every one is such a fantastic experience. It's hard to describe. Like I told Jake Deitchler when he made the Olympic Team, I said your life will never be the same because you've been a part of this. When you make the Olympic Team you're an Olympian for life. There are benefits going well into old age. Having been an Olympian you're part of a family, so that's really nice.

Chas Betts earned a spot on the 2012 U.S. Olympic Greco-Roman Team. Minnesota has put a wrestler on every Olympic Team since 1968. How much pride do you take in that particular streak?

Dan Chandler and Brandon Paulson coached Jake Deitchler to the Olympics in 2008 (Photo/Jeff Beshey, The Guillotine)
Chandler: It's huge. We're like a family. We've been working on this thing for a lot of years. We have our disagreements, but I think everybody is extremely aware of that streak. Whenever I talk about this I go back to 2008, the year Jake Deitchler made the team. I was looking around the practice room and I didn't see that guy. I thought this might be the end of the streak ... and it would be on my watch. For Jake to make the team, that was just a huge thrill for all of us. This year we had 13 guys that qualified for the Olympic Trials, and we had two in the finals (at 84 kilos), so the pressure was off.

Chas did a fantastic job. Out of all the guys on the team I don't think anybody trained any harder than he did. He did everything that was asked of him all year. He qualified the weight class. He lived in Romania, Turkey, Hungary ... The last couple years he traveled all over the world for extended periods of time. During that time he beat the 2008 Olympic champion and the Cuban who has won two medals. Chas is right there. Unfortunately, the pairing system now is a joke. He lost to one of the best guys in his weight at the Olympics, Pablo Shorey of Cuba. And then the next match was like a championship match. Two guys that had been in the finals had to wrestle in the second round of the tournament. Chas pushed the Cuban to the limit, and the Cuban didn't have enough left to win his next match. So Chas was eliminated after the Cuban lost. He did a phenomenal job. I can't say that about everybody on the team, but I can say that Chas gave it everything he had. He never missed a practice. He gave one-hundred and ten percent every day.

The United States Greco-Roman wrestling team finished with zero medals at the 2012 Olympic Games. There has been a lot of discussion since the Olympics ended about things that need to change for the U.S. to become a Greco-Roman wrestling power again. What's the biggest issue that needs to be addressed for the U.S. to get back on top in Greco-Roman?

Chandler: It's different for every country. It's a very complex problem. Folkstyle wrestling is huge in the United States, but it doesn't really prepare our kids for Greco. It's a lot closer to freestyle. You can have guys come off being an NCAA champion and then a couple years later they can win the Olympics. We just had that happen. It's a lot harder to do that in Greco. We don't have enough money to do all the things we need to do. We need to get our guys overseas a lot and it's extremely expensive and cost-prohibitive. We need to have more of a youth program. We have the program in Northern Michigan, but they're losing the battle for the best kids. You get a top recruit who could probably win both styles in Fargo, which is a guy you want, and Northern Michigan is competing against programs like Oklahoma State, Minnesota, and Penn State that are giving them everything, full scholarship and everything paid. To go to Northern Michigan they only have to pay in-state tuition, plus they have to find a club to transport them to all their tournaments, house them, and feed them. It's very tough to get the top kids. The Olympic medalists that I have coached, guys like Garrett Lowney and Brandon Paulson, those guys are like one in a million. But you've got to get them consistently. Right now we're kind of in a downward cycle. I'm a believer that everything goes in cycles. You can't stay on top all the time. We won the World championship five years ago, but after the 2008 Olympics everything changed. The rules changed, which really hurt us. The rules really benefit the better athletes and the guys with a lot of experience. When I wrestled it was a grind. It was a nine-minute match, and then it was a six-minute match. You could still use your conditioning to beat guys up and outhustle them and win by a point towards the end of the match. Now everything is so quick and short that it really favors the exceptional athlete with exceptional skills. That presents another problem for us because it's a factor of experience. We have to find a new way to get there. Money has a lot to do with it. We probably need to have a little better recruiting plan.

Wrestling clubs are growing in popularity in the United States. But it seems like much of the emphasis in those clubs is placed on folkstyle and freestyle skill development. In your opinion, is there a shortage of Greco-Roman skill development in the United States?

Dan Chandler serves as head coach of the Minnesota Storm (Photo/Jeff Beshey, The Guillotine)
Chandler: Absolutely. It's so few and far between. There are four or five states every year that are quite good in Greco-Roman in Fargo. If we could take the 50 best kids every year, we would be World champions every year. I can say that with no doubt in my mind. But we don't get any of them. Every year I take a team to Fargo. I'll have a couple kids who are just getting so good at Greco. They're starting to really feel it and see the angles. They go to Fargo and finish in the top three, maybe a really good kid wins the weight class. And then I never see them again. They go to St. Cloud State and wrestle folkstyle. They go to the U of M and their Greco-Roman participation is limited. Or they'll go out of state and then they're really done with Greco. It's a very complex problem. There are a lot parts to it that have to be fixed.

The year we won the World championship, it was like a perfect storm. Everything went right. We had a bunch of really tough Division I guys ... Lindsey Durlacher, Joe Warren, Brad Vering. We had all those studs on our team. And then after the Olympics all of a sudden we have a perfect storm the other way. We've got a couple guys who are maybe a little bit too old, one guy is too young, a couple guys who aren't quite good enough athletes yet, and the competition gets tougher every year, especially with the new rules, so it went the other way. We haven't had that bad of an Olympic performance since the Munich Olympics in 1972.

There seems to be mixed feelings in the wrestling community about MMA. One side of the argument is that MMA opportunities are causing wrestlers to leave the sport early. The other side of the argument is that MMA is helping wrestling gain in popularity and also giving wrestlers a chance to compete professionally in another combat sport. Do you have an opinion on MMA?

Chandler: I love MMA. A lot of the guys I've coached have done extremely well in MMA. Danny Henderson was a Greco wrestler, Randy Couture, Matt Lindland. I coached Brock Lesnar a little bit when he was in college. I love MMA. I think it has really helped wrestling grow at the youth level. Everyone is seeing, wow, wrestling is a martial art and wrestlers are dominant in MMA. A lot of people see that and realize there is a lot more to it than they thought. So wrestling is getting a nice lift from MMA.

After an Olympic cycle a lot of wrestlers reevaluate where they are in their careers and decide whether they want to continue training. Have you had discussions with some of the Minnesota Storm Greco-Roman wrestlers, like C.P. Schlatter, Jordan Holm, Chas Betts, and Andy Bisek about whether they plan to continue to competing?

Chandler: C.P. Schlatter moved to Arizona for nursing school. Jordan Holm is committed for four more years. Chas Betts is thinking about it. He's doing a professional wrestling match this month in Chanhassen. Chas won a contest when he was younger where they stage a professional match. As his prize he got several days at a pro wrestling camp where he could learn moves and things. He's still up in the air about it. He's a very artistic guy. He's got a great degree, computer graphic and design. He did our website and he has made a lot of movies during his travels. Andy Bisek is committed for four more years. Paul Tellgren, Zac Nielsen, they both have one more year at Northern Michigan. We have several guys who took an Olympic redshirt. Travis Rutt is at Oklahoma. Pat Smith is at the U. Jake Kettler is at George Mason.

You have worked with Jake Clark for a number of years. He's currently living and training in Hawaii. He has said that he plans to continue training and competing at least through 2016. In your opinion, what's it going to take for Jake Clark to get on the U.S. Olympic Team in 2016?

Jake Clark has represented the U.S. at the Worlds twice (Photo/Jeff Beshey, The Guillotine)
Chandler: He's got all the talent in the world. He hasn't been able to push himself to the extent where he can be as successful as he should be. He has made the World Team. He won a couple matches at the World Championships. He was very close. He's got the athleticism. He's got the skills. I hope he does. He has own style. He likes to train a certain way, and I respect him for that because he has been very successful with it. I just wish that I could get him to work harder and have more passion about the training. As a coach you run across guys that you see have so much talent, but they can't push themselves to another level. He should have made an Olympic Team. He could have won a World medal. I didn't know he was going to continue training. I did give him all the information about the tournament we're going to host here in December. I hope to see him here. He said he was going to come and compete, but I'm not sure.

The Minnesota Storm is one of the premier Greco-Roman wrestling clubs, so it's not uncommon to see two Minnesota Storm wrestlers competing against each other in major international events in the U.S. You were coaching Jordan Holm against Chas Betts in the finals of the Olympic Team Trials. What's it like for you coaching against another Minnesota Storm wrestler?

Chandler: It's very hard. In the past we've sent wrestlers out there without a coach and told them we're going to be neutral, but that's not really fair to the kids either. Every wrestler deserves to have the best tactical, strategic advice from his coach during a match. It is hard. What we did was brought both the guys into the room and talked it through. Would you rather have nobody in your corner? Do you want a coach in your corner? Who do you want? What are the guidelines? Chas is very comfortable with Momir Petkovic. But it's very difficult. If you're his corner man, you've got to help him all you can, but also be careful and not go over the edge.

This story also appears in the Oct. 12 issue of The Guillotine. The Guillotine has been covering amateur wrestling in Minnesota since 1971. Its mission is to report and promote amateur wrestling at all levels -- from youth and high school wrestling to college and international level wrestling. Subscribe to The Guillotine.

Comments

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MKTWM (1) about 1 and a half years ago
Great story Andrew. And great comments from Dan Chandler. I enjoyed reading this very much.
CoachPrebes (1) about 1 and a half years ago
What I love about Dan Chandler and some of the guys he coached- like Brandon Paulson is that you see them every summer in Fargo coaching all of the Minnesota guys in Greco. Part of the reason their state is so successful in Greco is that they have a great training model with the Storm. Coach Chandler is right on the money about wanting to take the best 50 high school kids in Greco and training them...we could definitely have more of an impact on the world stage if we had more developmental time with younger kids in Greco. We need more Greco guys like Dan Chandler continuing to get involved!