By J.R. Ogden
Gazette sports editor
The college wrestling season ended last weekend in St. Louis with the University of Iowa earning its second NCAA championship in Tom Brands’ three years as head coach.
But the news didn’t stop at the Scottrade Center.
Last week, the University of Northern Iowa gave Coach Brad Penrith a three-year contract extension, and the University of Iowa’s Brent Metcalf apologized for his late push of North Carolina State national champion Darrion Caldwell.
My question on both stories is, why?
Brad Penrith is a great person who cares deeply about his wrestlers and his program. The Panthers’ 22nd-place finish hurts him as much as anyone. He wants the program to be among the best in the country, a consistent top-10 team that flirts with the top five from time to time.
But isn’t nine years enough time to get that turned around?
Penrith’s teams have finished 22nd, 20th, 34th and 28th in the past four NCAA tournaments. Moza Fay was the Panthers’ lone All-American those years.
He placed twice, including sixth this season.
Fay is one of those wrestlers Penrith can point to with pride. Penrith and his staff molded Fay, not a highly recruited athlete out of Anamosa, into one of the best 165-pounders in the country.
But what about the other nine wrestlers in the lineup?
Programs like UNI ” and Wisconsin, Missouri, Edinboro ” have to find good wrestlers and make them better.
Places like Iowa, Iowa State, Oklahoma State and Minnesota will get better wrestlers and make them even better. Penrith’s job is tougher.
But it can be done. Chuck Patten did it from 1965 through 1982. Don Briggs did it in his early years and Mark Manning had the program pointed in the right direction ” on the mat, at least ” before he bolted for Nebraska.
Penrith has mentioned financial support ” i.e., facilities ” has hurt UNI. He’s right. The wrestling room in the West Gymnasium on the UNI campus is a joke.
But Minnesota Coach J Robinson said a few weeks ago facilities are meaningless. Sure, it can help lure a kid onto your campus, but it’s what you do with that kid once he’s in your program that really matters. You could coach in a closet if you were good at developing talent.
Maybe Penrith will get the support he needs ” and it is time alumni step up for the program if not the man ” and turn the Panthers around.
UNI deserves a top-flight wrestling program. Wrestling is important in the Cedar Falls-Waterloo area. Let’s hope wrestling remains important to UNI and this isn’t a sign it could one day find itself on the chopping block.
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Metcalf’s apology also is confusing.
Wrestlers are taught, especially wrestlers like Metcalf, to wrestle until the final buzzer. Never stop, never give up.
That’s all Metcalf was doing. Watch the film. He’s chasing Caldwell as the final seconds tick away and, in the middle of Caldwell’s celebration, runs into his opponent and gives him a shove.
Did Metcalf need to give Caldwell that little shove? No. Did Caldwell need to run and start into his cartwheel with time still on the clock? No.
Both were wrong and, now, both have apologized.
Caldwell took blame for the incident after the match and said he didn’t think Metcalf was trying to hurt him.
Metcalf apologized because he felt the sting of criticism and, maybe, because he was asked. I’m sure he did it without hesitation. Metcalf is a good person who loves and respects the sport of wrestling too much to be the brute some have labeled him.
I hope this apology puts an end to this saga. I also hope Metcalf never has to apologize for who he is, on and off the mat.
n Contact the writer: (319) 368-8696 or [email protected]