by SEAN KEELER
State College, Pa. ” The wrestling room is bigger than a VFW hall, the mats wide as a country mile. Four high-definition televisions hang on the walls, each one placed strategically a few feet apart from the next.
“It’s a nice room, “Cael Sanderson says. “But obviously a room’s not going to win for you.”
He smiles. Penn State’s Lorenzo Wrestling Complex opened in 2006 to the tune of $4 million. Tucked neatly into the west side of campus, it’s more a penthouse than a palace, but every corner sparkles.
“I think it was just a lot of bad information that was out there as to why I made the decision, “Sanderson said of the stunning coup that brought the former Iowa State wrestling coach here from Ames five months ago. “But really, that wasn’t the reason that I took the job. I was just looking at a long-term opportunity here.”
At the most recent NCAA wrestling championships, a dozen Pennsylvania natives were named to the All-American team; two were natives of Iowa. Steve Sanderson, Cael’s father, told The (Penn State) Daily Collegian last spring that his son had discussed a move to State College for at least a year, if the job ever came open.
“People were saying that they offered me so much money that I couldn’t turn it down, “the younger Sanderson says. “And whoever started that rumor, he’s probably sitting back having a good time, I guess.”
Sanderson doesn’t deny that he got a nice raise – although he’s not sure where the speculation of a 5-year, $2.5-million contract came from. And for the conspiracy theorists out there, he also takes issue with the inference that there was some sort of conflict with Cyclones athletic director Jamie Pollard.
“That’s not true at all. I like Jamie, “Sanderson says. “He was supportive of the program. I mean, that’s real simple. It has nothing to do with Jamie Pollard. That’s not why (I left).
“I was looking at Penn State, just because of the long-term, the things that I’ve (already) talked about. It’s really that simple. There’s nothing behind-the-scenes or anything like that. Maybe it would be exciting if that was the case, but it’s not.”
That said, the divorce wasn’t entirely peaceful. A day or two after his move was announced, Sanderson recalls, his wife answered the door at their home in Ames to find an irate Iowa State fan, who’d turned up to give them an earful of grief.
“We just didn’t answer the door after that, “Sanderson continues with a chuckle. “A little later – actually, it was kind of funny, although my wife wasn’t too happy about it – they threw some Iowa State wrestling gear on the front porch. Later that night there was some Iowa State wrestlers over at my house. They were pretty happy with it. They got some free shirts. It really wasn’t a big deal.”
Other than struggling to sell that house back in Ames, Sanderson says he’s found closure with Iowa State. He’d even welcome a series with the Cyclones sometime down the road, if the schedules could get worked out.
“I would guess that it’s something we’ll be talking about doing, “Sanderson says. “But we haven’t discussed that yet. I think they’re in good hands. It’s just – life goes on.”
Sanderson’s focus now is the Lions’ first dual – at Lehigh on Nov. 13 – and proving that his bosses were wise in their investment. Cael’s shiny new penthouse is wired for sound, as is the giant, glittering weight room behind it.
“If we want a workout at 3 in the morning on a Sunday or a Saturday, that’s great, “Sanderson says.
Maybe it wasn’t about money. But the perks sure as heck don’t hurt.