GREELEY, Colo. -- After spending nearly his whole life in a wrestling room, Jack Maughan has decided it's time for a change.
And with that, an era has ended for Bears athletics.
Maughan this past season finished his 22nd year leading the Northern Colorado wrestling program, but he has announced his decision to step down from that leadership role and devote all of his energy to his duties as the athletic department's director of development, which he has also held in a dual-role for a little more than a year.
Maughan, who has memories of being less than a year old and rolling around on a mat with his father, Bucky, a legendary wrestling coach at North Dakota State, says his decision is effective immediately.
"This was a really, really difficult choice for me and my family, "said Maughan, who also coached the men's and women's golf teams during his time at Northern Colorado. "I think the hardest thing for me, now that I've made my decision, is that I'm not the coach anymore. That's a hard thing to come to terms with. It's a position of respect, and you get such a good feeling about working with bright, great kids. I'll certainly miss that.
"You always think that when you think the time is right, it's going to be easy to walk away, but it's definitely not. A lot of work has been put into this program over the last couple decades, and I know I'll never have the kind of relationships I've had again."
Jay Hinrichs, Northern Colorado's director of athletics, said he will immediately begin looking for Maughan's replacement. He also said Maughan's void in the wrestling program will be a hard one to fill.
"Jack has meant a great deal to the Northern Colorado athletic department, " Hinrichs said. "He will not ever be replaced. We will instead go out and find someone who we think can continue on with what he's been building. Jack leaves behind a program that's a definite player on the national stage.
"He played a huge role in our transition from NCAA Division II to NCAA Division I, and he will continue that in his role as our director of development. It takes a special person to successfully fulfill two important positions in an athletic department, and Jack did that admirably this past year. He felt he was short-changing one of them, though, and he's decided to jump head-first into development. I'm grateful we're not saying goodbye to him altogether."
Maughan echoed those sentiments and said he's glad he's going to be able to stick around and have a front-row seat as the program moves forward.
"I'm really happy I'll still get to be here, "he said. "I'll still get to be around the wrestling program -- however, I certainly don't want to be meddling -- and be here to help and be a resource to whoever is hired to lead it into the future. Whatever that person may need, I'll be here for them.
"It just came down to me not wanting to be an anchor to a program I've devoted so much time to and love so much. And me doing two jobs wasn't doing anybody any good. I'm glad I'll get to stay at Northern Colorado. This is where I want to be and where my family wants to be."
During Maughan's tenure, which began in 1987, when he was 24 years old (the youngest head wrestling coach in Northern Colorado history) the Bears produced three NCAA champions, five runners-up and 46 All-America performers.
And Maughan's Bears were one of the first Northern Colorado programs eligible to compete at the NCAA Division I level. In that first season, Maughan had five wrestlers qualify for the NCAA Division I Championships, the 2007-08 season saw two Northern Colorado wrestlers qualify for nationals, and in 2008-09, three Bears moved on and competed on the highest national stage.
Maughan's teams finished among the nation's top-10 eight times, including third- and fourth-place finishes in 1991 and 1992, respectively, a fifth-place finish in 1996, a seventh-place finish in 2002 and eighth-place finishes in 1997 and 1998.
Maughan also was instrumental in the formation of the Western Wrestling Conference, which includes Northern Colorado and neighboring rivals Wyoming and Air Force, along with former North Central Conference rivals North Dakota State and South Dakota State. Northern Iowa and Utah Valley State are also members of the WCC.
"None of what we did while I was here would have been possible without the help of so many people, "Maughan said. "Hank Brown (former Northern Colorado president) was incredible in helping our program, and if it hadn't been for Dr. (Robert) Heiny, I probably wouldn't be a coach anyway. And Shannon Courtney (Maughan's athletic trainer for the past 18 years) did so much for me and the kids who have come through here, in a sport that lends itself to a lot of injuries. It's tough to put into words my thanks to that group.
"And I've had so many assistant coaches work with me, and I don't want to thank any of them in particular because I'll screw up and leave somebody out."
Maughan inherited a tradition-rich program in that first year, but the Bears hadn't had a winning dual-meet season since 1980, and they had finished at or near the bottom of the rugged North Central Conference five of the previous six years.
Maughan began to rebuild the program almost immediately, though, by recruiting some of the best high school wrestlers that Colorado and the west region had to offer. Within five years, the Bears boasted a pair of two-time national champions in Mike Pantoya of Thornton, Colo., and Mike Leberknight of Rapids City, S.D., and the school's first-ever four-time All-American in Scott Gates of Englewood, Colo., as well as the best back-to-back national finishes (third and fourth) in school history.
To give his athletes and the Northern Colorado fans a firsthand look at the nation's finest wrestlers, Maughan brought the 1992 NCAA Division II Championships to Greeley, and when the Bears placed fourth and produced a national champion, Maughan's peers selected him the 1992 Division II National Coach of the Year.
Maughan was instrumental in the NCAA bringing its Division II Wrestling Championships back to Greeley in 1996, and the program responded by breaking the tournament paid attendance record. Maughan's program hosted the NCAA Championships again in 2001, and the Division I West Regional qualifying tournament in 2009.