The Koll legacy is now passed down differently

Updated: April 19, 2011

By Sandy Stevens

In the home of Rob Koll — the current Cornell University head wrestling coach and former NCAA champion — the son also rises.

Fifteen-year-old Will Koll, son of Rob and his wife Rachel, won a New York state Division II 103-pound title this year as an unseeded freshman. He followed up that performance as runner-up at 103 in the National High School Coaches Association Freshman Championships in early April, also compiling four pins totaling 3:67 to add the most falls award to his resume.

Cornell coach Rob Koll (right) and his son Will also helped coach members of the Finger Lakes Wrestling Club of Ithaca, N.Y., at the recent NHSCA Nationals in Virginia Beach, Va. (Photo by Ashley Van Kley)

But Rob is the first to admit that his son’s attitude is miles apart from what his was as the youngest of six siblings.

In an interview I did for a story in the National Wrestling Hall of Fame’s new “Family Ties” book, Rob declared that he wasn’t about to seek the advice of his dad Bill Koll, three-time NCAA champion at Iowa State Teachers College (now the University of Northern Iowa), Olympic Team member and Northern Iowa and Penn State coach.

“In my mind, my dad didn’t know anything,” Rob said. “If he told me to do a single leg, I’d do a headlock.

“I thought, ‘He’s an old man. He doesn’t know what he’s talking about. I was very rebellious to anything he taught.”

Will, the older of the Kolls’ two children (Dan is 11) doesn’t pose that problem.

“The youngest tends to be the most rebellious. Also, a lot of Will’s wrestling enjoyment is being part of a team,” said Rob, noting that his son is also involved in track and soccer.

In the “Family Ties” feature, Rob said he realizes that he indirectly gained from his dad’s expertise and knowledge.

Late Bill Koll, the legendary college All-American and head coach and father of Cornell coach Rob Koll

“I’d listen to his Penn State wrestlers,” he recalled. “I wasn’t smart enough to realize who his wrestlers had heard it from.”

Rob sat in Will’s corner during the NHSCA competition. Will’s coaches at Lansing High School in Ithaca, N.Y., are Doug Dake, a former All-American at Kent State and father of Cornell national champion Kyle Dake, and John Kotmel, who wrestled for Kentucky and Cornell.

“He’s in good hands so I don’t have to coach him as much as some might think,” Rob said.

Will also wrestles for the Finger Lakes Wrestling Club, coached by NCAA All-Americans Clint Wattenburg, Mitch Clark and Troy Nickerson.

“So he’s got great coaches there,” Rob said. “I’ll take responsibility for putting those people in play, so my coaching can be indirect but direct at the same time.”

As a kid, Rob tagged along as his dad’s guinea pig at camps. “I learned because we did moves repeatedly,” Rob explained. “It was a direct effect of his teaching.”

Will now does the same.

“He’s my little guinea pig,” Rob said.

Although Cornell’s schedule often keeps Rob from seeing Will compete, he declared, “I’m very calm when my boy wrestles.

“Rachel does not handle it as well as I,” he added. “Will can be winning by 10 points and she’s convinced he’s going to get pinned.”

Will began rolling around on the mats as a first-grader, but his dad didn’t encourage him to enter competitions until last year; in fact, the NHSCA tournament marked Will’s first out-of-state event.

“Some people think I’m crazy,” Rob said, “but he has good coaches, and I remember when he was very young, seeing parents taking kids his age to meets every weekend or taking them to meets all year, twice a year. I was surprised and disappointed.

“And they’re encouraged by these people making money off (tournaments). I really resent having 7-, 8-, 9-year-olds winning self-proclaimed world championships, then struggling to make the high school team. It’s hard to handle psychologically.

“It sucks the life out of the majority of kids and makes them miserable. The vast majority of those kids are now playing basketball, not wrestling.

“The learning curve when you’re 15 years old … you catch up pretty quickly.”

Rob said his gauge for a child’s emotional readiness for wrestling is whether or not they cry every time they lose a match.

“If they do, they’re not emotionally ready,” he said. “How many times do you see entire soccer, football, lacrosse teams crying every time they lose a game?”

Younger son Dan is in a youth wrestling program, but the Koll philosophy remains the same. “I’m not dragging him around to tournaments,” Rob said.