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Making the Move … From High School to College Coaching

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Updated: October 4, 2011

By Willie Saylor – WIN Staff Writer

It’s not often that, for anyone in any industry, you get called up to the pinnacle of your profession.

There’s been three major league coaches in Division I wrestling who have.

Scott Goodale of Rutgers, Kevin Dresser of Virginia Tech and Steve Martin of Old Dominion all paved their way through coaching at the high school ranks to become three of just 76 current Division I head coaches.

But before anyone coaching across America’s high schools gets notions of upward mobility, consider that the above weren’t just good coaches, they were legendary.

Goodale was New Jersey’s state Coach of the Year three times in his seven years at the helm of Jackson Memorial (N.J.). His Jaguars won the District title every year in his tenure. His last two years at Jackson, his squads were ranked in the top 10 nationally.

Coach Dresser’s teams won a mind-boggling 13 state titles in Virginia; at Christiansburg he won five team titles in ten years, and at Grundy he was a perfect 8-for-8 at state.

Martin was a legend in the high school coaching profession. In addition to coaching 40 individual state champions at Great Bridge (Va.), including Carl Perry, who would go on to win an NCAA title, Martin coached Virginia’s Fargo Cadet and Junior Team and was the coach for both the Dream Team Classic and the Dapper Dan.

But all their accolades as high school coaches didn’t assure them success at the college level, it just got them there. They had their work cut out for them when they were hired. And all rose to the occasion.

Rutger coach Scott Goodale

Goodale has set records at Rutgers with 20 NCAA qualifiers. He was the first coach to lead the team to 20 dual meet victories in a season. And in 2009 he led the Scarlet Knights to a No. 22 national ranking, its highest ever until last year when Rutgers reached as high as No. 9 in national polls.

And the success transcends mere wins and losses and national recognition. Goodale has reinvigorated the college wrestling atmosphere across the state of New Jersey. The Scarlet Knights have a renewed pride that can be evidenced in their record-breaking attendance figures.

Tim Pernetti, Rutgers athletic director, couldn’t be more pleased. And his hunch on hiring a high school coach has paid off.

“It didn’t take me long from talking to Scott to be sold on what his vision for the Rutgers wrestling program was. Being a life-long resident of New Jersey like myself, wrestling is about as big as it gets in the state. What has never failed me throughout the whole process is that I have the right guy.”

But it’s not a case of “if you can coach, you can coach.” There are certainly different aspects to coaching on the high school level from coaching in college, as both Martin and Dresser explain.

Coach Dresser has set Virginia Tech records of dual meet wins in a season, highest ranking, and number of NCAA qualifiers. Last season, he captained the Hokies to high water marks of a No. 6 team ranking, three individual ACC champions and seven NCAA qualifiers. His squad shocked everyone at the National Duals by beating Wisconsin and Oklahoma State and reaching the finals.

Dresser noted several differences between coaching at the high school and college levels.

Virginia Tech coach Kevin Dresser led the Hokies to a second-place finish in last year's National Duals.

“One of the biggest changes is in the concept of instruction,” he said. “In high school, it’s more of a team approach, trying to get all your kids to master certain things. In college, it’s more of an individualized process.”

Dresser notes the dynamics of a college academic schedule has an effect on this: “College students don’t all have the same schedule. So they come in the room at different times. This allows the staff to tailor workouts for individuals to suit their needs.”

For Coach Martin, the most significant difference between high school coaching and that of college comes on the administrative side of things.

Old Dominion coach Steve Martin

“You have to wear a lot of different hats,” Martin said.  “Recruiting, fundraising, budgeting, scheduling, academics, and on and on. It’s all your job and it’s all in addition to simply coaching in the room. You have to be diverse, and you have to have a good staff that you can delegate some of these powers to.”

In his seven years at Old Dominion, he’s taken the program to whole new levels. He’s had four straight years with an individual Monarch reaching All-American status, with 28 NCAA qualifiers.

All three coaches are remarkable success stories. From high school hallways to university campuses, Goodale Dresser, and Martin have taken their teams to new heights.

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