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Editor’s Note: On Nov. 6, the wrestling programs of Iowa State, Army and Boston University met in Boston, Mass., for a tri-meet. What made it significant was that each program was led by an African-American coach — Iowa State’s Kevin Jackson, Army’s Joe Heskett and Boston U’s Carl Adams — and each earned All-American honors at Iowa State over three different decades.
The oldest of these coaches is Adams, who is beginning his 31st year at Boston, where the two-time NCAA champion (1971 and ’72) has led the Terrier program to 10 conference championships and produced four All-Americans among the 59 wrestlers he has sent to the national tournament.
Adams, who spent three years (1979-81) at Rhode Island before coming to Boston, recently spoke with WIN Editor Mike Finn about the recent tri-meet and the re-emergence of the Terrier program considering three BU wrestlers — senior Fred Santiate (133), junior Hunter Meys (174) and senior John Hall (197) — are all nationally ranked for Adams. His Boston team beat Iowa State and lost to Army.
WIN: Can you speak about the historic significance of last week’s tri-meet with Iowa State and Army. Did you plan this or did it just happen?
ADAMS: It was not intentional. It was just the way it turned out. We had wrestled at Iowa State in Ames last year and we were looking to put together a good tri-meet or quadrangular that would be attractive to fans and Army was a very logical choice as a name-brand program and Iowa State would obviously be a great draw. When you talk about big-time wrestling, Iowa State has to be in that mix.
It just turned out that we had three former Iowa State head coaches as wrestlers and it was just the way it turned out.
WIN:Have you remained close to Kevin Jackson and Joe Heskett?
ADAMS: I’ve known Kevin for a long time. He has worked my camps in the past and I’ve watched Joe Heskett from afar. He is someone I had a tremendous amount of respect for as well as Kevin Jackson. I feel that they are terrific people and terrific coaches and great role models. Obviously, there is the natural bond that we all have with Iowa State.
WIN: Is it still a significant story that three African Americans are leading Division I programs or has the sport and this country moved beyond such moments?
ADAMS:I think we should be beyond (the significance), however the fact that there is only five minority head coaches on the Division I level still makes it a story. And the fact that we all ended up wrestling in a tri-meet against each other’s teams makes it a story. You would like to think that we are wrestling each other, it should be a color-blind situation and everyone attends just because it is going to be good competitive wrestling.
WIN: You’ve been at Boston University for over 30 years and in the sport for over four decades. Where do you see the sport of college wrestling today.
ADAMS: On the collegiate level, unfortunately, I’ve seen a decline in the number of wrestling programs. The people who follow the sport are as enthusiastic as ever and the individuals involved in the sport are extremely enthusiastic, starting from Pee-Wee wrestling through high school and up through college. But once they finish with high school wrestling, there are a lot less places to wrestle and we lose a lot of competitors on the collegiate level. However, the cream still rises to the top and you still have your top wrestlers ending up on the Division I level. There is more parity now than perhaps ever. There used to be a time when Iowa, Iowa State, Oklahoma and Oklahoma State and perhaps Penn State, Ohio State and Minnesota consistently dominated.
However, what Cornell has done and American University last year and now lower-level programs are competing with these “top” programs. You have many more wrestlers looking at the academic aspect of their education. The reason is that it is tough to make a living in wrestling so you have a lot of students as wrestlers are more concerned about the type of degree that they get and the institutions that have good academic reputations are going to be more attractive.
WIN: Can you talk about the re-emergence of your program? Why is this happening now?
ADAMS: We went through a drought and there were two reasons.
One, the academic standards at BU shot up and that started about seven or eight years ago. Quite frankly, it changed the recruiting landscape at Boston University and I got caught from a recruiting standpoint that I was bringing kids in but it was more difficult to get the high-quality wrestler and it took a while to figure the whole thing out. Now we are getting more kids who are better wrestlers.
Two, I had gone for 23 years without a full-time paid assistant coach. We had part-time assistants and graduate assistants. When Sean Gray came in as a part-time assistant and became a full-time assistant about five years ago, that really helped from a recruiting standpoint. So it took us a few years to build things back up. Now we have some good quality kids in the program and a good mix of younger kids to go with those in the upper classes.
There is another thing that happened, which I don’t like to use as an excuse, was that I had a pretty bad hip situation a few years back and it was difficult for me to do as much as I wanted to do on the mat. It’s important for a coach to get on the mat and I felt I could not do what I needed to do.
Those were issues that led to a temporary decline in the program, but now I feel like I have a whole new lease on life.
WIN: There are 22 wrestlers on your 2011-12 roster. Are you capped in how many you can have on the team?
ADAMS: No, we are not capped but the thing about Boston University and the cost of attending the school (affects numbers). It costs between $55,000 and $58,000 a year to come here. It’s hard to get financial aid even if you have the means unless you are a top-top-notch student. So it’s hard for us to get a lot of walk-ons. I feel that if we can get a kid on campus, and talk about what Boston U. and Boston have to offer, we have a shot. We literally get kids from all over the country (ten states are represented on this year’s roster) but we don’t get a ton of kids because of the cost factor. Fortunately, we do have 9.9 scholarships. But even if we give a kid 25 grand (thousand), he still has to come up with over 30 grand.
WIN: What recommendations would you make to a young coach who is trying to help a developing program survive and continue in today’s situation when programs are being cut?
ADAMS: I would say that recruiting is everything and the type of kid you bring in is a very close second. If you bring in the wrong type of kid, it could damage the program for a long time. And if you end up with two or three of those kids on your roster, you are headed downhill.
WIN: With that in mind, what kids are you most proud of that you have in the fold at Boston University?
ADAMS: The kids that we have in the program now are incredible and they are a joy to coach at BU. They have to be good students, academically motivated because BU is a tough school and you have to have good grade to get accepted.
WIN: A guy like John Hall came all the way across the country from Palo Alto, Calif. Is he an example of someone who made such a commitment?
ADAMS: We saw John at the NHSCA Senior nationals in Virginia Beach, and he came over to our recruiting table and he signed sight-unseen. He signed before he even came out for a visit. Then look at Hunter Meys (from Clifton Park, N.Y.), who owned the national pin record and everyone in the country was after Hunter Meys. He came up early for a visit and signed with us. Fred Santiate was a double Fargo All-American and a New Jersey state champ and a lot of big-time programs were after him and he chose BU.
If we can get them on campus and talk about what the program and institution and the city of Boston has to offer, we have a shot at that kid.