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Queens & Chertow become an example on connecting right program with right coach
By Mike Finn
Before Mike Moyer became the executive director of the National Wrestling Coaches Association in 1999, he served as the head coach at George Mason for ten years … meaning Moyer knew something about recruiting.
And now that his and the NWCA’s main goal is to grow the sport, he also relies on those skills of discovering talents … for coaching.
Such was his task when he contacted Ken Chertow last spring about becoming the first-ever head coach at Div. II Queens University in Charlotte, N.C.
“It was spring break and I was sitting on the beach with my wife and kids,” said Chertow, the former Penn State wrestler and 1988 Olympian. “I have been in touch with Mike over the years about starting a program, but I had chosen not to because other options were not good for my family.
“This was a really good fit. The timing was perfect and enabled me to knock off a few things off my bucket list, especially getting back into college coaching, starting a new program and moving south.”
A former assistant coach at both Penn State and Ohio State, Chertow was living in Pennsylvania where he became better known the past decade for developing young wrestlers at his Gold Medal Training Camp System in 49 states.
“I always thought Ken would be a terrific coach,” said Moyer. “He knows his way around the high school and college wrestling communities. He has great name recognition and he’s relentless.
“To be successful today, you need somebody that will be making 100 recruiting calls a day and (that coach) needs to be relentless. That’s Ken Chertow.
“At the end of the day, teaching technical and tactical elements are important, but not as important as someone who is relentlessly bringing the best athletes to a new program.”
To set the record straight, Moyer does not actually hire coaches to the growing list of new programs — over 50 in the past decade in NCAA Div. II and III — but Moyer and the NWCA have been the first to contact schools about starting college wrestling programs.
Moyer and the NWCA have wanted to make sure there were enough good coaches to create programs that had a chance of excelling right away. That is one reason the NWCA created the CEO Coaching Leadership program to develop mentors who realized that coaching meant more than developing young athletes in the wrestling room.
“It’s all about whether you can recruit talent and keep everyone engaged,” Moyer said. “It’s about fund-raising and making the sport relevant in the community. It’s easy to find new skills for wrestlers. It’s the CEO skills that are harder to develop.”
The only “problem” is that the NWCA has almost done too good of a job starting college programs. Moyer said three Ohio schools — Ohio Wesleyan, Urbana and Defiance — and Kentucky Wesleyan are still searching for coaches to lead programs that — like Queens — will compete at least one year on a club level before wrestling on the varsity level.
“We’ve been outpacing ourselves … in developing new programs before we can train the coaches,” admitted Moyer, who said the NWCA has to be ready to suggest a coach once a college agrees to start a program.
“Sometimes you have to get really innovative. I feel like I represent all coaches so I typically say, here’s a slate of coaches and you pick the one that is best for your program. I like to believe these schools have a tough decision because all of these potential coaches are good.”
Moyer added that schools cannot make mistakes in choosing coaches.
“The easier we make it for (schools), it will help other schools that also are considering adding wrestling,” he said. “All these school administrators talk to each other and they will welcome a group that will provide the elements to start a good program, including great coaches and ways to promote the program.
“Once you get that flywheel moving, you want it to pick up speed. You don’t want it to stop.”
That is the same philosophy Chertow preached as he began recruiting guys for the private North Carolina school, which was a girls-only college that served as a sister school for Davidson before Queens started admitting male students in the late 1980s.
“From a recruiting standpoint, I wanted to be able to recruit every serious type of wrestler to look at Queens, which I believe is an Ivy League school of the South, similar to a Duke-type of education,” said Chertow.
But he also realizes there are many wrestlers and coaches around the country that have never heard of Queens, even though the school has won three straight national championships in both men’s and women’s swimming.
“Queens was not on my radar, but I did my research to learn about the school. Fortunately, I have deep roots with others in the wrestling community,” Chertow said. “I know hundreds of dedicated coaches around the country. Once people come here to see how first class Queens is, they’ll see how much they have invested into the wrestling program.”
Armed with the Div. II-maximum nine scholarships that are separated among wrestlers, Chertow signed over 25 wrestlers in his first year … after the school official only expected him to sign 10-12 this first year.
“I’ve exceeded their expectations,” he said.
Chertow sees no reason why the Royals should not be a Top 10 school in 2018-19 — Queens’ first year competing on the NCAA Div. II level — and in the Top 5 one year later. History suggests that it is possible, especially with the success of Div. II programs Notre Dame (Ohio) College and Maryville (Mo.) that challenged for team championships in their first few years of competing.
Chertow said he also chose to develop young wrestlers rather than bring in transfers for immediate success
“I’ve had so many coaches and wrestlers already reach out to me,” he said. “Recruiting is a two-way street, especially once the word gets out what we are doing here. I also look forward to hearing from prospects.
“In regards to developing talent, I work with these guys daily. With recruiting happening so quickly, I’ve been able to spend more time than expected in developing talent. I’m very pleased with the work ethic of the young men here.”
Chertow said he hopes Queens is a “poster child” in developing other programs, especially in the South.
“I want to see Clemson and Georgia Tech add wrestling,” said Chertow. “If I can create a better foundation to help other schools see that they can add the sport and generate good publicity, I want to do that. Many of these state schools need to bring back wrestling.”
Chertow also hopes to develop a regional training center program for Greco-Roman wrestlers as well as a women’s wrestling team.
“We don’t want to rush into anything,” said Chertow. “We want to focus on what we are creating now.”