Rutgers wrestling has more accolades coming their way after this historic season. Head coach Scott Goodale has been named WIN’s 2019 Dan Gable Coach of the Year.
Since the summer of 2007 when he took over the New Jersey program, Goodale has always believed the Scarlet Knights would produce their first individual national champion and finish in the Top-10 as a team, both program milestones which had never been accomplished.
But the 47-year-old native of Jackson, N.J., admitted — after Nick Suriano and Anthony Ashnault claimed national titles at 133 and 149 pounds, respectively, this past March for the ninth-place Rutgers’ squad — that he had to make some changes.
“For me, it was about patience,” said Goodale, who also believed that Rutgers was going to reach these critical “firsts” in the 2017-18 season, considering he had a three-time All-American in Ashnault and that Suriano, a national qualifier for Penn State, had returned to his native state that winter.
But that was before Ashnault suffered a serious injury.
Fortunately, Ashnault was granted a sixth year by the NCAA, which led to a 32-0 record and individual championship … and a historic night, March 20, in Pittsburgh for the Scarlet Knight program.
“I was so grateful Anthony got another year,” Goodale said. “It was all about his body and how he felt. Our workouts changed according to him as well as some other guys who dealt with injuries.
“I had to remember that each individual goes through things differently, especially in terms of injuries and things like that. I learned a lot through Anthony’s injuries and I know he learned a lot. You have to be patient and let these guys heal up so they can be the best versions of themselves.”
Such a coaching philosophy also earned Goodale WIN Magazine’s Dan Gable Coach of the Year honor for 2019.
“It’s about moving the sport of wrestling forward and Scott has certainly done that in big ways,” said Gable, the legendary Iowa coach who won 15 NCAA team titles between 1978 and 1997.
Goodale will tell you he can be an emotional coach and has also learned to count on his assistant coaches — Donny Pritzlaff and John Leonardis — to also help individual wrestlers earn their goals, especially Suriano and Ashnault, whose two different personalities matches the two sides of Goodale when he is in their corner … and before big matches.
“There are times I’m super high-energy and super nervous and there are times I don’t want to be involved in pre-match rituals because I could create some anxiety,” Goodale admitted.
“But at the end of the day, my wrestlers know I’m going to fight for them and sure enough we are in the national tournament and I felt like I had to fight (Oklahoma State coach) John Smith (during Suriano’s championship overtime match with Daton Fix). These guys also know I will stay away and let them do what they do.”
New Jersey has been a hotbed of wrestling talent for a long time, but getting its greatest stars to stay home and compete in Piscataway has always been a challenge. (For example, both World freestyle medalists Jordan Burroughs and James Green left the Garden State to earn All-American honors at Nebraska … and Suriano spent one year at Penn State in 2016-17.) Even Goodale left New Jersey for Lock Haven, where he won 99 career matches and appeared in three NCAAs.
“It’s taken a while. You have to build something super special (to keep top New Jersey wrestlers in-state),” Goodale said.
“We needed a year like this. Top guys grow up wanting to wrestle at a top-brand school. The elite schools are brand names so it’s been super, super hard to get those guys to believe in what we are trying to do. I like to think, from a wrestling standpoint, we are making Rutgers a brand name.”
And in the process, Goodale is making himself into a top-tier head coach as well.
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