UPJ’s Pecora becomes winningest college coach

By
Updated: February 20, 2020

Photo: Pitt-Johnstown coach Pat Pecora celebrated win No. 617 with his current team and past wrestlers after a 22-12 win over Mercyhurst on February 7. 

Written by Mike Finn

Over 66 years ago, Pat Pecora was one of five children born to Richard and Rose Marie Pecora in the shadow of Pittsburgh’s steel mills and amidst a strong Italian love of life.

“I thought we had everything because we had family,” recalled Pecora. “You didn’t need anything else.”

That was the same philosophy the long-time wrestling coach from the University of Pittsburgh at Johnstown felt the night of Feb. 7, 2020, when his NCAA Division II team defeated Mercyhurst, 22-12, to claim the 20th victory in Pecora’s 44th season in Johnstown.

The victory also marked Pecora’s 617th career dual win — all coming since he took over what was a fledgling program in 1976 — making him the winningest coach in college wrestling history.

“The record is not about a single person,” said Pecora. “It’s the many, many young men over the course of 44 years who have put on the UPJ singlet and dealt with the blood, sweat and tears in the practice room

“So it’s a record by many…”

And many of Pecora’s wrestlers — current and alums — were on hand that historic night that saw Pecora break the longtime record of 616 victories claimed by the late Oregon State coach Dale Thomas from 1957 to 1990.

“I coached like the way my mom and dad raised a family,” Pecora said. “It was about family. My dad always thought he was a good father because his children were close to each other. 

“I took the same frame of mind (in coaching); that if the guys on my team are close to each other and treat each other like brothers, willing to sacrifice for each other and feel good about the other one’s success and taking care of each other, then I was doing my job. 

“Our motto became ‘brothers for life.’ ”

Pecora said he never got a chance to meet Thomas.

“I heard a lot of him from (former Lehigh coach) Greg Strobel, who was coached by Dale,” Pecora said. “Greg would talk about wresting a lot of dual meets up and down the coast.”

Pecora knew this historic moment was coming for a while but admitted he was nervous the day of the dual meet.

But Pecora also believes the feelings he had before, during and after the Mercyhurst dual provided reasons how he’s lasted 44 years at Pitt-Johnstown, which is located 70 miles east of Pittsburgh.

“In terms of one’s virility, (a dual meet is) the worst thing and the best thing,” said Pecora.

“There is a lot of anxiety that you go through those hours before a match where everything is racing through your head.

“What good could happen? What bad could happen? You try to knock out the bad thoughts and keep the good thoughts. But there is nothing better than getting a win later. Nothing brings a man to life more than being in an athletic battlefield, where it’s your squad against another squad.

“And there is nothing better than the time after the match.”

The dual meet was the most important thing to Pecora when it came to building a program that was born just three years before the former West Liberty State wrestler was named Pitt-Johnstown’s coach at the age of 22.

Over 66 years ago, Pat Pecora was one of five children born to Richard and Rose Marie Pecora in the shadow of Pittsburgh’s steel mills and amidst a strong Italian love of life.

“I thought we had everything because we had family,” recalled Pecora. “You didn’t need anything else.”

That was the same philosophy the long-time wrestling coach from the University of Pittsburgh at Johnstown felt the night of Feb. 7, 2020, when his NCAA Division II team defeated Mercyhurst, 22-12, to claim the 20th victory in Pecora’s 44th season in Johnstown.

The victory also marked Pecora’s 617th career dual win — all coming since he took over what was a fledgling program in 1976 — making him the winningest coach in college wrestling history.

“The record is not about a single person,” said Pecora. “It’s the many, many young men over the course of 44 years who have put on the UPJ singlet and dealt with the blood, sweat and tears in the practice room

“So it’s a record by many…”

And many of Pecora’s wrestlers — current and alums — were on hand that historic night that saw Pecora break the longtime record of 616 victories claimed by the late Oregon State coach Dale Thomas from 1957 to 1990.

“I coached like the way my mom and dad raised a family,” Pecora said. “It was about family. My dad always thought he was a good father because his children were close to each other. 

“I took the same frame of mind (in coaching); that if the guys on my team are close to each other and treat each other like brothers, willing to sacrifice for each other and feel good about the other one’s success and taking care of each other, then I was doing my job. 

“Our motto became ‘brothers for life.’ ”

Pecora said he never got a chance to meet Thomas.

“I heard a lot of him from (former Lehigh coach) Greg Strobel, who was coached by Dale,” Pecora said. “Greg would talk about wresting a lot of dual meets up and down the coast.”

Pecora knew this historic moment was coming for a while but admitted he was nervous the day of the dual meet.

But Pecora also believes the feelings he had before, during and after the Mercyhurst dual provided reasons how he’s lasted 44 years at Pitt-Johnstown, which is located 70 miles east of Pittsburgh.

“In terms of one’s virility, (a dual meet is) the worst thing and the best thing,” said Pecora.

“There is a lot of anxiety that you go through those hours before a match where everything is racing through your head.

“What good could happen? What bad could happen? You try to knock out the bad thoughts and keep the good thoughts. But there is nothing better than getting a win later. Nothing brings a man to life more than being in an athletic battlefield, where it’s your squad against another squad.

“And there is nothing better than the time after the match.”

The dual meet was the most important thing to Pecora when it came to building a program that was born just three years before the former West Liberty State wrestler was named Pitt-Johnstown’s coach at the age of 22.

 

This is an excerpt of the beginning of the full-length feature on UPJ’s Pat Pecora. To start a new subscription with that print or digital edition, subscribe here and use “UPJ” in the Notes Section or call 888.305.0606

 

 

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