No rest for Bormet, the Dan Gable Coach of the Year

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Updated: May 15, 2022

Photo: Michigan head coach Sean Bormet (center) and assistant Josh Churella helped Nick Suriano’s transfer to Ann Arbor turn into a second national title.

Note: This story was first published in WIN Magazine’s Annual Awards Issue, which was printed on May 6. Other award stories in this issue included features on the Malvern Prep’s Nick Feldman (Junior Hodge Trophy winner), NWCA’s Mike Moyer (Mike Chapman Impact Award), Mat Talk Online’s Jason Bryant (Journalist of the Year), Air Force’s Wyatt Hendrickson (Schalles Award), Ryder Rogodzke of Stillwater, Minn. (Junior Schalles) and WIN’s State-by-State High School Wrestlers of the Year. Click here or call 888-305-0606 to subscribe to WIN Magazine.

By Mike Finn

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Sean Bormet had little time to celebrate the end of Michigan’s 100th year of collegiate wrestling that saw the Wolverines capture its first Big Ten championship since 1973 and score the most points (95) ever at the NCAA Division I Championships in Detroit. Michigan took home an individual title (Nick Suriano at 125) and produced five other All-Americans en route to a second-place finish at Little Caesars Arena on March 19.

“I’ve been working like crazy since then,” said Bormet, who just finished his fourth season heading up a program where he once earned All-American honors himself. “I’ve got to switch gears to think about the past season because to be honest, I probably have not thought about the season in two weeks.

“We’ve been focusing on the (recently-held) U.S. Open and recruiting,” said Bormet, whose staff includes assistant coaches Josh Churella, Kevin Jackson and David Bolyard.

But, Bormet did also share some perspective about all that has happened in the past year, which also saw him send two guys — Stevan Micic and Myles Amine — to the Olympics in Tokyo last August. 

For his leadership of the Michigan program during this historic season and best-ever NCAA finish, Bormet has been named WIN Magazine’s Dan Gable Coach of the Year for 2022.

“(Bormet is) into the sport, into people. Wrestling is part of his lifestyle,” said Gable, the legendary coach who led Iowa to 15 national championships during a 20-year (1978-97) run. That included a time when Gable’s Hawkeyes took on a tough Bormet, who placed second (1994) and third (1993) in past national tournaments. “He was always a tough kid and someone we always had to strategize on how to beat.

“Now that he’s coaching, he probably looked at his career and that helped him analyze what went well this past year which leads to teaching his kids what the team needs to work on.”

And, what a roller coaster of a season it was for Bormet. The Wolverines finished 12-1 in dual meets, but found a way to avenge a loss to Penn State at the Big Ten Championships, where two Wolverines won individual titles that led to a team crown in Lincoln, Neb.

And even though Michigan came up short against Penn State at the national tournament, Bormet takes pride in his team’s accomplishments.

“Our 100th year of wrestling was an historic one and it was a special team,” said Bormet.  “We broke some records, reached some season bests. These guys accomplished a lot and I’m super proud of them. Every time they stepped on the mat, especially in the post-season, our guys competed hard.”

But that has been a consistent pattern of Bormet’s Michigan teams, which finished in the top five in the past three NCAA Championships. The pandemic forced the NCAA to cancel the post-season in 2020. However, that scenario gave many of Michigan’s veteran wrestlers an opportunity to return for one last post-season, especially Myles Amine, whose second-place finish in Detroit at 184 pounds marked his school-record fifth All-American honor, which went along with his Olympic bronze medal in freestyle last summer. Another was 165-pounder Logan Massa, who left a teaching job last fall to claim his third All-American honor over the past six years.

“The biggest thing about a special season is what goes into it,” said Bormet. “There were so many unique circumstances that came from COVID pandemic. Many of these guys chose to return and do another season because of the team. When you look at what it takes to have a successful program, which includes your (Regional Training Center) and club athletes, a lot went into this season. We will continue to build and raise the overall performance level of our program.

“I think it’s a tribute to the way we train our guys and their dedication, the way they buy into our philosophy and their approach to the lifestyle of a champion wrestler.

“As a staff, we also look to how we can improve. We beat (eventual NCAA champ) Penn State at the Big Tens, but came up a little short in beating them at the NCAA tournament. It boiled down to a few positions and a few matches and that’s how close it was. But that level of competitiveness is what makes wrestling great.”

Bormet likes to credit what he’s learned from the likes of former Michigan coaches Dale Bahr (who coached Bormet in the 1990s) and Joe McFarland, who Bormet assisted before taking over in 2018.

But Bormet also deals with many issues his predecessors did not, including the impact of the transfer portal (which sent Suriano, a former NCAA champ from Rutgers, and Pat Brucki, a past All-American from Princeton, to Ann Arbor) and the N.I.L. (Name, Image, Likeness) that allows today’s college athletes to make money because of their success.

In a sense, Bormet and his fellow coaches are now dealing with more of a professional athlete, compared to his collegiate career as a competitor when financial affirmation to student-athletes was penalized.

“It’s definitely a full-time job. You are working around the clock,” said Bormet. “That is what it takes to be successful and over the past couple of years, there is the convergence of the transfer portal and the N.I.L. I don’t know if any of us coaches wanted these things, but we are not making the rules. We have to figure out how to navigate and lead our teams and put them in a position to perform at the highest level. There are a lot of new variables.”

Bormet, who once ran a very successful club (Overtime School) in Chicago before returning to Michigan seven years ago, believes his business knowledge helps him compete in today’s coaching world.

“Starting a business from scratch and running it for 11 years, you’ve got to learn to navigate and find solutions,” he said. “You’ve got to think a couple steps ahead. You have to see trends and spot how the landscape may change.”

Bormet also believes success in this sport comes down to emotional human moments with wrestlers.

“You can coach a guy and he wins an NCAA championship, but a few minutes later you can see a guy lose an NCAA championship,” said Bormet. “There are a lot of ups and downs. What I’ve learned is that you have to love both sides of the coin or your thought process can get twisted. The goal at this level is to win. That’s why we step on the mat. You have to be able to evaluate a loss and ask if you did everything possible. But, you’ve also got to keep that stuff in perspective.”

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