Chance to Coach at Alma Mater Dream Come True for Virginia's Steve Garland
Oct. 17, 2006
By Matt Krumrie – TWM Freelance Writer
Steve Garland remembers it vividly – that day back in college at his off-campus apartment where the ACC champion and All-American wrestler at the University of Virginia had the conversation with roommate and fellow wrestler Jim Harshaw (now the director of the Charlottesville Wrestling Club).
That conversation was based around Garland jokingly – yet slightly serious – mentioning to Harshaw about how cool he thought it would be to come back and coach at Virginia some day.
Well, Garland , who wrestled for the Cavaliers from 1997-2000, is back. And not only is he a coach for a program where he ranks sixth on the all-time win list (91), he’s the head coach. After working as an assistant for the last six seasons under Rob Koll at Cornell Garland was hired in April to take over for Lenny Bernstein, who resigned shortly after the 2005-06 season after coaching the Cavaliers for 13 seasons.
“It’s a dream come true,” says the 29-year-old Garland, who was a three-time ACC finalist and 1997 champion at 125 pounds. “I think every college athlete at some point dreams about taking over at their alma mater and doing great things. I have said it before and I’ll say it again, I am just so humbled and feel fortunate to be back at the school that I loved so much when I was a collegiate wrestler.”
Koll sees nothing but positives in Garland’s future.
“Steve was a phenomenal assistant and will be an equally outstanding head coach,” says Koll. “He has great interpersonal skills as well as being a gifted technician. Obviously wrestlers want to wrestle for a coach who they enjoy being around, but more importantly they want to be coached by someone who can teach and motivate. Steve will do both of these things. I believe he will also be able to market his program to his alumni and local fan base. This is something that we do a great deal of at Cornell and Steve was very effective in helping to grow both our alumni and fan base.”
Over the past six years Garland has helped the Cornell wrestling program move into the national spotlight. He has coached 17 All-Americans, four NCAA finalists and 46 NCAA qualifiers. Cornell has finished in the top five at the NCAA Championships two years in a row and has finished in the top 11 at the NCAA tournament for four straight years. The Big Red won five of the last six Ivy League titles. Garland also worked closely with and was integral in the development of four-time All-American (2001-05) and two-time NCAA Champion Travis Lee and true freshman NCAA finalist Troy Nickerson (2006).
Garland qualified for the NCAA tournament in each of his three years of competition at Virginia . At the 2000 NCAA tournament Garland earned All-America honors, falling in the national title match to Jeremy Hunter of Penn State, 7-3 (after he upset the top seed, Jody Strittmatter of Iowa, 9-7 in overtime). That same season Garland was named the ACC Wrestler of the Year.
As recruiting coordinator at Cornell Garland helped the Big Red land two top-five recruiting classes. He knows that bringing in the right people to commit to the program and buy into what Garland is trying to do is the key to long-term success at Virginia . That’s the model he followed while at Cornell, and the model he will pattern himself after at Virginia , where he will benefit from a strong nucleus of young assistant coaches, including Scott Moore, Pat Degain and Josh Walker.
“His background at Cornell, having to deal with financial aid, alumni fund raising and strict admissions standards gives him an incredible advantage over his competition,” says Koll. “Coaches who have not worked in an Ivy League setting have no clue how many hurdles our league puts in front of us. Steve knows that if we are able to succeed at Cornell there is no reason he can not have the same success at UVA. He has already made enormous changes in the UVA recruiting model and we are just beginning to see the results.”
Garland admits, he’s going to carbon copy what he did at Cornell.
“The system is very simple, recruit hard and bring in the right type of student-athlete,” he said. “I tell people this all the time – our big run up at Cornell all started with one recruiting class – one group of kids that were willing to do the right things, to do all the things it takes to succeed – not just in wrestling but academically and eventually in life. It snowballed quickly. The next thing I knew, every year we had a top ten recruiting class. It can happen that fast. I truly believe it can happen quickly here as well.”
Garland says the way to build a successful program is by creating the right culture in the room, getting all the wrestlers to believe in you as a coach, in the system and in the short and long-term goals of the individual and the program.
“When my guys look over in the corner they truly believe I am giving it everything I’ve got,” says Garland . “They believe in me and that goes a long way. Its why I do what I do. I love that look, when you connect with one of your kids in the middle of a tough match. Those moments are priceless.”
Garland takes over a Virginia team that went 12-5 last season, including 4-1 in the ACC, where they tied Maryland for first place during the dual meet season. The Cavaliers then finished third at the ACC tournament but did not qualify anyone for the NCAA tournament.
Looking to the future, Garland has a number of factors working in his favor that will help the Cavaliers start to make an impact on the national scene on a yearly basis. With a solid nucleus of young wrestlers like 125-pounder Ross Gitomer (second in high school nationals and junior nationals freestyle, Garland says he’s possibly the hardest worker on the team); 133-pounder Eric Albright (ACC freshman of the year last year won 29 matches) and 189-pounder Rocco Caponi (redshirted last year, NCAA qualifier as a frosh), he has some talent to work with. But the key Garland says, is getting the recruits he wants to come visit the Charlottesville campus and to have the chance to tell them about a university and wrestling program that:
Is fully-funded and offers the NCAA allotted 9.9 scholarships
Competes in Memorial Gymnasium, a state-of-the art training and wrestling facility that recently underwent a $1.5 million facelift
Remains the No. 2 best public university in the 2007 edition of the U.S. News and World Reportrankings.
In the 10 years since U.S. News began ranking public universities as a separate category, has been ranked either No. 1 or No. 2.
Continues to rank in the Top 25 among the best of all national universities, public and private, tying with the University of Michigan at No. 24.
According to BusinessWeek, Virginia ‘s McIntire School of Commerce was the No. 2 ranked business school in the nation.
“Anyone that has ever seen this campus and seen the facilities here knows that this place sells itself,” says Garland . “Add to that the academic reputation and you really have a great combination to sell when talking to recruits. My biggest problem so far is that a lot of people in the wrestling community don’t know this about our University. I have been working hard, getting the word out and its working. Once people realize what type of school this is and what type of education is available to their son, they want to come down. Once they get here they love it.”
Garland has already noticed a renewed sense of energy and commitment from wrestlers in the program. The other day he came to campus at 7:30 a.m. and there were 15 wrestlers running on their own – before another practice scheduled for later that day.
Garland and his wife, English, are the proud parents of a newborn baby girl, Sarah. They leave behind some great friends and great relationships in New York .
“Anybody that knows me knows that I take what I do very very seriously and if I told my wife that if I did get this job our lives would never be the same,” says Garland . “I told her `if you think I’m nuts now, what do you think I’m going to be like when I’m the headcoach?'”
Garland will especially miss the bond he formed with Koll, who he called a great friend and mentor.
“I went through my entire growth process as a coach and as a person under him – I learned everything from the guy,” said Garland . “We still talk at least once a week. We did everything together when I was there. I can’t tell you how many car rides and recruiting trips we were on together that all we did is shoot ideas back and forth, write up fantasy line-ups, talk about recruiting tactics…he’s the only nut I know that loves wrestling more than I do. Anybody that has worked with him has learned from him. Just ask Derek DelPorto, Tom Shifflet or Brian Smith. I’m sure they will tell you the same thing.”
At the same time Garland knows he has a rare opportunity to make his mark as a head coach at a major Division I wrestling program that happens to be his alma mater.
“It’s my dream job and not many people get to say they reached a dream at this young age,” says Garland . “I don’t want to let the people down that believed in me. I don’t want to let the people down who vouched for me and said I would do well here and I certainly don’t want to let down the administration and most especially I never want to let down my wrestlers.”