On the Mat with Steve Garland
Feb. 25, 2007
A 2000 Virginia graduate, Steve Garland is in his first season as the Cavaliers’ head coach. The last six years he served as an assistant coach for Rob Koll at Cornell where he helped the Big Red to four consecutive top-11 finishes at the NCAA Championships. Garland was a three-time Atlantic Coast Conference finalist and winner of the ACC tournament at 125 pounds in 1997. He qualified for the NCAA tournament in each of his three years of competition. In 2000, he was also named the ACC Wrestler of the Year. Garland ranks sixth all-time in UVa career wins (91). Let’s go On the Mat with Steve Garland …
Question: Describe your first competition as Virginia’s head coach.
Garland: What made it extra special was that it was a quad meet at Mem Gym. It might sound corny, but I was filled with a great sense of pride. I felt very humble and very lucky to be here, but at the same time, I was full of pride. I was excited to be part of something special. I think the University of Virginia is a special place. I could not believe they asked me to come back and be the head coach. There are days I cannot believe I’m here. For me, this is my dream. This is what I’ve always wanted to do since I first wrestled here. My wife said she saw me tearing up right before the first match.
Question: How has your background as a former UVa impacted your current team?
Garland: Early on, I think the kids really fed off my emotions. Win or lose, I think they know how much I care. I think they know how much I really want them to win. Sometimes that has been a hindrance this year. I honestly think the kids want to win so badly for me that sometimes they tighten up. That’s counterproductive. That’s something I need to work on. I have to pull back on the intensity at times. Everybody tells me my energy is so great, but I’ve learned that sometimes you have to take a step back and relax a little bit on the sidelines.
Question: Are you always so animated on the sidelines during a match?
Garland: I’ve really toned it down a lot. I’m probably a four now on a scale of one to 10 from what I used to be. When I first started coaching, I would get thrown out of the matches because I was so crazy on the sidelines. It is just the way I do it. I wrestle every match just as hard as they do. After a tournament, I just collapse because I’m so exhausted.
Question: What has been a pleasant surprise about this season?
Garland: Probably the way the kids have jumped on board and trusted me with a lot of little things. Quite frankly, I changed everything. I’m not sure that was the best way to do everything right off the bat. Change for an 18-year-old is going to be tough in any form. I was surprised how they accepted those changes whole-heartedly. Learning a new system and new techniques takes an amazing amount of time. Think about how many reps you have to perform to make a technique second nature, to drill that into your mind to the point you don’t have to think about it. It can be frustrating for the guys at times. We had a technique at Cornell that we were known for and it really took about three years for everyone in our program to master it. Sometimes you put your old wrestlers on a pedestal and forget all the learning they had to do to be successful. You have to be patient.
Question: What can this program achieve?
Garland: I think the goals of where we want to take this program can be shown in this year’s recruiting class. It shows that good kids will come here. The wrestling world is very small. There are only so many programs and there are a lot of wrestlers. I think if you set your goals, and show what you want to be, you can do it. Hofstra did it 10 years ago. Look at UT Chattanooga. They went from being really bad just a few years ago to beating Missouri. It just shows that you can do it. If we can keep bring in recruiting classes like this year, we should be very good. Our goals should be very high.
Question: How do you see the ACC changing:
Garland: Wrestling in the ACC for a number of years was just going down, down, down. Then the entire ACC went through coaching changes. Now, look what programs like Maryland and NC State have done. They have made significant strides. The ACC is a work in progress. It is going to get better and better. These schools have all stepped up and made the programs better.
Question: What is your ideology?
Garland I was never the most talented wrestler in the world. I was kind of a scrapper. I fought hard. I just want our guys to compete and just wrestle. A lot of times it is not about coaching, or what move I can yell out, it is about getting tough. Sometimes you’ve just got to get tough. Look at Scott Moore (UVa assistant coach). He wasn’t the most talented individual, but he was a really tough wrestler. Give either one of us a basketball and we have no idea what to do with it, but we’ll find a way to beat you on the mat. We are not where we need to be as a program, but we can change that. We can make these guys believe in themselves and that comes from having confidence in yourself and your abilities. That’s when you start to develop toughness. That’s what we need to do over the next few years is to get these guys really mentally tough when they go out on the mat.
Question: Who is your mentor?
Garland: Rob Koll (head coach at Cornell) is the person I look to the most right now. I talk to him every morning on my drive into work. We talk to each other and pick each other’s brains all the time. He’s a guy, I’m not sure I would call him a genius because I bust his chops all the time, but the guy is pretty darn close. He is sort of a mad scientist with his approach to some things. He was a four-time national champion, so he has that toughness element to him. He taught me that you could take a kid and make them tough. George Edwards (former UVa coach) is another person I talk to all the time.
Question: Who do you look up to outside of wrestling?
Garland: I respect Tiki Barber a lot. I went to school here at the same time he did. Some of the things he has had to say lately, about his retirement, the way he approaches his life, he really lives life by his own terms. He does not let the world dictate how his life will be. People argue if he should be in the football hall of fame. I’m not sure he really cares. He lives his life for his family. He is internally motivated. To me he is the pinnacle of what it means to be internally motivated. That’s what I want all of my kids to be, because I may not always be there. When they graduate from here, they have to have it figured out.
Question: You and your wife, English, had your first child (Sarah) this year. How has that changed you?
Garland: I think I will mature a lot more, because my daughter is so young, but she has really put things in perspective and made me realize you have to try and enjoy your life. It teaches you that maybe a loss to Iowa State is not the worst thing in the world. I look up at her in the stands and think, `I’m doing everything for her now.’ I think she’s taught me what sacrifice really is. Having a kid you are responsible for is a lot of pressure, but it is good pressure.
Question: How was the reunion you had for the teams that won three ACC Championships in the 1970s?
Garland: I was so excited the response was that good. Those guys didn’t know me from Adam and I didn’t know any of them. That’s what was so great about that weekend. I got to know these people and hear their experiences and learn what they are all about. At the same time, they got to know me a little and see what I’m all about. I think, at the end of the day, I passed the test in their eyes.
Question: What are your thoughts on next weekend’s ACC Championships?
Garland: It is going to be tough for us. We have an uphill battle because we’re going to have to fight through some injuries. We’ve got some guys who can win ACC titles. Ross Gitomer at 125, Eric Albright at 133 and Kellon Balum at 141 are all guys who have shown they can wrestle well enough to win. Mike Sewell, Damian Johnson and Mike Grogan all have some really good wins. If Rocco Caponi did not hurt his knee, I think he would be a favorite at 184. It will be a tough tournament because we are so young, but I am excited to see how well we compete.