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Cael Bails on Iowa State - Wrapup

Geoff Wood

I purposefully decided to wait a bit to write this post; I wanted to get past my emotions about Cael's departure and write about it after more information came to light and as the Cyclone Wrestling team began the transistion to the post-Sanderson era.

The Good News:
Iowa State has a new Wrestling coach and he's a good one. Kevin Jackson is a former Cyclone All-American, Captain of a Iowa State National Championship team, Gold Medalist in the Barcelona Olympics, and USA Wrestling's National Freestyle Coach for the last several years. 

His coaching resume, while not proven collegiately (yet), is outstanding on an international level. He's shown success a coach at the level that all recruits aspire to one day reach - which is outstanding; one could make the comparison that if this was football not wrestling, he's the equivilent of a Superbowl-winning NFL coach come back to his alma mater as HC.

So far, he's been able to salvage 8 of the 10 returning letterwinners (one of the transfer's being Sanderson's youngest brother, senior-to-be Cyler) and 2 of the 4 recruits in the class which keeps us in contention for a national title next year (but less so than before Cael's decision to leave).

Last thoughts on Cael:
Now that Cael is officially gone and things have been held together in Ames, one question remains: Why did he leave?

As I've written before, he was the highest paid coach in the country, coaching at his alma mater, who had given him everything he asked for, with his brother a senior-to-be on the team, and in front of a fanbase that loved him - so why leave?

I'm not sure that we'll ever really get the answer but for two interesting perspectives, I offer up the following from two brothers: this from current Cyclone grappler Duke Burk's brother Danny and this from Cael's brother and assistant Cody.

Burk offer's some interesting, logical, and quite possibly nail-on-the-head accurete conjecture:

It is often possible that even the best feel they need to get away from certain situations. For whatever reason, even when they seem to have everything they could want, they feel the need to get away. The situation with Cael Sanderson fits the mold perfectly for this exact type of behavior.

He goes on to specify the following two reasons:

  • Cael probably didn't like the pressure of being compared to Iowa (which is more so at in-state rival Iowa State than conference rival Penn State). Burk doesn't mention it but Cyclone athlete-turned-Hawkeye coach Dan Gable's success in the role probably excaberated the pressure.
  • He may have felt too much pressure to win from Iowa State fans; losses from Cael Sanderson never jibed, each one was a let down to fans. Iowa State fans may have "loved him too much" as the icon that is (was).
As I said, Danny Burk's thoughts make a lot of sense and is probably the closest-to-the-program information that we'll see in a public forum. I'm glad he shared them.

As for the thoughts from Cody, they provide an interesting perspective on how hard the decision was and how little Cael's closest confidents knew in the process.

Cael Bails on Iowa State - Part 3

Geoff Wood

What does this mean for Iowa State?

On the surface, this hurts wrestling in the short term. We lose our coach, likely many of our recruits (including the top ranked recruit in the country), and perhaps much of our current team due to the easy transfer rules in wrestling.

We were poised for a fourth consecutive conference title and a healthy run at the national title and that isn't likely (unless the men can do it out of motivation for Cael ditching them for the money in "Happy Valley"). 

However, we were a top wrestling school before Cael and will continue be so after him. I'm upset about him leaving but don't think it's a long term detriment for the program (assuming we can weather the arms race of coaching salaries that Penn State initiated).

The bigger problem that the situation illustrates is the fact that Cael Sanderson bailed on Iowa State. Recent years have been rough in Ames and this year has been one of the worst. The firing of Larry Eustachy, the successful basketball coach we thought we be around forever, and the defection of Gene Chizik, the unsuccessful football coach that we all thought had us poised for future success, each made us a bit of joke. The lack of success in those two programs (the two that matter most at any school) makes everyone in the athletic department uncomfortable and, unfortunately, we're always waiting for the next shoe to drop.

No one, anywhere, thought that said shoe would be the defection of Cael Sanderson. The surprise of that development makes me question the entire state of athletics in Ames.

Cael Bails on Iowa State - Part 2

Geoff Wood

What does it mean to me?

I've had an uncomfortable feeling about Cael leaving ever since I first saw the internet rumors last night. It's physically bothered me and I've had to stop and ask myself why. I'm not a wrestling fan, per se; I've never wrestled myself and actually struggle to understand the scoring.

However, I love my Iowa State. My friends here in Indianapolis actually joke about my dedication in the fact that I'll ignore a NCAA men's regional being played in town to watch the women's team compete for the Sweet 16 in basketball on TV. I've been to baseball games (when we had them) and even the occasional volleyball and gymnastics meet. I usually get to at least one basketball game a year and even though I live 7.5 hours away I buy season tickets for football make it to most games. 

For that reason, the defection of Cael Sanderson bothers me.

Cael's Legacy at Iowa State
Iowa State was in a similar position years ago when the first "greatest wrestler ever" was competing for Iowa State, Dan Gable. Gable wanted to coach and Iowa State did not have a spot for him so they let him get away and he want on to become the greatest coach ever at our rival school. That's a tough pill to swallow but, fortunately, it did not stop the only wrestler ever to best Gable's collegiate record from choosing Iowa State.

Cael is not only a wrestling icon but also an Iowa State icon (several fans named their sons in his honor after his collegiate career wrapped). He, along with his three brothers all, wrestled for the school and were literally a Cyclone family. He won the conference in each year he coached and was perennially within reach of a National Title. He was the highest paid person in his profession in the country and was believed to be in his dream job (coaching at his alma mater) at only 30 years old. Which begs the question, why leave at all (much less for a lesser program)? 

Unfortunately, it seems like the "money" is the likely answer.

Cael Bails on Iowa State - Part 1

Geoff Wood

What happened?
In what can only be described as unbelievable to any Cyclone fan, Iowa State lost it's wrestling coach today when Cael Sanderson accepted the same job at Penn State. Sanderson, the greatest collegiate wrestler ever, had been employed by Iowa State since he graduated - first as a "special ambassador" while he trained for the 2004 Olympics, then as an assistant coach for one season, and finally as the head coach for the last three years.

Cael, the only wrestler to ever go undefeated in collegiate wrestling (159-0), is the third Sanderson brother to letter at ISU. The last Sanderson brother, Cyler, is a senior on the current squad.

Cael is a wrestling icon and until today was viewed as a Cyclone stalwart. He was the highest paid wrestling coach in the country at about $130,000/year. Penn State was rumored to have offered him $500,000 per year which is obviously a big jump and something that would be hard for anyone to turn down.

Wrestling, an obscure non-revenue sport, has a tradition of pride at Iowa State. While the news of Cael leaving made was barely mentioned in the national sports media, it dominated the Iowa State sports news for the last two days. Iowa State is one of the top five wrestling schools nationally and under Cael's leadership had won the Big 12 title three consecutive years.

Penn State has a much larger athletic budget than Iowa State and is looking to bring its wrestling program from irrelevance to prominence by buying the Sanderson name. While unparalleled as a wrestler, Cael has not achieved such dominance as a coach, yet, though his iconic status attracts recruits like few others.

The Impact
If the $500k rumor turns out to be true, Penn State will likely have hastened the demise of collegiate wrestling. By not only buying their relevance but effectively raising the bar 5 times, other top schools will be forced to match.

Penn State conference rivals such as Iowa, Minnesota and Ohio State, who've had considerably more success, will have to raise salaries either to keep their current coaches happy or at the very least out of pride. Thanks to a great revenue model, they'll be able to do this. 

Several of the Big 12 programs will match suit and raise salaries, too.

The impact will come at others schools - the ones that are already on the verge of cutting the sport. Many schools, most recently the University of Oregon, have cut wrestling due to concerns over Title IX equity and shrinking athletic budgets. The ones trying to make the death knell decision will have a harder time when they consider what will become an "arms race" in coaching salaries just to be competitive. Arms races exist all over collegiate sports (football coaching salaries, basketball facilities, etc) but for the most part haven't touched the non-revenue sports such as wrestling. They hurt football and basketball programs, too, but these programs have the capability to recoup somewhat through ticket fees and TV revenues, wrestling doesn't have that option.

I'm sure the choice wasn't easy for Cael but his decision has been made. I'm sure the money is a blessing and I'm sure that Penn State is tickled at their fortune. The news is not so good for collegiate wrestling and is terrible for Iowa State but it's time to move on.