Last week, Kevin Gavin was named the head coach of the University of Pittsburgh wrestling program. He officially became the 11th head coach to lead the program. The native of Factoryville, PA graduated from Pitt in 2008 where he won an NCAA championship at 174 pounds. He was named an All-American twice and his 120 career wins rank eighth in program history.
Pittsburgh Sports Now interviewed Gavin last Friday. When asked how it felt to lead the wrestling program at his alma mater, he stated, “It’s an amazing opportunity. It’s a dream job for me. I’m incredibly excited and grateful for the opportunity.”
To gain better perspective on the Gavin hire, we interviewed Stephen Patrick, the founder of the Pitt Wrestling Blog (pittwrestling.blogspot.com). Patrick is a Doctor of Physical Therapy Student at Pitt, a former wrestler and passionate about NCAA wrestling. There are few that follow the sport as close as Stephen and he’s well connected within the wrestling community.
Pitt has officially named Keith Gavin as its new head coach for the wrestling program. Tell Panther fans a bit about him and your opinion of the hire.
Keith Gavin has a couple years of assistant coaching experience under some really well decorated coaches in Steve Garland of Virginia and Lou Rosselli at Oklahoma and one of the things I think Gavin brings to Pitt that’s unique is his freestyle credentials. After he graduated from Pitt, he competed around the world. He was top three in the US for six straight years at the world team trials which means he made the national team for six straight years and that’s really hard to do
In 2013 he was actually the United States representative for the world tournament in Hungary’s capital, Budapest. Unfortunately he only went one and one so he didn’t place, but to even make it to worlds and win a match is a pretty incredible feat. A lot of high school standouts right now choose their college, not only on their college credentials, you know, freestyle credentials, but the freestyle credentials of the coach because these kids have their eyes set on the Olympics. I think that’s something Gavin brings to Pitt that the previous coach didn’t have.
We see it with kids going to the University of Iowa, coached by the Brands brothers (Tom & Terry), Oklahoma State coached by John Smith, Ohio State with Lou Rosselli so I think that’s a pretty important aspect to not overlook.
Keith Gavin is an unknown. He’s only been an assistant coach for three years. He’s never been a head coach, but he’s a national champion, he’s Pitt’s most recent national champion and he has all that international experience and that usually translates well into being a good coach. I think right now the general feeling is cautious optimism, but I think it’s a good hire.
Recruiting is the lifeblood of any sports program. Can Coach Gavin make an immediate impact in this area? Are there enough wrestlers locally to take the program to the next level?
Oh absolutely. I did a little excel spreadsheet earlier and I found that if you just took the top guy from the WPIAL at each weight class, that team would’ve finished sixth in the country. If he took the top guy in each weight class from all of Pennsylvania, that team would’ve finished second in the country right behind Penn State. So if he just shuts the border down, he could produce a top five team in the country, easily. Now recently, a lot of the WPIAL guys, I could name 100 names in the last five years, have been going to Virginia Tech, North Carolina, Ohio State, Penn State, Iowa, Oklahoma State, and it’s been frustrating to Pitt fans that, hey, you could drive 20 minutes to Oakland, but instead you’re going to fly to Iowa City every weekend for a match?
I think it’s been frustrating that Pitt has been losing out on these WPIAL recruits when they’re, especially considering a lot of them in high school go to Pittsburgh wrestling clubs run by Tyler Nauman and has all the Pitt guys going in there and wresting with them all throughout their high school career. So they’re taking advantage of Pitt. They’re using Pitt to get better and get ready for college and when they go to college, they go somewhere halfway across the country. Hopefully Gavin can reverse that trend.
Nowadays, in order to have a successful college program, you have to have a successful club too. For instance, at Cornell University, you can’t red shirt in the Ivy League so what they do is they have their guys wrestle at the club for a year while they take classes elsewhere. I’m not sure if they take classes at Cornell or at a Community College, but it’s comparable to red shirting. Iowa has the Hawkeye wrestling club. Penn State has the Nittany Lion wrestling club. Even some of those upper level clubs, they have guys from other countries practicing there, so as a high school recruit you see, “oh, I can go work out with some of the best guys in the world from other countries during the club practice.”
It’s pretty significant that Pitt doesn’t have a club right now and I think that will be one of Gavin’s goals. I haven’t heard it said publicly yet, but I assume he will want to build a club. Hopefully they can get a really good coach with freestyle experience to run it. They might even be able to turn it into a regional training center. Senior level athletes who are trying to compete to make the US world team or the US Olympic team, but have Pitt as their home base and again that would only attract more good recruits.
Have you heard anything of potential assistant hires? Have there been any names floated?
No, I’ve heard a couple names. They’re good names, but the person that told me stressed that it was only a rumor so I’m not going to say who it is, but I think the average wrestling fan would know them and be very happy with them.
Harry Psaros can be found on twitter at @PittGuru