Former Buckeye coaches continue to support Ohio State wrestling program

A famous Chinese proverb says, “One generation plants the trees and another gets the shade.” In 2007-08, generations of former Ohio State wrestling coaches and student-athletes witnessed the decades of blood, sweat and tears culminate with the Buckeyes’ highest placing at an NCAA championships in the program’s 87-year history, finishing second March 22 in St. Louis, Mo.

Under second-year head coach Tom Ryan, the Buckeyes improved to 10th in 2007 and second in 2008 at the national championships after the program finished 45th in 2006. In addition, redshirt junior J Jaggers and redshirt sophomore Mike Pucillo became the program’s first NCAA title winners at 141 and 184 pounds, respectively, since 2004 when current volunteer assistant coach Tommy Rowlands won at heavyweight.

While the team’s accomplishments are great, the joys of a 19-4 season belong not only to the current coaches and student-athletes, but also to the Buckeye wrestling community. It is because of the community’s relentless support the 2008 squad was able to reach its potential.

For Ryan and the current Ohio State wrestling coaching staff, some of greatest support comes from the men who once led the Buckeyes themselves. Former coaches Casey Fredericks (1948-76), Chris Ford (1977-86) and Russ Hellickson (1987-2006) have remained personally and financially involved in the program. All three have contributed to the program with the intention to keep the great tradition of Ohio State wrestling continuing well into the next generation.

“I wanted to make sure that this Ohio State coaching staff had the opportunity to do things we couldn’t in my time because of a lack of financial support,” Ford, head coach of the Buckeyes for 10 seasons, said. “The end of the line for a wrestler is the Olympics there is no pro deal after college for them. So if Ohio State has an athlete with the goal and ability to do that, I want my contributions to the program to help them fulfill their dreams.” 

Hellickson, who coached the Buckeyes all the way to a third-place finish at the 2004 NCAA championships, still meets with the team regularly, checking in on his former student-athletes.

“I have great respect for the Ohio State Wrestling coaching staff and shared in their tremendous joy in the Buckeyes’ NCAA runner-up finish this season,” Hellickson said. “I am happy to have had the chance to be involved with so many of the current student-athletes at the end of my coaching career and am proud of what this team has accomplished. The future certainly is bright for OSU wrestling.”

It is as though the sport of wrestling naturally inspires this type of unwavering dedication.
“Admiration for the sport is what keeps you ingrained in the wrestling world,” Ford said. “There’s something about wrestling you either love or hate it’s not a sport you play for fun. When you work out as closely as you do on the wrestling mat, you really get to know each other in a way that differs from other sports.”

Fredericks, Hellickson and Ford continue to shape the development of the Ohio State wrestling program well beyond their call of duty. The predecessors look to help sow the seeds that will help the current and following generations of student-athletes.

“Keeping the former coaches and student-athletes involved is a good way to keep the good recruits coming in because they see what it means to be part of the Buckeye family,” Ford said.

by Emily Meyer, Ohio State Athletics Communications