Randy Baker, one of the most successful and longest-serving high school wrestling coaches in Minnesota, has announced his retirement from Jackson County Central High School, the Jackson County Pilot reported Tuesday.
Baker presented a three-page, handwritten letter to the Jackson County Central school board Monday night which opened with a simple-but-direct statement: "I am stepping down as head wrestling coach."
Baker began his prep coaching career in 1984 at a succession of schools that eventually became Jackson County Central High -- first at what was then Lakefield High School, which then combined with Heron Lake-Okabena in 1987. Then there was a co-op arrangement with Jackson High from 1994 to 1997 which then led to an official merger, creating what is now Jackson Central County 21 years ago. All those different school names -- each with their own team name -- all with one constant: Randy Baker was head wrestling coach, and incredibly good at it.
Since taking the helm of what eventually became the JCCHS mat program in southwestern Minnesota in 1984, coach Baker has racked up some serious statistics. He has coached 39 individual high school champions, which ranks him second on the all-time Minnesota list… with 93 state placers, third in the state. Baker led his teams to seven state championships. And, during his 33 years as coach, he tallied 510 wins.
Beyond those stats, Baker also has some impressive honors in his trophy case. He was named Minnesota State High School Coach of the Year in 1993, Minnesota Wrestling Man of the Year in 1997, and 2001 USA Wrestling Development Coach of the Year.
My wife(who had him as a teacher) said he was the most intense person she knows. I think that is saying something.�" Brandon Paulson (@lovethefight) July 23, 2018
Being an out-state wrestler Coach Baker was one guy who absolutely took an interest in helping me, I've always appreciated that. One of my favorite HS coaches of all time!— Quincy Osborn (@CoachQ_Logic) July 23, 2018
InterMat once referred to Baker as being "one of the brightest wrestling minds around."
Randy Baker has deep roots in wrestling in the area he's called home pretty much his entire life. For his high school career, he wrestled at what was then Jackson High, where he was a two-time Minnesota state qualifier. He continued his academic and mat careers at nearby Worthington Community College, then headed west on I-90 to Augustana College in Sioux Falls, S.D. where he wrestled at the NCAA Division III national championships and served as team captain his senior year before launching his coaching career as a graduate assistant for the Augie Vikings.
In an in-depth profile in the Daily Globe last year, Randy Baker comes across as the very definition of an old-school wrestling coach.
"If Randy Baker seems like more than just a wrestling coach, it's because he's also a father figure to many of the athletes who have gone through the high school system," wrote sportswriter Doug Wolter. "He's brutally honest. He's tough. He knows exactly what it takes for a young man to succeed, and he doesn't mince words."
When asked to describe his coaching style, coach Baker said, "I coach real honest. It's hard for me to lie to kids. I'm not one to put up a smokescreen to a kid. And I think a lot of them appreciate it.
"It's kind of like when their dad talks to them. When my dad said something to me, I listened to him. Back then, I wasn't so afraid of the school staff as much as when I got home."
At Monday night's school board meeting, a softer side of coach Baker came through in his handwritten, from-the-heart resignation letter.
"I want to thank all the wrestlers, especially the young men that gave their all while wrestling for me," Baker wrote. "It was a fun time and we went on a lot of great rides. These young men really put us on the map."
"I have certainly enjoyed my coaching career and the opportunity to give back to the sport of wrestling," he wrote. "It seems to be so true in wrestling that the more you give wrestling, the more wrestling will give you back! Hopefully I gave enough back to the sport that helped me so much growing up. It taught me a lot and gave me back, especially during the tough times in life."
With Randy Baker's retirement, it truly is the end of an era at Jackson County Central High… and for high school wrestling in the state of Minnesota.