(Photo/American University athletics)
On January 21st, American University made a sudden announcement that Teague Moore was no longer the school's head coach after spending the last nine-plus years at the helm for the Washington, DC school. Ex-Eagle wrestler Jason Grimes assumed interim head coaching duties for the duration of the 2021 season. Since the school parted ways with Moore during the season (at least for most schools. American did not wrestle until day one of the EIWA Championships), they have a leg up on any jobs that may open up later this spring or perhaps into the summer.
Intermat has learned that the school is deep into the process and some early candidates have been eliminated from consideration. With that being the case, we have targeted five credible candidates that could be choices by the AU administration. Remember, all coaching searches are different. The assistant coaches with the biggest names may not be a perfect match for the vacancy based on a variety of factors on both ends. This is not a list of the biggest names available; instead, it's some of the best fits based on what we know about the position.
So, what do we know about American? It is a private institution with less than 9000 undergraduate students, located in beautiful, affluent northeast Washington, DC. The wrestling program came into prominence in the mid-2000's under the leadership of Mark Cody. The school crowned their first national champion (Josh Glenn) in 2007 and later finished fifth at the 2011 NCAA Championships. After Cody left for Oklahoma, he was replaced by Moore. Most may not know it, but American does feature the full 9.9 allotment of scholarships, which is helpful as they do have a rather large tuition. American competes in the EIWA, which continues to get tougher by the year with the emergence of Ivy League powers and Cary Kolat's arrival at the Naval Academy, just over the bridge in Maryland.
While some outside observers were concerned about the state of the American program (and who shouldn't be in this climate), they are, in fact, very stable. In addition to the scholarship total, there are several local donors that are very influential in the decision-making process in the athletic department. We'll get to that later. Additionally, the athletic director, Dr. Billy Walker, was a collegiate wrestler at the Air Force Academy under coach Wayne Baughman. He also led the formation of the old Western Wrestling Conference in 2005 and was the conference commissioner until 2013. Having someone in the athletic director's role with wrestling ties is invaluable.
Now that you know a little bit about the school, here are five candidates we thought may be good fits for American University.
Jason Borrelli (center) in the 2021 NCAA finals (Photo/Sam Janicki, SJanickiPhoto.com)
Jason Borrelli (Stanford - Head Coach)
Why he's a fit: Who doesn't want a storybook ending? Stanford's 165 lber Shane Griffith defied the odds and captured a national title, only the second in school history, despite an athletic department that vowed to eliminate wrestling and ten other sports at the end of the season. The wrestling community has pledged over 12 million dollars to keep Stanford wrestling alive, while adding a women's program, as well. With Griffith and fellow sophomore Real Woods available for multiple years down the road and a solid cast already in Palo Alto, the Cardinal could make a run at the top ten. Unfortunately, the Stanford administration has not been receptive to the money raised by the team and other sports and barely acknowledged Griffith's performance. So the harsh reality is that with most of the team in the transfer portal and an athletic department hellbent on eliminating the wrestling program, Jason Borrelli has to keep his options open. Borrelli is coming off an excellent 2021 season which netted him Pac-12 Coach of the Year honors and had a second All-American, in addition to Griffith. He has led the Cardinal to their only Pac-12 title in wrestling history and saw 15 wrestlers garner All-American honors under his watch.
Getting a coach with a track record of success inside and outside of the classroom will undoubtedly be a priority for American. The school has finished in the top ten in team GPA in 14 of the last 15 years (2021 not included) and was second overall in 2020. Borrelli checked those boxes as he saw six wrestlers named Pac-12 Scholar-Athlete of the Year while at Stanford. He also deserves praise for persevering and leading his group during the uncertain 2021 season. California was one of the most stringent states in the country, with regards to COVID-regulations, so his squad had to practice outdoors frequently and in unenviable training conditions. That's on top of the fact that his school was ready to shutter his program.
Kyle Borshoff (right) in the 2021 EIWA Championships (Photo/Sam Janicki, SJanickiPhoto.com)
Kyle Borshoff (Binghamton - Head Coach)
Why he's a fit: Kyle Borshoff is a familiar name for American University on a couple different fronts. He was a three-time national qualifier and two-time All-American for the Eagles between 2007-10. Borshoff is one of only nine wrestlers to notch over 100 wins in an American singlet and as a senior, he was a key cog in a group that finished 14th in the nation at the NCAA Championships in Omaha. Borshoff would return as an assistant coach for five seasons, four of which were as the program's head assistant. He was a part of the coaching staff that oversaw the Eagle's incredible run of high GPAs. Since 2015, Borshoff has been a member of the Binghamton staff. First as an assistant coach, before getting elevated to head coach in December of 2017. Since that point, four Bearcat wrestlers have qualified for the NCAA Championships on two occasions. Before his arrival, the team only sent two wrestlers per year for the previous four seasons. This year, Borshoff oversaw the program's first NCAA placewinner (Louie DePrez) since the 2012 campaign, when both Donnie Vinson and Nick Gwiazdowski got on the podium. DePrez was also named an NWCA All-American in 2020. Without much fanfare, Borshoff and staff have done a good job at bringing in talent to Binghamton. The team will have all four of their 2021 national qualifiers returning next season (all are non-seniors).
Whenever there is a vacancy, you have to consider notable alumni as potential candidates. Borshoff and current athletic director Dr. Walker did overlap at AU for about a year and a half, so there is some familiarity on both ends. Again, it helps when both parties understand what situation they're walking into. During AU's heyday, they did it with a lot of talent from New York. The Borshoff's, NCAA champ Josh Glenn, Matt Mariacher, and others. Getting someone who can get talent from that area could be a good start.
Obe Blanc with the UNC Staff (Photo/Tony Rotundo, WrestlersAreWarriors.com)
Obe Blanc (North Dakota State - Head Assistant Coach)
Why he's a fit: One trait I think is valuable in potential coaching candidates is experience with different "types" of programs. Obe Blanc is certainly someone who can make that claim. Blanc started his collegiate career at Lock Haven, where he earned All-American honors at a program that is DII for all other sports and tends to "do more with less." He finished out at a blue-blood school in Oklahoma State wrestling for the legendary John Smith. After a few years competing on the Senior level and making the world team in 2010, Blanc began coaching at NC State and was heavily involved with the Wolfpack Wrestling Club. So at this stop, he was an essential part of a program that developed into a consistent national power. In the summer of 2019, Blanc headed out west to North Dakota State to assume the role of head assistant coach. North Dakota State could be classified as a mix of a few previous stops. They are an up-and-coming team, though in a non-Power Five conference (for all other sports). During his first year in Fargo, Blanc helped six wrestlers qualify for nationals, one of which was named a second-team All-American and two others were tabbed as honorable mention's. Four Bison wrestlers qualified for St. Louis this year and two (Jared Franek and Luke Weber) advanced to the Round of 12. Additionally, in each of the last two seasons, the Bison have crowned a Big 12 champion, a feat that had previously never been done at NDSU.
One of Blanc's previous mentors, Pat Popolizio, got his big break as an assistant at American University. While it's been about 15 years since Popolizio was coaching in DC, he can help prepare Blanc for what to expect at the school. Blanc's international experience as an athlete and while coaching at the WWC probably outweighs anyone on this list, if that's on the mind of the decision-makers at AU.
Sean Gray (Photo/Tony Rotundo, WrestlersAreWarriors.com)
Sean Gray (Princeton - Associate Head Coach)
Why he's a fit: Sean Gray has the most coaching experience of anyone on this list. After leaving Virginia Tech as a two-time All-American and the school's leader in most statistical categories in 2002, Gray spent seven years as an assistant for the legendary Carl Adams at Boston University. After leaving BU, Gray went back to his native New Jersey to join the Princeton staff. Under the tutelage of Chris Ayres, Gray and crew helped bring the Tigers from the basement of the EIWA to a 2019-20 season that saw the team go unbeaten in-conference and defeat Cornell for the first time since 1986. While the school went 13 years (2003-16) between All-Americans at the beginning of Ayres/Gray's tenure, they have had at least one per year since 2016 and multiple in 2019 and 2020. If anyone knows about building from the ground up, it's the Princeton staff, and believe me, there is a lot of growth that will need to occur at American.
One way Gray can help AU is with his connections in recruiting. Gray is a Blair Academy grad and has plenty of connections in New Jersey. Blair is also the alma mater of 2007 Harvard All-American Max Meltzer. Max's father, Alan, is a prominent donor who is on the AU Board of Trustees. In late 2019, he committed 5 million dollars towards the school's Center for Athletic Performance. I don't know if there's any previous relationship between Gray and the Meltzers, but with these coaching vacancies, sometimes you have to try and connect the dots. Also of importance, Gray's wife is from the Northern Virginia area, not far from the AU campus. That can always be an enticing factor when considering new positions.
Jordan Leen (right) with two-time ACC champion Micky Phillipi (Photo/Tony Rotundo, WrestlersAreWarriors.com)
Jordan Leen (Pittsburgh - Associate Head Coach)
Why he's a fit: As we eluded to with Jason Borrelli, Jordan Leen has the ability to strike while the iron is hot. Leen is part of a Pittsburgh staff that just put a pair of wrestlers into the NCAA finals in St. Louis and finished 11th in the nation, the school's best finish since 1970. If you look at 165 lb NCAA runner-up Jake Wentzel, he has to have Leen's fingerprints all over him. Like Wentzel, Leen was a brutal technician on the mat. As a competitor, Leen sticks out head and shoulders above anyone on this list collegiately. A three-time All-American for Cornell, Leen won the NCAA title in 2008 by taking out the top-two seeds in the tournament, Gregor Gillespie (Edinboro) and Mike Poeta (Illinois). We've mentioned earlier that American will undoubtedly stress academics with their hire and the Cornell grad fits the bill. Not only did he compete in the Ivy League, but Leen has also had previous coaching stops at Duke and Virginia. Those are both academic institutes that American would love to be mentioned among.
During his tenure at Virginia, Leen developed a reputation as a strong recruiter and was partially responsible for the team's success recruiting in Pennsylvania. That reach in Western PA has definitely increased during his tenure at Pittsburgh. It doesn't matter where your school is located; having in's with the Pennsylvania wrestling community is also a plus. While he grew up in Tennessee, Leen's entire collegiate and professional career has kept him in the East/Mid-Atlantic, so he should have some general familiarity with the area.