Stanford Associate head coach Ray Blake (left) (Photo/Tony Rotundo; WrestlersAreWarriors.com)
The best-case scenario actually became a reality! Less than three hours ago, news trickled out of San Francisco that Stanford University was reversing a decision from July 2020 to cut 11 sports. Wrestling was included. In the months that ensued, millions of dollars were pledged by the wrestling community (and other sports), and the Stanford coaching staff, alums, worked tirelessly to save the team. As someone who has watched this situation too often to count, it's a relief to see our side win one and a program saved.
So along with all of the jubilation surrounding the second life for Stanford Wrestling, the next question is, â€œWho will lead the Cardinal in 2021-22â€. Previous head coach Jason Borrelli took the head coach position at American University on April 13th. I'm sure that plenty of candidates will come out of the woodwork as head coaching jobs at DI programs in Power Five conferences don't come along every day. In the coming days, InterMat will outline what comes along with the job itself, as it will be a massive uphill battle. 2021 NCAA champion Shane Griffith, 2020 All-American Real Woods, and plenty of other talented Cardinal grapplers are currently in the transfer portal. Their status is still uncertain. Before we get to the job itself, we'll take a crack at putting together a preliminary list of head coaching candidates. The seven coaches we've mentioned below have excellent qualifications and have plenty of reasons why they would work out in Palo Alto.
Ray Blake (Associate Head Coach - Stanford)
Why He's a Fit - Out of this list, he may be THE fit. Blake just finished his 14th year on staff at Stanford and fourth in his current rule. In addition, Blake is a Stanford alum who was a national qualifier in 2005-06. Blake has worked under the previous two head coaches for the Cardinal and has been instrumental in the school's recruiting process. An Illinois native, he is largely responsible for the influx of Illinois natives who have recently competed in Palo Alto (Nick Stemmet, Nathan Traxler, Real Woods (HS), Gabe Townsell, Josh Marchok are some recent national qualifiers). Blake was a crucial figure in the fight to save the program and stability will be critical in the upcoming weeks/months/season.
Alex Tirapelle (Assistant Coach - Stanford)
Why he's a Fit - Alex Tirapelle is one of two coaches on staff with previous head coaching experience. He spent three years as the head man at Penn, which were sandwiched between eight years on the Stanford staff. While prior experience leading a team is not essential, it's always helpful. Tirapelle's family name in-state is also key. His brothers are head coaches at two of the top programs in the state. Young brother Troy was named the USA Today National Coach of the Year in 2018-19, while older brother Adam has led Clovis to six state titles. Their father, Steve, was also a legendary coach in the state. An Illinois grad, Alex also has ties to the midwest, which are necessary in recruiting.
Kerry McCoy (Volunteer Assistant - Stanford/Head Coach California RTC)
Why he's a Fit - The other coach on staff with previous head coaching experience is Kerry McCoy. McCoy actually has experience as the head coach at Stanford. He held that post from 2005-08. McCoy left Stanford to assume the head coaching position at the University of Maryland, one he held from 2008-19. While the wrestling community celebrates saving Stanford wrestling, behind the scenes, there's a lot of work to be done. With a boatload of wrestlers in the transfer portal, uncertain of their status, no incoming recruiting class, and other hurdles, having a steady leader with McCoy's professionalism would be critical. The two-time Olympian and World silver medalist also has the prerequisite chops on the mat, which led to his current role as head coach of the California RTC.
Jamil Kelly (Assistant Coach - North Carolina)
Why he's a Fit - Another familiar face for Cardinal fans is Jamill Kelly. The California native was on staff at Stanford from 2014-18 as the associate head coach, before leaving for Arizona State. Though he's currently at North Carolina, Kelly is well-versed in the Pac-12, having also coached at Cal Poly, as well. Kelly has worked for an excellent array of experienced, respected head coaches. Coleman Scott, Zeke Jones, Pat Popolizio, and former Cardinal head man Jason Borrelli are among those that Kelly has coached under. The first three have all recently produced DI head coaches (Neil Erisman, Chris Pendleton, and Frank Beasley). Like McCoy, Kelly is top-notch when it comes to freestyle. The Olympic silver medalist has coached on multiple Cadet World Teams, along with a Junior World squad in 2016.
Troy Steiner (Head Coach - Fresno State)
Why he's a Fit - Technically, Troy Steiner is no longer the head coach at Fresno State as that school has vowed to drop its team this offseason. However, it is his most recent title. Steiner was aboard for the reboot of the Fresno State team in 2017-18. While not exactly the same situation, Stanford will be more in rebuilding mode, than reloading, if even a fraction of the wrestlers in the transfer portal leave. Steiner has plenty of experience in California (five years) and the Pac-12 (10 years as an Oregon State assistant coach). He also assembled an impressive coaching staff while at Fresno State, including Izzy Silva, Jason Chamberlain, and Joe Colon. Steiner's name and freestyle background could attract coaches/wrestlers of that ilk to come on staff or train at the RTC. While Steiner is older than anyone on this list and not the â€œlatest and greatestâ€ name, he is thought of very highly by his peers and wrestlers and would make for an excellent hire.
Jason Welch (Head Coach - San Francisco State)
Why he's a Fit - Let's look outside the box, at bit, for a guy who's frankly a little â€œoutside the boxâ€ in Jason Welch. An English major and creator of â€œSurf and Wrestleâ€ Camps is not your typical wrestling coach and that may play well at Stanford. The Cardinal administration wouldn't have to look very far for the three-time All-American who's coaching less than 40 miles away at San Francisco State. Welch spent his collegiate days at Northwestern and later was on the Wildcat staff. Northwestern is a school with a similar academic reputation as Stanford; therefore, Welch is familiar with â€œwhoâ€ to recruit and how to get them on campus. Welch is also a legendary California high school wrestler who was a four-time state finalist and three-time champion at Los Lomas High School. As a senior, he was Junior Dan Hodge Trophy winner and deemed the top recruit in the Class of 2008.
Mike Grey (Associate Head Coach - Cornell)
All of the previous candidates on this list have some sort of current or past ties to California. And why not? It makes sense for most collegiate jobs. However, McCoy had no previous links to the state. Borrelli was an assistant under McCoy, but went to college at Central Michigan. Getting a job in your home state isn't a prerequisite. That's where we turn to Mike Grey, a two-time All-American for Cornell. Grey immediately moved from the wrestling mat to the coach's corner upon graduation in 2011 and hasn't left Ithaca since. As a coach, he has been a part of eight Big Red teams that finished top ten in the nation. Grey has also worked very closely with Yianni Diakomihalis and other stars from the Cornell program. Coaching at an Ivy League school and coming from a collegiate prep high school, Grey is familiar with a school that stresses academics like Stanford. Additionally, Cornell must recruit on a national basis, so that isn't a foreign concept for Grey. Stanford does so as well; even their most prominent wrestler (athlete), Shane Griffith, is from New Jersey, Grey's home state. Instead of going to the Ivy League, these New Jersey prep stars may be more apt to head out west.