Hall of Fame coach Joe Seay passes away at age 80

Joe Seay (Photo/National Wrestling Hall of Fame)

Joe Seay, 1998 inductee into the National Wrestling Hall of Fame for his decades of involvement in the sport as a wrestler as well as a high school, college and freestyle coach, passed away Thursday. He was 80.

Born in Altus, Okla. in April 1939, Joe Van Seay was a Kansas state champ for Wellington High School. He then wrestled at the now-defunct mat program at Kansas State University in Manhattan, where he was a three-time NCAA championships qualifier from 1962-64. In addition, Seay competed in international-style wrestling, earning three national Greco-Roman titles and placing second twice in national freestyle competition.

Joey Seay celebrates (Photo/National Wrestling Hall of Fame)

Seay launched his coaching career at Bakersfield South High School in California, where he compiled a record of 177-12-2 and was named national high school Coach of the Year. After eight years at the high school level, Seay moved up to collegiate coaching while staying in the same community, taking the helm at the then-brand-new Cal State Bakersfield wrestling program. In a dozen years at CSUB, he guided the Roadrunners to seven NCAA Division II national championships with a record of 189-56-2. In 1985, Seay then headed to Oklahoma State, where his Cowboys went 114-8-2, earning back-to-back Division I team titles in 1989 and 1990. With that, Seay became the first collegiate wrestling coach to claim both Division I and II team titles.

In 1991, Seay was suspended by the Oklahoma State athletic director over reported violations of NCAA rules, ultimately paving the way for John Smith to become head wrestling coach... while Seay transitioned from collegiate coaching to coaching at the international level. Already closely affiliated with the Sunkist Kids program, he became their head coach and continued the club's unbroken streak of national freestyle championships.

Joe Seay and Kevin Jackson coach Sammie Henson at the 2005 World Championships (Photo/Larry Slater)

Seay coached Team USA to its first-ever Senior world freestyle championship in 1993 with gold medalists Bruce Baumgartner, Terry Brands, Tom Brands and Melvin Douglas and silver medalist Dave Schultz. He led the USA to the title again in 1995 with gold medalists Kurt Angle, Bruce Baumgartner, Terry Brands and Kevin Jackson and bronze medalists Douglas and Zeke Jones while also leading a Pan American Games victory in 1995.

That success continued at the 1996 Atlanta Olympics. Seay's wrestlers won the medal count with a total of five freestyle medals -- three gold (Angle, Tom Brands and Kendall Cross), a silver (Townsend Saunders) and a bronze (Baumgartner).

After that considerable success as a coach in international competition, Seay returned to the collegiate level in the early years of the 21st century, first as an assistant coach at the University of Virginia for two years starting in 2003 ... then heading up the mat program at University of Tennessee-Chattanooga for the 2005-06 season.

For all his accomplishments, Joe Seay was welcomed to the National Wrestling Hall of Fame in Stillwater, Okla. as a Distinguished Member in 1998.

"Joe Seay is one of the most successful coaches in the history of our sport, coaching numerous individuals and teams to championships at the high school, college and international levels," said Lee Roy Smith, Executive Director of the National Wrestling Hall of Fame. "After he stepped off the mat, he turned his passion and motivation towards coaching.

"He was a very positive yet very competitive coach, who created an environment that helped a wrestler maximize his mental, physical and technical capabilities to succeed. You could not find a more friendly and caring person, who would give the shirt off his back to anyone in need."

John Smith, legendary wrestler who is now head coach at Oklahoma State, said, "The passing of coach Seay leaves me with a heavy heart but also a heart full of gratitude. I had the opportunity to benefit from his unique coaching style. It truly helped me accomplish all of my hopes and dreams. His influence on athletes at every level he coached is spread out across this nation."

UPDATE 7/23/19

A Celebration of Life to honor Joe Seay has been set for Saturday, Oct. 5 in California. For details, visit


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RICOOO (1) about 11 months ago
For those that don't remember you could actually wrestle in the Division l NCAA Championships if you won the NCAA Division ll
Below wrestlers who wrestled for Joe Seay @ Cal.State.Bakersfied won both NCAA l & ll Divisions
*John Azevedo
*Joe Gonzalez
*Dan Cuestas
*Adam Cuestas
* Perry Shea (2nd & 3rd) Div l
76, 77, 79, 80, 81, 82, 83
Plus Back- Back Team Titles (89-90)
mayank23 (1) about 11 months ago