ASHLAND -- Mike Ritchey, who shaped the culture of Southern Oregon University athletics over the course of four decades in the department, announced his retirement Tuesday after 25 seasons as the Raiders' head men's wrestling coach.
A nine-time regional coach of the year and the two-time NAIA Coach of the Year, Ritchey's role in sustaining SOU's status as a national powerhouse began with his run as the team's first four-time NAIA All-American from 1984-88. After winning one NAIA team championship, one NWCA dual championship and overseeing 22 of the Raiders' 35 NAIA individual titles, he'll leave matched with his predecessor, Bob Riehm, as the longest-tenured head coach in the history of SOU athletics.
"I would like to thank God for the opportunity to be a part of the SOU community for 36 years and feel he has a plan for my future in retirement," Ritchey said. "All things come to an end and this is my ending as a head coach. I feel the time is right in my life and in the program's trajectory that we find a fresh set of eyes and new philosophies to bring the program back to prominence. I am so grateful to have coached so many great young men; there are too many to mention. I feel our current wrestlers are ready to make some 'Natty' noise next year and I'm so very sorry that I can't continue in this role for many different reasons. However, I will be involved as long as possible."
Ritchey, starting with his first season in 1995-96, guided the Raiders to 23 consecutive winning dual records and finished with an overall mark of 235-107. Beloved by a long line of colleagues and student-athletes for an affable, selfless approach to teaching and passion for competition, his teams captured 14 conference or regional championships and, since 2009, placed second in the team standings at the NAIA Championships five times.
"In a lot of ways, Mike has been one of my mentors since I've been here," SOU Director of Athletics Matt Sayre said. "He has always embodied commitment, responsibility and respect and cultivated a family dynamic in his program and with the other coaches and staff here in our department. He could be counted on for his honest evaluation of issues affecting SOU Athletics, and as a selfless, dependable team player. He did great things for SOU as our wrestling coach, and I wish him great things in his retirement."
A product of Salem, Ritchey was named the Raiders' most inspirational wrestler after their first perfect dual season in 1987-88, when he went on to notch his fourth consecutive NAIA top-six finish at 126 pounds. Before taking over as head coach, he was an assistant for five seasons under Riehm and Bob Bergen.
His debut campaign would be the first of 12 in which the Raiders put forth a top-five showing at the national meet. His signature accomplishment came in 2001, when SOU entered the NAIA Championships with a No. 5 ranking but accumulated 158 points behind 11 All-America efforts to capture the program's fourth title, edging out Missouri Valley's 151.5 points. Ritchey was subsequently recognized as the NAIA's top coach.
He oversaw 136 All-America performances in total. Among his star pupils were Brock Gutches, the seventh four-time national champion in NAIA history, and Mitchell Lofstedt, the first individual in NAIA history to win three 125-pound titles. In 2017, Tyler Cowger became the sixth Raider under Ritchey to unlock a feat only Ritchey had previously accomplished, reaching All-America status for the fourth time.
In 2009, Ritchey led the Raiders to the NWCA dual meet title with four marquee wins in two days. Four years later, after SOU produced four individual champs and took second by a margin of six points behind powerhouse Grand View (Iowa) in the team standings, he received top national coaching honors again.
"I want to thank President Linda Schott and Matt Sayre, as well as the faculty and staff at SOU for their support of wrestling," Ritchey said. "As an alum of the program, my heart will never be far from the 'Band of Warriors.'
"A heartfelt thank you goes out to my family: my mom in Heaven, my dad for getting me into the sport and helping along the way, my sisters Denise Zimmerman and Vicki Bash and their families for all they do and have done with our family in allowing me to pursue my dreams for so long. To my colleagues, past and present: thank you for the inspiration, motivation, and appreciation that you have given me. And finally I want to acknowledge the amazing role my coaches - Bob Buzzard, Bob Riehm and my mentors specifically, Dan Speasl, Bob Bergen and Timmy - have played in SOU's wrestling success."
The Raiders secured one last banner under Ritchey at inaugural Cascade Conference Championships in 2018. He oversaw the SOU women's wrestling program that same season, and had a brief stint as an assistant athletic director.
SOU will conduct a national search for Ritchey's replacement in the coming weeks.
Added Ritchey: "I'd like to sum it all up in the words of Forrest Gump, who in the middle of the desert suddenly stops running and says: 'I am pretty tired. Think I'll go home now.' God bless the Band of Warriors, and keep running forward."