Clockwise from top left: Matt Azevedo, Steve Garland, Troy Nickerson, Mike Grey, Jordan Leen, Brian Smith, Jeremy Spates, and Damion Hahn; with Rob Koll (center) (All photos courtesy of Tony Rotundo; WrestlersAreWarriors.com)
On Monday afternoon, Brown University announced that Jordan Leen would be the program's new head coach, a move lauded by many observers in the wrestling community. After looking past Leen and his accomplishments, the hiring also marked another significant occurrence. His hiring extends another branch on the growing coaching tree of current Stanford head coach Rob Koll. Leen is the eighth current DI head coach to have coached under or wrestled for Koll, while at Cornell. That's territory that previously only existed under John Smith/Oklahoma State or Dan Gable/Iowa. Before we get to more about Leen, here are the eight coaches that headline the Koll Coaching Tree.
Mike Grey (Cornell)
The successor to Rob Koll at Cornell, Mike Grey, is an obvious answer. Grey spent his competitive career at Cornell, where he made the NCAA podium on two occasions and won the EIWA twice, as well. Right after his eligibility was exhausted, Grey found his way onto the Big Red coaching staff as a volunteer assistant. With such a long, distinguished list of alumni available, that speaks volumes about Grey's aptitude for coaching. In year one as Cornell's head coach, the Big Red regained control of the Ivy League and EIWA, as well as placed seventh in the country, behind Yianni Diakomihalis' third NCAA title.
Brian Smith (Missouri)
Since Brian Smith has been at the helm for Mizzou since 1998 it's easy to forget he got his start coaching collegiately at Cornell, under Rob Koll. Smith was on staff for David Hirsch's 1994 NCAA championship, the first by a Cornell wrestler since 1960. He left following the 1997 season to assume head coaching duties at Syracuse for a year, before moving to Missouri. At Mizzou, Smith has completely revamped the program and put his "TigerStyle" stamp across the state. Under Smith, the team has seen six wrestlers combine to win nine NCAA titles. Prior to his arrival, the school never had a national champion. As a team, Missouri has claimed two NCAA trophies (3rd and 4th place), and finished in the top ten at the last seven NCAA Tournaments.
Steve Garland (Virginia)
After graduating from Virginia, Steve Garland was on the Cornell staff for six seasons and served as the team's recruiting coordinator. Under his direction, the Big Red landed mega-recruits like Troy Nickerson, which helped change the trajectory and expectations of recruiting at the Ivy League school. On the mat, he assisted two-time NCAA champion Travis Lee, who did the same, elevating the level of results for the team. Garland was hired as UVA's head coach in 2006 and has been with the Cavaliers ever since. His teams have produced 13 All-Americans, including a pair of national finalists. Virginia has captured a pair of conference titles in the ever-improving ACC and notched two top-15 finishes during Garland's tenure.
Matt Azevedo (Drexel)
Matt Azevedo spent two years on the Cornell bench after coming in from Cal Poly. During Azevedo's two seasons, Cornell finished second in the nation, both years. In 2010, the Big Red were a distant second place to a dominating Iowa squad, while the 2011 bunch was expected to win, yet yielded to Penn State and their first title under Cael Sanderson. After the 2011 season, Azevedo was hired by Drexel to lead their program following the retirement of legendary head coach Jack Childs. Under Azevedo's direction, the Dragons were ranked in the top-25 for the first time ever and have transitioned from the CAA to the EIWA. Since the move, three Drexel wrestlers have claimed EIWA championships. Azevedo has also been instrumental in the development of the Pennsylvania RTC, a shared venture between Drexel and neighboring Penn, which has become a force on the international front.
Troy Nickerson (Northern Colorado)
The aforementioned Nickerson was the prize of the 2005 recruiting class and delivered on the mat for Cornell with four, top-four finishes at the NCAA tournament, including a national title in 2009. Just four years after his collegiate career at Cornell ended, Nickerson was named head coach at Northern Colorado. This came after a stint on the Iowa State staff. Nickerson's hire has injected life into a Northern Colorado program that was likely overlooked in the WWC/West Regional. While in Greeley, Nickerson has been able to nab a top-ten recruiting class (2019) and has overseen a tremendous improvement for the Bears on-the-mat product. During the NCAA Tournament-less 2019-20 season, three UNC wrestlers earned honorable mention All-American honors. In 2022, Andrew Alirez won the first Big 12 crown in program history, after Northern Colorado put a wrestler in the finals in the two previous years.
Damion Hahn (South Dakota State)
After winning two NCAA titles and AA'ing four times for Minnesota, New Jersey native Damion Hahn went back to the east coast and spent 12 years on the Cornell staff. With Hahn on staff, Cornell finished in the top-ten 11 times, including their back-to-back runner-up years of 2010 and 2011. Among others, Hahn worked closely with Cam Simaz, Steve Bosak, and Gabe Dean, all upperweights that won national titles for Cornell. In 2018, after Chris Bono left for Wisconsin, Hahn took over the South Dakota State program. Building off the momentum from Bono, Hahn's Jackrabbit team saw three wrestlers earn second-team All-American honors in 2020, followed by Clay Carlson's podium finish in 2021. Under Hahn, SDSU has become a power on the recruiting trail and also has started construction on a brand-new state-of-the-art wrestling facility.
Jeremy Spates (SIU Edwardsville)
Jeremy Spates spent five years coaching under his father, Jack, at Oklahoma, before coming to Cornell and spending four years on staff in Ithaca. Spates was instrumental to the development of a young Kyle Dake, who won all four of his NCAA titles with Spates on the bench. After Dake's Hodge Trophy-winning 2012-13 campaign, Spates was hired by SIU Edwardsville. Just four years later, the Cougars saw their first DI All-American as Jake Residori got on the podium at 174 lbs, despite being unseeded. That same tournament Freddie Rodriguez narrowly missed out on AA honors, by a match. SIU Edwardsville has since moved into the MAC, which has been more competitive than the SoCon. There are signs of a bright future as SIUE already has verbals from a pair of 2023 Big Boarder's.
Jordan Leen (Brown)
The newest member of this group, Jordan Leen, wrestled for Koll at Cornell from 2004-09. While at Cornell, Leen earned All-American honors on three occasions and was a national champion in 2008, as the eighth seed at 157 lbs. Leen has gone on to coach at Duke and Virginia, before his most recent role at Pittsburgh. While with the Panthers, Leen has assisted Keith Gavin in resurrecting a Pittsburgh program that previously failed to land top recruits from the fertile, local high schools. The 2021 NCAA Tournament saw Pittsburgh place two wrestlers in the national finals. Leen will now go head-to-head with former teammate, Grey, as he attempts to bring Brown into national prominence in the Ivy League and EIWA.