Former Columbia head coach Brendan Buckley has been named Cal Poly’s new head wrestling coach, athletic director Don Oberhelman announced Tuesday afternoon.
Buckley spent 11 seasons at Columbia and is set to replace former head coach John Azevedo, who retired after spending 10 seasons with the Mustangs, and former co-head coach Mark Perry, who left Cal Poly for an associate head coaching job at Illinois in April.
It is Oberhelman’s first hire since becoming athletic director in April, and he said he is sure that he found the right man for the job.
“I want a top-notch wrestling program here, and I wanted to find a person that I thought could get us there. We did that.” Oberhelman said. “We certainly have the right man for Cal Poly.”
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Buckley was 71-84-1 at Columbia. He recruited five nationally ranked recruiting classes, boasted 20 NCAA qualifiers and led the Lions to a fourth-place finish at the 2005 EIWA Championships, the team’s best finish at the meet since 1931.
At Cal Poly, Buckley will be asked to build off a program that has slowly become one of the better programs in the Pac-10, soon to be the Pac-12. Over the past two seasons, the Mustangs went 17-6 in regular season dual meets and 9-4 in conference matchups.
“I am really excited about the future of Cal Poly wrestling,” Buckley said. “I feel it’s a great fit for me.”
For Buckley, recruiting will be key in keeping the program moving forward. In his coaching career, Buckley said he has learned that most of the top high school talent in the nation comes from California, and he plans to try and attract most of those athletes to Cal Poly.
“On the recruiting front, it is paramount that we build a fence around the state,” Buckley said. “Everyone in this country that follows wrestling knows that California has some of the best wrestlers in the country.”
Once they get there, Buckley will greet them with his simple philosophy. Rather than trying to conform all athletes into one style, he said he would rather tailor to each wrestler individually and teach them the best ways to use their skills.
“What I would like to do and what my philosophy has always been has been taking a wrestler’s strengths and building upon them,” Buckley said. “As far as those weaknesses, we’ll address and fix them.
“We’ll also spend a lot of time teaching wrestling. I think teaching still needs to be instrumental in coaching the sport of wrestling.”
It’s this mindset, among other skills, that led Oberhelman to choose Buckley over other candidates.
“We had an outstanding candidate pool,” Oberhelman said. “But coach Buckley kind of stood above the rest.
“There were no weaknesses that we could find, and we tried to find them.”
He has big shoes to fill. Azevedo coached nine All-Americans and nine individual Pac-10 champions in his tenure with the Mustangs. In the past two seasons alone, he’s sent two individual wrestlers — Chase Pami and Boris Novachkov — to NCAA individual championship matches.
But it’s a task, Oberhelman believes Buckley is fit for.
“John did a great job mentoring these young men,” Oberhelman said. “I know coach Buckley is the same way. To me the most important thing is, he is a leader of young men above everything else. That is a great value to have as a head coach.”
Buckley will officially begin at Cal Poly on July 5.