As a competitor, John Azevedo had a near-spotless record.
The Cal Poly wrestling coach was 122-2 as a collegian at Cal State Bakersfield, culminating in an NCAA championship in 1980.
He made the 1980 U.S. Olympic team, won a freestyle national championship in 1981 and placed fourth in the world in his weight class at the 1982 World Championships.
Yet, while telling The Tribune on Saturday about his plans to step down this year after eight seasons as the head coach of the Mustangs, Azevedo said his favorite memories were two losses that didn’t belong to him.
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Looking back on his entire career in wrestling, the first two moments to materialize were separate runs by pupils Chad Mendes and Chase Pami to NCAA title matches.
“I loved competing,” Azevedo said. “It was an awesome time in my life with my teammates in college and trying to be national champion. Those reflections are definitely high points and memorable.
“Coaching is just so much harder because you’re dealing with so many individuals. You always have your ups, but you also have your downs all the time. It’s gut-wrenching.
“As a competitor, most of my moments were ups. I didn’t lose very often, so you could control that, but you grow more through the hard times, and you learn more through the difficult times. Coaching is harder, but it’s much more rewarding.”
After 10 years at Cal Poly, Azevedo still has a passion for coaching. He said he could see himself resurfacing at the prep level, where he spent 12 years leading Santa Ana Calvary Chapel to 10 CIF-Southern Section team titles, posted a 183-18 dual record and was named national high school coach of the year in 1993 and state coach of the year seven times.
With one postseason left to add to the total, Azevedo has coached nine All-Americans and nine individual Pac-10 champions at Cal Poly.
Mendes saw an undefeated season end in the national 141-pound final in 2008, Pami had a Cinderella run toward a title squashed in the 157 final last year, and Azevedo said he cherished working with them as well as the other wrestlers, regardless of how far they advanced.
It was all of the ancillary duties that go along with running a Division I program that had him eyeing retirement for the past couple of seasons.
“It just kind of drained me in a lot of ways,” Azevedo said. “There’s not a ton of support. You’ve got to be a fundraiser and really get your alumni on board and promote. I’m good at coaching kids, working with them, but there’s a lot more to it, especially at a place like Cal Poly, where you’re doing a lot of stuff to build your staff. I got better at it, but I think I put all my energy into trying to administrate the program.”
Another factor making it easier to step away is the presence of co-head coach Mark Perry, someone Azevedo is confident can navigate the program through a perilous financial landscape for West Coast college wrestling and further elevate it.
Similar to the way Azevedo took over as head coach after serving two years as an assistant under Lennis Cowell, Perry is poised to take over the full-time duties in his third season at Cal Poly.
After he served as an assistant last year, the school signed Perry to a three-year contract in the offseason.
A two-time national champion and four-time All-American at Iowa before graduating in 2008, Perry has been a successful tandem with Azevedo.
In the most successful year of Azevedo’s career, the Mustangs were third in the Pac-10 and 18th at the NCAA Championships last season.
At 7-1 this season, they’re on track to set a program record in dual meets and potentially add to Cal Poly’s list of All-Americans.
“John’s reputation’s always been that he’s a good person and a good coach that teaches kids the right values and the way you’re supposed to act,” Perry said. “Basically, a perfectionist in the way you’re supposed to live your lifestyle.
“He’s done basically everything you can do as a competitor and as a coach. So, I think he can retire from the sport and feel pretty good about his career. He’s definitely amongst an elite group of people.”