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The Birth of a Program & The Re-Birth of a Coach!
July 7, 2010, 3:25 pm
Filed under: TheWrestlingSite News

 The Birth of a Program & The Re-Birth of a Coach!

 A conversation with 2010 NAIA National Coach of the Year

Frank Romano

Notre Dame College, Ohio

 TheWrestlingSite:  Coach, after a long and successful career in collegiate wrestling and after retiring as head coach at Kent State, a school you spent 27 years with as both an assistant and as head coach, you end up at tiny Notre Dame College in Cleveland. In four short years you have taken a school that has never been on anybody’s radar to the national championship in your division. Many in the wrestling community never doubted you for a second; but for the rest of the wrestling world that either didn’t know why and how you did it and for those that thought you were just plain goofy, tell us how this came about.

 Coach Romano: You are right. I was as happily retired as a wrestling coach can be. I retired in 2003 and life was comfortable. I would have coffee in a little coffee shop many mornings, and in 2006 I was reading a little blurb in the Cleveland Plain Dealer newspaper that Notre Dame College was interested in starting a wrestling program.  At the time, to keep myself busy, I was working as a volunteer at one of our high schools with their team and was pretty satisfied.  My initial thought about Notre Dame was kind of a “good luck with that” thought.  But the more I thought about it, the old juices just kind of took over. I did not know a lot about the college and had to do some digging to find someone I could even talk to about the situation.

 TheWrestlingSite: Tell us about how you, a long time DI Coach and member of the Ohio Wrestling Hall of Fame, went about convincing the folks at a small college that you were the man for the job.

 Coach Romano: That was interesting all in itself. When I talked to people in administration, they said they wanted to see my resume. Ha, resume. I hadn’t even thought of one for probably 40 years or so. Well, I put one together and they wanted to meet with me. In the meantime I wrote down everything I thought I would need to start and develop a program. EVERYTHING! Everything from coaching and facilities to scholarships, equipment and support. I was surprised that at the meeting all the powers from the school were in attendance. They reviewed my requests and they not only hired me, they agreed to almost every request I had written down.

 TheWrestlingSite: Now you have a job with a little school with no wrestling history. Take us through your “start up” and the challenges you faced in building a foundation for your program.

 Coach Romano: Well, when I got to school the first day I had a little office with a desk, a chair, a phone and a computer. My first challenge was the computer. I had never used one. I kind of mastered that. Those who know me know that is not my deal, but I mastered the basics. My biggest weapon was the phone. Luckily, over the years I had made lots of contacts and had a lot of great guys who had wrestled with me and for me who were right there to help. I had to get a staff together and get on the recruiting trail as quickly as possible. In the meantime, the school was building a small wrestling facility to my specs. The good news was that they were building it just the way I wanted it. The bad news was they couldn’t get it completed until October 1st of that year—a little late for productive practice, but we made do. Our first season we had 55 recruits. I think 5 were already in school and we drew the rest from the high school and collegiate transfer ranks. That was when my second major challenge hit me. The school’s compliance officer called after the end of the first semester to inform me that most of my wrestlers were academically ineligible. WOW! I went through his list one by one and this is where there is another bad news-good news story. The bad news was that I only had 12 wrestlers academically eligible. The good news was I had a wrestler in every weight. To kick things off I scheduled meets with a number of clubs along with DI and DII programs to give the kids a sense of what we would be dealing with in NAIA competition. The strategy worked. In our first year we finished 20th in the NAIA Nationals.

 In our second year my alma mater Ohio State was gracious enough to accept an invitation to come to Cleveland and wrestle us in a dual. We put 1500 people in the stands that night and actually had a strong showing in several matches and jump-started the popularity of Notre Dame College wrestling from a fan and student standpoint. We finished 13th that year and had a national champion, Victor Crenshaw, at 157. That put us on record that we were here to battle. It told our wrestlers and our recruits that we had a program that could compete.

 By last year, our third full season, we had high school coaches and recruits and potential transfers calling us. We fought our way to 5th in the NAIA Nationals and placed five All-Americans.  That was the season that we put the rest of the programs in our division on notice—we are here and we are ready to wrestle anybody!

 TheWrestlingSite: Coach, you had a magical year this year. Your team won the 2010 National Championship and you were honored by your peers as the NAIA National Coach of the Year.  Tell us how satisfying this was for you.

 Coach Romano: We had a terrific season, but this is not about me. This is about the attitude of the kids, our wonderful coaching staff and the complete support of our school and fans. You are right; this was a magical year for Notre Dame College in many respects. We pretty much marched through our dual and tourney competition. We won the National Duals. In the National Championship we placed eight in the semi’s and had 10 All-Americans. We knew we had it as we moved up through the brackets. The kids never gave up. I couldn’t be prouder of our kids and our coaches. Yes, being recognized by my peers as the Coach of the Year is very special. It speaks to the growth and strength of the program. Personally, I will admit that the coaching honor was very satisfying and humbling, coming from members of the wrestling community. I have heard from friends as far back as high school. I am proud of the honor and our accomplishments. That said, I think my proudest moment came when our school hosted a celebration to acknowledge our National Duals title and National Championship season. It truly was the best athletic accomplishment in the history of our little school.

 TheWrestlingSite: Coach, here is an opportunity to let folks know about Notre Dame College in Cleveland, Ohio.

 Coach Romano: Our school is a student athlete’s dream, if a small school is what they are looking for. We are small, but our school supports 23 different varsity sports.  I believe that is second only to Ohio State in our state. When I started our enrollment was around 800.  I think we are up around 1000 now and somewhere around 70% of our students are participating in some form of varsity sports. The school is just terrific in supporting sports.

 TheWrestlingSite: Coach, you have already retired once. Now you find yourself in an interesting position. Tell us where the program and you go from here.

 Coach Romano: That has taken an interesting spin too. Our school is jumping to Division II.  It will begin with our 2011-2012 season. We are very excited about the move.  Don’t get me wrong, we have loved the NAIA and what it has offered our program, but it is a school decision.  From a wrestling standpoint, we think we have what it takes to continue to grow and compete on that mat. I have tried to get our kids involved in duals and tourneys that have included all divisions and we have fared very well. We absolutely welcome the opportunity.

 As for me, I feel good.  Like most coaches, even the young ones, the travel can take a toll on you.  However, I have that fire reignited in me.  I would like to coach here as long as I am physically able.  I also am very pleased with the fact that our entire coaching staff is made up of very accomplished mat rats, most probably wrestling since they could walk.  If I were to leave today, of which I have no intention, the program would continue to prosper under their direction.  It is a great situation to be in.

 TheWrestlingSite: We invite our readers to post their comments. We also invite them to visit the recruiting information section of our website for more information about Notre Dame College and the opportunities available in the NAIA.


2 Comments so far
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I have watched the golden career of my cousin, Les Anderson, from his start in high school wrestling, NCAA , World Olympics,Head Wrestling Coach at Iowa’s Premiere wrestling university, and is endless endeavor to bring excellence to every aspect of wrestling worldwide. I am in the envious position of being, not only a a close relative, but,having the honor of sharing years of memories with him. Les is a Coach’s Coach and the a wrestler’s role model. No better training is available anywhere in the world than what is available on this website. Les, I salute you…..Denny

Comment by Denny Brinkman

I always tend to think somewhat harder about everything right after I read somebody new’s site and their insights. This along with other articles in your weblog here definitely give some food for thought. I actually wound up here by way of Yahoo when I was doing some researching for some course work that I have. It’s always a pleasure browsing through and I truly do hope you keep things up. Enjoy the week.

Comment by Force Factor Nitric Oxide

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