The arms race in wrestling shows no signs of slowing down and Iowa isn't sitting idly by while programs like Penn State continue to set the pace and programs like Iowa State make bold moves to climb the ladder. The arms race takes many forms, including recruiting, coaching staffs, facilities, fundraising, and wrestling clubs and training centers for post-collegiate competition. Iowa made big news on that front today because there's going to be a certain two-time NCAA champion former Iowa wrestler hanging around Iowa City this season:
Mark Perry on returning to Iowa: Its time to change the game and I cant wait to get started." https://t.co/RPKNHLyiaY— Andy Hamilton (@Andy_Hamilton) May 15, 2017
As first reported by Tony Hager at IAWrestle last week and confirmed today by Andy Hamilton at Trackwrestling, Mark Perry is returning to his former stomping grounds in Iowa City. Perry, whose Iowa career straddled the Jim Zalesky and Tom Brands coaching eras in Iowa City, is easily one of the most decorated and successful Iowa wrestlers of the last 15 years. Perry was a four-time All-American at Iowa, finishing 2nd in 2005, 3rd in 2006, and winning national titles in 2007 and 2008. He also won a Big Ten championship in 2007, and placed second in 2005, 2006, and 2008. His national title win in 2007, defeating longtime nemesis Johny Hendricks from Oklahoma State, is one of my all-time favorite matches.
After graduation, Perry went on to assistant coaching stints at Penn State (although his time there pre-dated Cael Sanderson's takeover, so he's unlikely to be able to give us any secrets to Cael's success) and Cal Poly, before taking over as the Associate Head Coach at Illinois. Perry was part of a dramatic turnaround at Cal Poly, per Hamilton:
Prior to Illinois, Perry spent one season at Penn State and two at Cal Poly, where he guided NCAA finalists Chase Pami and Boris Novachkov and watched the Mustangs go from 1-12 in duals the year before his arrival to 17-6 in his two seasons.
His time at Cal Poly enabled him to develop recruiting ties in California that paid dividends during his time at Illinois, where he helped recruit and develop Jesse Delgado and Isaiah Martinez, each two-time NCAA champions. His work with Martinez has been particularly impressive, as he's already been a two-time NCAA champion (and three-time NCAA finalist) and lost just twice in his entire collegiate career. Perry also helped Illinois land California lightweight Justin Mejia (ranked 22nd overall, per InterMat). (Mejia was also a former Iowa verbal commit, as you may recall.)
Of course, we should probably pump the brakes slightly on the recruiting talk, because Perry won't be able to play a major role in actively recruiting high school athletes to Iowa in his new role. The current Iowa coaching staff -- head coach Tom Brands and assistants Terry Brands, Ryan Morningstar, and Ben Berhow -- isn't changing and the NCAA doesn't permit the addition of any additional coaches to that staff. Instead, Perry will be a coach with the Hawkeye Wrestling Club, "oversee[ing] elite-athlete development" there, per Hamilton. So he'll be working primarily with the post-graduate wrestlers competing in freestyle and Greco-Roman competitions (the Olympics and World Championships are the biggest such competitions, but there are several smaller ones as well). He will not be able to contact recruits off-campus or communicate with them via phone calls or texts. Morningstar and the Brands brothers are still going to be the primary recruiters for Iowa wrestling. That said, Perry's presence on campus should make Iowa more desirable to prospective recruits and my understanding is that he can interact with recruits to some extent when they make on campus visits.
But Perry's primary role will be to further develop the ability of the wrestlers already in Iowa City, which is an exciting prospect, both for the current Iowa program and for the Hawkeye Wrestling Club itself. Before this hire, Terry Brands juggled coaching duties with the Hawkeye Wrestling Club with his coaching and recruiting duties as an Iowa assistant. This hire should free him up to focus more on his Iowa duties (although I'm sure he'll still work with the HWC lightweights, given his freestyle coaching prowess) and allow the wrestlers in the HWC to get more attention and development. The HWC currently includes Dan Dennis (57 kg), Matt McDonough (57 kg), Chris Dardanes (61 kg), Nick Dardanes (65 kg), Nathan Burak (97 kg), and Bobby Telford (125 kg), and just added several recent graduates in Thomas Gilman (57 kg), Cory Clark (61 kg), Alex Meyer (86 kg), and Sammy Brooks (86 kg). Having Perry around to guide their development should be a hugely positive development.
Given that Perry and the members of the HWC are also able to practice and train with current Iowa wrestlers, his arrival should also help the development of several wrestlers in the program now. In particular, given his Perry's own history and work with Martinez, it should be very exciting to see how Perry's presence can help some of Iowa's existing middleweight wrestlers (such as Brandon Sorensen, Michael Kemerer, Alex Marinelli, and Kaleb Young). The middleweights already look to be the strongest part of the Iowa lineup; adding Perry's expertise to that mix could help make them even sharper. In his competitive days, Perry was an expert pinner and an excellent scrambler; hopefully he can some of that expertise along to the wrestlers in the Iowa room.
It's hard not to see the surge in support for the Hawkeye Wrestling Club (they've raised a lot of money recently, in part thanks to activism from the Wrestling message board at Hawkeye Report) as a response to the activity at Iowa State, as well as Penn State's dominance at the top of the sport. In fact, Perry's hire to head up the Hawkeye Wrestling Club seems an awful lot like a counter-punch to new Iowa State coach Kevin Dresser hiring Brent Metcalf, another former Iowa star and two-time NCAA champion, as it happens, to head up the Cyclone Wrestling Club. Perry doesn't have the freestyle success that Metcalf had, but he does have more coaching experience. But these developments -- the Perry hire, the uptick in fundraising and support for Iowa wrestling and the Hawkeye Wrestling Club, the discussion of improved facilities -- are all very good things. They're also likely very necessary things for Iowa to try and get back on top of the college wrestling world. Penn State's hold atop the sport is awfully tight at the moment, but Iowa is making the sort of moves now that could help them unseat the Nittany Lions. Welcome back, Mark.