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An Interview with Cael Sanderson, Head Coach, ISU

posted on November 29, 2006

Sanderson wrestled at Iowa State, achieving perfection at the collegiate level with 159 wins and no losses on his way to becoming a four-time national champion. He is the only person in the history of the sport to reach this plateau. Sanderson's next accomplishment was on the international stage with the winning of Olympic gold in 2004.

And last March 31 he was named the new head coach at Iowa State. It was an emotional press conference for Sanderson as he came to the microphone and took over the post from his former college coach and mentor, Bobby Douglas.

Sanderson: Today is a very special day for Iowa State University. Our legendary coach, Coach Douglas, after a distinguished career is retiring from coaching and moving into administration. I love Coach Douglas. My family loves Coach Douglas. One of the best decisions my family ever made was when my older brother signed a national letter of intent with Bobby Douglas and Iowa State University. There will be many challenges ahead, and I'm looking forward to them. We plan to build off of Coach Douglas's success and Iowa State's strong tradition and history. Nothing is changing. Our goals are to be the best in the country every year. We expect to have national champions every year, and that's our mission.

Mundt: Jim Gibbons sat down with Cael Sanderson to discuss his wrestling philosophy and goals for his team.

Gibbons: Cael, how did you get started in wrestling?

Sanderson: Well, I'm from a family of wrestlers. My dad was a coach from right out of college. And his approach is something that was real important to me as a competitor and now as a coach, real similar to what he's doing. It's just all about fighting, and it's all about your best effort every time. And that's not just on the mat, not just at a tournament. That's in the classroom. That's in your social life. That's just a standard of excellence. He did a real good job of making us think it was our idea to wrestle and train. And to have that opportunity, we had to have our grades at a certain level, so he got a lot out of us, and we loved it.

Gibbons: And then you win the national championship as a freshman. Just an unthinkable accomplishment. Few have accomplished that. But then the pressure starts to build in, because that was an undefeated freshman year. What happened? What was it like after that?

Sanderson: Something that my dad always used to tell me and my brothers and our team was to never be satisfied to be as good as you are. That's another thing, another point that is going to be a big part of our program, is regardless of how good you are or how bad you are, you can always get better. You can always go to practice with the mentality that you can improve something today. So that was a big part of what I was trying to do. And every time I wrestled, I wasn't wrestling to win. I was wrestling to dominate. I was wrestling to score points. And I wasn't necessarily worried about the wins and losses. I knew that they would take care of themselves.

Gibbons: The last couple matches in the Olympics, I'm sitting here back at home saying, again, I'm giving Cael about a 25 percent chance of winning this.

Sanderson: 25 percent!

Gibbons: Well, give me a break on that, okay. Thirty-five, how's that? I'm rooting for you, trust me, all right? But you do the math on it here -- people don't know how tough that was for you. That was a huge win. In fact, you could have built a case for that being an upset. But anyway, now going in there representing your country, again, you've got great competition. Talk about what it was like those last couple matches and bringing home that Olympic championship.

Sanderson: Well, I was ready. I had trained a little bit smarter. You know, I'd actually worked in a few areas that I'd been having problems in. And I was in the Olympics. This was it. It was time to get out there and get after it. I know I was the underdog. I wasn't expected to win those, but I always believed that I would. That's just the way -- I expect to win. After I win, that's something I didn't ever really celebrate a whole lot, because I expect to win. That's part of the training and everything you go through. But it felt great. It was just a mix of emotions. It was real similar to going 159 and 0; that last match is just happiness and relief and just a mix of emotions, you know. It's pretty neat.

Gibbons: You and I have something in common. We both took over for our coach, and we know that you need to handle that with kid gloves, so to speak, but you also want their influence in your program. Talk about that.

Sanderson: Well, coach Douglas is still going to be real involved with what's going on around here. And that was part of the deal, you know. So I'm counting on him, and we want him as involved as he's willing to be.

Gibbons: Were you surprised when Bobby Douglas stepped down and there was -- you were asked to be the head coach?

Sanderson: Yeah, it was -- it was a surprise. You know, we had talked. I didn't know when it was going to be. For it to be that soon, it was kind of shocking. It was just kind of a reality check and the time is now and it's time to step up. It was tough. It was tough for me. I mean you saw that at our interviews and things. I mean it was real emotional. I care a lot about coach Douglas andhe's meant a lot to me and my family. He's an extremely loyal personand that's been real important to me and my family from the beginning. Soto see -- be a part of a legend making a move into administration, it's -- it was kind of tough. He's my coach. It was tough.

Gibbons: One of the most absurd things I hear, all right, is when you're a young coach like this isthat you're not ready and you're not prepared. Talk about that age factor here being the head coach at Iowa State.

Sanderson: I really don't think age plays a factor. You know, I think -- I know wrestling. I know what it takes to win. I'm focused on the big picture of the program. And similar to yourself, we were the same age, right, 26?

Gibbons: I was 25.

Sanderson: Oh, you were 25!

Gibbons: Yeah.

Sanderson: See, you may have been too young.

Gibbons: You might have been too old.

Sanderson: See, so who knows? But I don't think that's a factor. I've been around wrestling my whole life, and I have a vision for the way I want things to go. And, yeah, there's a learning curve but I'm not a real patient person when it comes to getting the results we want. So we expect to compete right now. We're getting the recruits we want right now. And we're going to be ready.

Tags: colleges interviews Iowa Iowa State University sports wrestling


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