Heather Lyke made the first big hire of her tenure as Pitt’s athletic director Friday morning, naming former national champion Keith Gavin as the Panthers’ new head wrestling coach.
“We are thrilled to announce Keith Gavin as the new head coach of the University of Pittsburgh wrestling program,” Lyke said in a press release. “He has an exceptional wrestling pedigree and is one of the top dynamic coaches in the wrestling profession.”
The move should steady the Pitt wrestling program nearly three months after Jason Peters’ midseason dismissal Jan. 19, which came after an incident during the team’s trip to Evanston, Illinois, for the Midlands Championships. Matt Kocher and Drew Headlee served as co-head coaches for the rest of the 2016-17 season.
Gavin is Pitt’s most recent national champion wrestler, having brought home the 174-pound title in 2008 after finishing as the national runner-up in 2007. This will be his first head coaching gig after spending last year as an assistant coach at Oklahoma University and the two seasons before that as an assistant at the University of Virginia.
The Factoryville, Pennsylvania, native ranks eighth in program history with 120 wins and was a two-time Eastern Wrestling League champion, two-time EWL Wrestler of the Year and a member of the EWL Hall of Fame.
He made it to the national finals in 2007, where he dropped an 8-2 decision to Missouri’s Ben Askren. Askren was the most dominant wrestler in the country at the time, having won 86 matches in a row entering the contest. Still, Gavin took the action right to him, scoring the first takedown of the match and leading after the first period before Askren came back to win.
The next year, he capped off his career with an undefeated senior season and a national championship title after defeating Michigan’s Steve Luke 4-2 in the NCAA finals.
After graduating from Pitt, Gavin spent one year with the team working as an assistant coach with the middle and upper weight classes. He then embarked on a successful freestyle career, wrestling as a member of the United States national team for more than six years. He placed third at the 2012 U.S. Olympic Team Trials, along with a pair of runner-up finishes at the 2010 and 2014 World Team Trials.
Gavin joined Virginia as an assistant in 2014 and helped guide the Cavaliers to the 2015 ACC Championship while qualifying seven wrestlers for the NCAA Championships. He left UVA to become an assistant coach at Oklahoma for the 2016-17 season, where he helped coach the Sooners to a second-place finish at the 2017 Big 12 Championships with eight national qualifiers.
This year, the Panthers endured a tumultuous season that included the dismissal of Peters and senior 149-pounder Mikey Racciato, as well as an 0-3 start in ACC competition. But the team ended the year strong by crowning three individual ACC champions.
Pitt sent four wrestlers to the NCAA Championships in St. Louis, but none were able to earn All-American status. One of the team’s top wrestlers, sophomore TeShan Campbell, will not be around to compete under Gavin, as he is transferring to Ohio State University in the fall.
The 2008 Pitt graduate seems excited to return to his alma mater to take the reins of a program in desperate need of coaching stability.
“I am incredibly grateful for the opportunity to come back to the University of Pittsburgh as the head wrestling coach,” Gavin said in the release. “I would like to thank Heather Lyke, Marcus Bowman and everyone on the search committee for believing in my ability to lead this program. I am eager to get to work.”