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Tasser: Pitt wrestlers salute retiring Coach Stottlemyer

By Donnie Tasser / Staff Writer

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Pitt News sports columnist Donnie Tasser was a redshirt senior member of the Pitt wrestling team this season. After 34 years as the coach of the wrestling team, Rande Stottlemyer recently decided to retire, so Tasser and current and former Pitt wrestlers reflected on the impact Stottlemyer had on them.

His statistics are impressive: 34 years at the helm, 304 wins (the most in school history), 56 individual Eastern Wrestling League champions, 33 All-Americans, three national champions and three straight EWL team titles to cap off his coaching career.

But not even those illustrious numbers do justice to Rande Stottlemyer, who announced Monday that he is retiring as head coach of the University of Pittsburgh wrestling team. The positive impact “Stotty” ­— as we liked to call him — had on so many of his wrestler’s lives cannot be measured in simple statistics.

“It’s kind of funny to think about, but I’m glad to say I was the very last guy at the very last weight to wrestle under him at the national tournament,” senior heavyweight and NCAA All-American Zac Thomusseit said. “And I wouldn’t be here in this great position right now if it wasn’t for him and the things he has offered me. I accomplished one of my lifetime goals of being an All-American with him in my corner as my coach. I can’t thank him enough for always being there for me.”

Because of his lengthy 34-year tenure, Coach Stottlemyer had a rare opportunity to coach two generations of wrestlers within the same family. Jeff Wilps was included in Stottlemyer’s first recruiting class and his son, two-time All-American Matt Wilps, was one of Coach Stottlemyer’s final three seniors.

“I’m glad I was able to be a part of Coach Stotty’s last senior class,” Matt Wilps said. “It’s crazy to think that my dad was here for his first year and my brother [Tyler Wilps] and I were here for his final year. He has taught me to value hard work and strong character through his commitment to the program. Stotty has had a big impact on me. He has had a big impact on everybody, and I’m happy we could win the EWL for him in his final year as coach.”

Coach Stotty’s impact on his wrestlers has not changed over the years.

“Rande was the reason I went to Pitt,” said Pat Santoro, a two-time national champion for Pitt in 1988 and 1989. “Many people don’t know this, but I was about to sign with Penn State when I went on a late weekend visit to Pitt. After spending some time with Rande, I realized he was who I wanted to wrestle for. And I learned so much from him — life lessons, how you treat people, dealing with adversity. Rande is a very special person, and I’m thankful to have gotten the chance to not just wrestle for him, but to know him.”

Many of Coach Stottlemyer’s former wrestlers have found success in collegiate coaching.

Santoro currently employs former Pitt All-American Drew Headlee on his staff at Lehigh University, where he is head coach. National champion Keith Gavin has also coached at Lehigh, as well as at his alma mater, Pitt. Ryan Tomei has spent time at Northern Illinois and North Carolina, and former All-American Matt Kocher is currently an assistant coach with the Panthers.

And that is only a partial list.

“When you see how passionate he is for coaching, it rubs off on you,” Santoro said of Stottlemyer. “It doesn’t surprise me at all how many of his wrestlers have become coaches themselves. And if they learned anything from Rande, anything at all, they will make a great coach.”

The list of Stottlemyer’s wrestlers who he helped secure employment outside of college wrestling after graduation is even longer.

“Stotty put me in contact with my current boss after I graduated and helped me get my job,” said Victor Konno, a member of the team from 2008-2012. “The man literally knows everybody, and everybody loves him. Coach Stottlemyer is always willing to help, no matter what.”

I remember going to a donor luncheon hosted by Chancellor Mark Nordenberg with Coach Stottlemyer prior to a football game last fall. Coach shook hands with just about everybody present, and I lost count of how many people told me I was lucky to have him as a coach.

And trust me, I consider myself unbelievably lucky for being able to wrestle for such an extraordinary coach and person.

Coach Stotty impacted so many of his wrestlers’ lives by doing the little things. He constantly looks at the glass as half-full. Every time I had a bad practice or had to lose a lot of weight, Coach Stotty was there with positive reinforcement. Even on my worst day, I couldn’t help leaving a conversation with Coach Stottlemyer in a much better mood.

He simply has that effect on people.

Stottlemyer’s retirement from coaching does not signal the end of his tenure at Pitt, however.

Pitt announced that he will stay on with the athletic department in the position of Senior Advisor for Olympic Sports, assisting Pitt’s 16 Olympic sports programs in their transition to the ACC.

This is most definitely a good thing — no Stotty in the Fitzgerald Field House every day would be pretty strange.

It is impossible for Matt Wilps, Zac Thomusseit and I to express the level of gratitude we owe Coach Stottlemyer for what he has taught us in our past five years as wrestlers at Pitt.

From our very first tournament — he drove the three of us straight from our Blue-Gold Meet to a tournament at Eastern Michigan — to the NCAA tournament in Des Moines three weeks ago, he helped make the past five years great for all of us.

We are all honored to have been a part of Coach Rande Stottlemyer’s last senior class at the University of Pittsburgh.

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Tasser: Pitt wrestlers salute retiring Coach Stottlemyer