National Wrestling Hall of Fame

Distinguished Member Joe Seay Remembered

By Tanner Holubar
Stillwater News Press
Oklahoma State University’s wrestling tradition has permeated through Stillwater for decades, and has created generations of wrestling enthusiasts in Stillwater.

The Cowboys are the winningest program in the country thanks to the coaches who have dedicated their careers to the program.

One of OSU’s most revered wrestling coaches, Joe Seay, was remembered Wednesday night at the National Wrestling Hall of Fame – in the shadow of Gallagher-Iba Arena – by those who wrestled for him, his wife Cheryl and others who shared their favorite memories of Seay throughout his highly successful coaching career. Seay died in July at the age of 80.

Seay coached at OSU from 1985-92, leading the Pokes to back-to-back national championships in 1989-90. He was named a Distinguished Member of the National Wrestling Hall of Fame in 1998, and was remembered by current OSU head coach John Smith – who wrestled for Seay – as a coach who brought a wrestling style to the program that hadn’t been seen in Oklahoma before, and one that helped wrestlers thrive under his tutelage.

“He gave me an opportunity to be the best in the world, and it was through his coaching,” Smith said. “More so than any attitude … I think I had a pretty good attitude with an older brother who was pretty mean to me my whole life. But I think if you think about Joe and what he did for Oklahoma State, he brought a style that hasn’t changed … it’s gotten better.

“When you think of Joe Seay and what he did here, he did a lot for a lot of guys … a lot of guys reached their potential. When you look at his coaching tree, guys who wrestled for him and went on to coach – phenomenal. A lot of guys have gone on and become great coaches. But he was a great man who brought a great idea that we all excelled through.”

Those in attendance shared some of their most memorable stories of interacting with Seay. They described him as a coach who could help change a mindset for the better, as well as a coach who would spend much more time working with those who weren’t in the starting lineup in order to be the most effective coach he could be.

Hall of Fame Director Lee Roy Smith, John’s older brother, remembered Seay as a coach who always made a point to share the importance of giving with those he was coaching, which he tried to pass on to his wrestlers.

“I was thinking after he passed away what made him such a great coach and a great person, really had to do with mentioning that we all have to give,” Lee Roy Smith said. “That’s what he tried to convince his wrestlers … that you have to give everything you’ve got, but you have to give to others, too.

“You have to give to your teammates to be a good team, and I’ll never forget that. Joe did a really good job of getting into people’s heads the right way … the right way was, ‘if you’re giving, your life is gonna be a lot better.’ That’s what I take from Joe.”

Cheryl Seay, Joe’s wife, said Joe had wanted his legacy to be the relationships that he had made on and off the wrestling mat. She said the group of friends, former athletes and colleagues who were present and sharing memories showed the strength of the relationships he had made in his coaching career.

“His No. 1 love was always wrestling,” Cheryl Seay said. “Even when I would sit there and watch him in his sleep, he would be doing these moves. And he’d say, ‘Cheryl, you’ve got to pay attention, you’ve got to pay attention. You’re not going to learn this move if you don’t pay attention.’ And then I would say, ‘OK honey, go back to sleep.’”

Seay led OSU to a 114-18-2 dual record during his seven seasons in Stillwater, which included two national titles. Before coaching the Cowboys, Seay had spent 12 successful seasons at Cal State-Bakersfield while winning seven NCAA Division II wrestling championships.