By Gary Abbott
National Wrestling Hall of Fame Distinguished Members Cary Kolat and John Smith have been named 2018 Women’s Co-Coaches of the Year by USA Wrestling. It is the first time since the award was created in 2002 that there has been Co-Coaches of the Year recognized.
It is the first time that either Kolat or Smith have won the USA Wrestling Women’s Coach of the Year award. However, Smith won the Terry McCann Freestyle Coach of the Year for men’s freestyle three times (1998, 2000 and 2009). McCann was inducted as a Distinguished Member in 1977 and received the Lifetime Service to Wrestling award from the Illinois Chapter of the Hall of Fame in 2015.
Smith and Kolat were the official 2017 Women’s World Team coaches, working with National Coach Terry Steiner and leading the U.S. women in Paris, France to an impressive second-place finish. The team was led by World champion Helen Maroulis, World silver medalist Alli Ragan and World bronze medalist Becka Leathers.
This was the first time that Smith or Kolat had taken a Women’s World Team assignment, after many years coaching men in both freestyle and American folkstyle. Kolat did help coach a women’s team at the Pan American Championships.
Both were also World-class freestyle athletes prior to becoming coaches in Division I wrestling. Smith is currently the head coach at Oklahoma State, while Kolat coaches at Campbell University.
Kolat and Smith become the third and fourth Distinguished Members to earn the honor, joining Tricia Saunders, who received the award in 2004, and Bill Scherr, who was recognized in 2006. A four-time World Champion and women’s wrestling pioneer, Saunders was the first woman to be inducted as a Distinguished Member of the National Wrestling Hall of Fame in 2006 and was inducted into the United World Wrestling Hall of Fame in 2011. She is also the namesake of the Tricia Saunders High School Excellence Award, which is presented annually to recognize and celebrate the nation’s most outstanding high school senior female wrestlers for their excellence in wrestling, scholastic achievement, citizenship and community service. A two-time state champion, an NCAA champion, a world champion and an Olympic bronze medalist, Scherr was inducted as a Distinguished Member in 1998.
Archie Randall, who received the Lifetime Service to Wrestling award from the Oklahoma Chapter of the Hall of Fame in 2008, received the Women’s Coach of the Year award in 2013.
Among John Smith’s past freestyle coaching achievements were:
• Served as Men’s Freestyle Coach for the 2012 Olympic Team Coach which competed in London, England. The United States had a pair of gold medalists, Jordan Burroughs and Jake Varner, and a bronze medalist in Coleman Scott.
• Served as a co-head coach for the 2000 U.S. Olympic Team, which competed in Sydney, Australia. The U.S. won four individual medals, including a gold medal from Brandon Slay.
• Served as World Team coach for all three U.S. World Freestyle Teams from 2009-11, which competed in Herning, Denmark, Moscow, Russia and Istanbul, Turkey.
• Served as coach for the 1999 U.S. World Team, which competed in Ankara, Turkey, placing second in the team standings and winning three medals, including a gold medal by Stephen Neal
• Served as coach of the 1998 U.S. World Team, the U.S. placed third in the team standings in Tehran, Iran with three medals, including a gold medal by Sammie Henson.
Kolat is the coach at the Buies Creek Regional Training Center, which is affiliated with his program at Campbell University. He also helped run the Tarheel RTC when he was an assistant coach at North Carolina. Kolat has been an innovator in providing World-class online wrestling technical instruction through his respected website Kolat.com.
Smith is currently the head coach at Oklahoma State Univ., one of the most successful Div. I wrestling programs in history. He is the winningest coach in Oklahoma State history. He has led the Cowboys to five NCAA team titles (1995, 2003-2006). He has coached 32 NCAA individual champions and six Olympians, including 2004 silver medalist Jamill Kelly and 2012 bronze medalist Coleman Scott.
John Smith is a member of the United World Wrestling International Wrestling Hall of Fame. Both Smith and Kolat have been elected as Distinguished Members of the National Wrestling Hall of Fame, with Smith inducted in 1997 and Kolat inducted in 2017.
As a freestyle athlete, Smith was considered by many the best freestyle wrestler in U.S. history. He claimed gold medals at the 1988 and 1992 Olympic Games, and won four World gold medals (1987, 1989, 1990, 1991). His six straight World-level titles is unprecedented. He also won titles at the Pan American Games (twice), Goodwill Games (twice) and the World Cup.
In his Senior career, Kolat placed second in the 1997 World Championships, third in the 1998 World Championships and fourth in the 1999 World Championships in freestyle wrestling. He was a member of the 2000 U.S. Olympic Team, which competed in Sydney, Australia. He won three World Cup gold medals, in addition to titles at the 1998 Goodwill Games, the 1999 Pan American Games and the 2000 Pan American Championships.
In college, Smith was a two-time NCAA champion for Oklahoma State (1987-88) and a three-time All-American. He originally hails from Del City, Okla., where he won two state high school titles.
Kolat was a two-time NCAA Div. I champion and four-time All-American in college. He was the NCAA champion in 1996 and 1997 for Lock Haven. He began his collegiate career at Penn State, where he was an NCAA runner-up as a freshman and third as a sophomore. While at Jefferson-Morgan High in Pennsylvania, Kolat won four-straight state titles and compiled a perfect 137-0 record. He was named Outstanding Wrestler at the state meet all four years.
Past Women’s Coach of the Year Award Winners
2017 – John Smith, Stillwater, Okla. and Cary Kolat, Buies Creek, N.C.
2016 – Valentin Kalika, New York, N.Y., Titan Mercury WC
2015 – Aaron Sieracki, Colorado Springs, Colo., U.S. Army WCAP
2014 – Afsoon Johnston, San Diego, Calif.
2013 – Archie Randall, Mustang, Okla., OKCU Gator Women’s RTC
2012 – Vladislav “Izzy” Izboinikov, Colorado Springs, Colo., USA Wrestling
2011 – Kevin Black, River Falls, Wis., New York AC
2010 – Keith Wilson, Colorado Springs, Colo., Sunkist Kids
2009 – Kevin Black, River Falls, Wis., New York AC
2008 – Tadaaki Hatta, Elyria, Ohio, New York AC
2007 – Troy Steiner, Corvallis, Ore.
2006 – Joe Corso, Metairie, La. ,Gator WC
2005 – Bill Scherr, Glenview, Ill., Sunkist Kids
2004 – Tricia Saunders, Phoenix, Ariz., Sunkist Kids
2003 – Townsend Saunders, Phoenix, Ariz., Sunkist Kids
2002 – Joe Corso, Des Moines, Iowa, Sunkist Kids