AMES — The honeymoon has been a short one for Kevin Jackson.
In his first month on the job, Iowa State’s new wrestling coach has had to reel in recruits, maintain his current roster, find coaches to fill out his staff and maintain the day-to-day operation of the program.
While working on the present with a team that’s got real national championship dreams, Jackson is paying mind to the future and how to set the program up for continued success.
With the departures of Cyler Sanderson and Tyler Clark, the Cyclones return eight NCAA qualifiers next year. Six are seniors. Another is a junior.
“We have some immediate needs,” Jackson said. “We’ll have to replace some guys and fill some holes. So, we are out there getting our hands on a couple of kids. What is constant in your mind is, where is that best kid and how are you going to get after him.”
Heavyweight, 197, 174, 149, 141, 133 – each of the weight classes will have a newcomer in Jackson’s second season.
He likes the young wrestlers he’s inherited from previous coach Cael Sanderson.
ISU needs a lot more like them.
“We’ve contacted quite a few athletes and we’ve had them contacting us,” Jackson said. “With my relationship with a lot of coaches around the country… that’s one thing that’s a positive for me with the unlimited connections.
“They know what I’m looking for. I’m looking for the real deal, a world-class capable wrestler.”
Sanderson, like Bobby Douglas before him, almost always redshirted his true freshmen. Jackson won’t hold anybody back if they can help right away.
“If he can wrestle, I’m going to wrestle him,” Jackson said.
Jackson’s credentials as a wrestler (Olympic, World and NCAA champion) and his position with USA Wrestling give him great name recognition. Jackson was head coach of the national freestyle team from 2001-08 and remains close to the amateur scene.
There should be no limits to where he can recruit, he said.
“I think I can pull them from anywhere,” Jackson said. “We are going to have a west coast and east coast connection. I can go into a young man’s home and tell them I not only have a four-year plan for them, but an eight-year plan.”
At last weekend’s World Team Trials in Council Bluffs, Jackson said he should this week be making official the coaches he’s chosen for his staff.
They figure to be heavily involved on the world scene and will be able to provide ISU wrestlers with high-level training partners to advance their skills.
Since being hired, Jackson has continually talked of the importance of evening the Iowa-Iowa State rivalry.
The Hawkeyes have won back-to-back NCAA team titles and captured the series’ last three dual meets. They hold an edge in recruiting, particularly inside the state’s borders.
“My home base is their home base. We have to break into that,” Jackson said.
“Kids are going to follow the champs. They are going to wear the championship gear. The Hawkeyes have cornered the market a little bit on that deal. We’ve been in the hunt but we haven’t overtaken them. The key is for us to win.”
Former ISU national champion and nine-year assistant coach Chris Bono was one of a handful of candidates for the job.
He’s good friends with Jackson and believes ISU made a fine choice in replacing Sanderson.
“He’s going to be great,” Bono said. “He was basically coached my international career. He got me to do things that I never thought I could do. He’s going to transition fine to the college game and put Iowa State back on the map.”