Q&A with Cal Poly’s New Head Coach Brendan Buckley

OAKLAND, California
November 28, 2011

Wrestlers are Warriors’ Tony Rotundo sat down for a Q&A with Cal Poly’s new head coach Brendan Buckley to talk about his transition from Columbia, his role in helping to keep wrestling alive in California at the D1 level, and working with his new coaching staff Jamill Kelly and Mitch Monteiro.


Cal Poly Head Coach Brendan Buckley

[WAW] You have history in California as a wrestler and a coach, has that made your transition from Columbia to Cal Poly any easier?
[BB] Having a history in California as a college athlete and a coach has certainly boded well for me and the program.  While it has been some time since I lived in California I never really lost touch with the West Coast since many of my closest friends still live out here and many of these same people are currently coaches and very involved in the California Wrestling community. 


[WAW] Your wrestling career has taken you across the country a few times, do you think to be a successful athlete and coach in wrestling that’s just part of the sport, to go where opportunities open up?
[BB] I believe so.  As a result of my own personal experiences of traveling across the country to find opportunities, I learned a lot about myself and became incredibly well-rounded as a result.  To be able to express this experience and sell this to our recruits, I consider myself fortunate to have a unique perspective on this.  To further elaborate on your question, wrestling is unfortunately not offered in many parts of the country so for high school athletes and college coaches to remain in the sport, it is essential that wrestlers have the ability to plan new roots where the opportunities are.


[WAW] Have you had to make any adjustments as a coach either in style or demeanor moving from the East Coast and an Ivy League school, to the West Coast and a California state university?  Do you tweak your approach with the kids depending on the feedback you get from them? 
[BB] You know, I feel strongly that there are certain attitudes and behaviors that lead to success and in my opinion, it does not matter whether you are at a high school, a junior college or a PAC 12 school or Ivy League school.  Hard work and a steadfast commitment to achieve one’s goals are the only path to success.  That being said, some people are motivated differently and it is our job as coaches to find out from each athlete the different ways to motivate them.  Our ability to figure this out will come as a result of our learning as much as we can from them and getting to know them on a personal level.  Things are indeed different here as are the wrestlers but they are much more similar than they are different.

Cal Poly Coach Brendan Buckley and Assistant Coach Jamill Kelly at the 2011 All-Star Classic

[WAW] How are things working out with your assistant coach Olympic silver medalist Jamill Kelly? How did he become your assistant coach, were you friends prior to teaming up at Poly?
[BB] Jamill was a huge catch for us and has been a great boost to the Cal Poly Wrestling program.  I was lucky to know Jamill for several years now since he was close with one of my good friends and former Fresno State teammate (and Iowa State Asst Coach), Yero Washington.  We were also in the Ivy League and EIWA together as coaches with me being at Columbia and Jamill at Harvard.  Jamill is a great guy, a terrific teacher, and relates well to everyone on our team.  As I said in his press release, to have someone with as successful a background as his and to have California roots, well, it was a slam dunk for us.

[WAW] And how about the addition of Mitch Monteiro…
[BB] We had been looking for a strong upper-weight coach for a few months after I arrived and little did we know, Mitch Monteiro was under our nose the entire time.  An NCAA All-American (5th in 2010) for Cal State Bakersfield and he was living and working a mere 25 minutes from Cal Poly’s campus.  Once I learned he was looking to get into college coaching, we called him immediately to get him in our room and working with our upper-weights.  Mitch has a great presence and has already made a positive impact on our team.


[WAW] As more DI schools drop wrestling around the country, and especially in California, do you feel any responsibility to help keep the sport alive on college campuses in California?  Was that something you knew would fall partially on your shoulders in advance of taking the position at Poly?
[BB] The first thing I want to say in regard to this question addresses the irrational fear that many seem to have about the “Entire” West Coast Wrestling Community and in particular, Cal Poly Wrestling.  I was at Columbia University for 11 years.  A program that I took great pride in elevating to become a nationally ranked program for the first time in its history, and one of the better teams in the EIWA Conference.  As a result of our success on the mat and a great deal of effort in the areas of alumni development and fundraising, we were able to not only significantly increase our annual donations by 300% but also endow two of the three coaching positions with multi-million dollar gifts ($3.25 in total) from a few of our generous alumni.  Furthermore, my wife, Julia had a terrific job as a clinical psychologist in New York and was not in any hurry to leave her job either.  It is important I express this so the wrestling community understands that I did not leave Columbia on some leap of faith.  

When I came to Cal Poly for my interview, I made it clear I was not looking to leave for just any position nor was I in any hurry to leave unless it was a good fit, a secure program, as well as a job that I had had my eye on.  Well, Cal Poly just happened to be all of those.  After meeting the new director of athletics, Don Oberhelman and hearing his vision for the future of the Cal Poly Wrestling program, I felt very comfortable with the direction he wanted the program to go as well as the security of the program.  I asked a lot of questions with particular attention in the areas of fundraising and alumni development as I felt strongly that we could bolster the efforts that the previous staff had worked on.  That and the fact that he gave me a four year contract, something many people may not be aware of.  At this point, I felt the time and the place were a good fit and so I decided it was time to take on a new challenge.

Newark Memorial's Victor Pereira (North Coast Section, California) projects at 157/165 pounds at Cal Poly

[WAW] Congratulations on signing some promising student athletes from around the country including Blake Kastl out of Graham, Ohio, and Victor Pereira from Newark Memorial in Northern California.  Of the East Coast kids that you’ve signed were they known to you from the recruiting you were doing at Columbia, or are you recruiting equally from around the country?
We were very happy to sign several premiere in-state recruits in Blake Kastl (currently at St. Paris Graham but originally from Gilroy, Ca) and Vic Perreira, as well as Connor King -although he is originally from Colorado- and Justin Walker.  As for Devon Lotito and Colt Shorts from Pennsylvania, I began communicating with them while I was at Columbia and am real excited to open up the door to kids from Pennsylvania and the the entire country.  For many of the nation’s recruits, they have no idea just how beautiful it is here on the Central Coast and (on our campus) until they come here and see it with their own eyes.


[WAW] You are coming into a program with a potential NCAA champion in Boris Navochkov (141) and two potential All-Americans in Ryan DesRoches (174) and Ryan Smith (197)?  Do you feel more pressure about making an immediate impact and having success from the start because you have stepped into a program with that caliber of talent in the room, or is that just a challenge to hit the mat running from day one?
[BB] I consider it a great opportunity to come into a program with three marquis wrestlers, especially considering Boris is a returning NCAA Finalist.  We still do have our work cut out for us as all three of them are graduating seniors.  This is why it is vitally important for us to develop the younger wrestlers on our team as well as to consistently recruit the nation’s best wrestlers.


Cal Poly's Boris Navochkov placed second at the 2011 NCAA Championships.

[WAW] You are taking over a program from a very well respected coach in John Azevedo, did you know Coach Azevedo prior to your interviews at Cal Poly?  Is Coach Azevedo still around the team in an advisory role?
[BB] I knew Coach Azevedo prior to coming to Cal Poly but not very well.  When I was doing my research on the job and the program, John was incredibly helpful and supportive.  Furthermore, my first month or so on the job, I would call him with an occasional question or two and I know he will always be a strong advocate and supportive of the Cal Poly Wrestling program.


[WAW] You have a really great rapport with your student athletes, does that come naturally to you?  Are you at home in a wrestling room and teaching student athletes how to become champions?
[BB] One of my most enjoyable parts of my job is getting to know the student-athletes on the team and helping them on their journey to be successful in all that they do and long after they graduate.  Some of my closest friends are guys that I coached at all of the schools where I have coached.  To have these same guys that I coached over the years attend my wedding last year in New York meant a great deal to me and I hope I can continue to develop these same types of relationships here at Cal Poly.


[WAW] Thanks for your time Coach, is there anything else you’d like to add?
[BB] Thanks for giving me the opportunity to discuss the Cal Poly Wrestling program!

About Tony Rotundo