Tough Days, Brighter Future For Tim Flynn And WVU Wrestling
Tim Flynn is a veteran coach in the midst of a youth movement, and with those have come growing pains that he never experienced in his career.
After laying down a stellar 223-95-5 record in 21 seasons as the head wrestling coach at Edinboro (a winning percentage of almost .700), he has had seasons of 4-14 and 4-12 at WVU, with the latter truncated by the stoppage of sports due to the COVID-19 pandemic. He had only had one sub-.500 season at Edinboro, with that single low point more than offset by 15 Eastern Wrestling League Championships and eight team top ten NCAA finishes.
Success, obviously, hasn’t been a stranger to the Flynn, who grew up in California before moving to Annapolis, Maryland, for his senior year of high school. He knew the WVU rebuild would be tough, with the Mountaineers competing in one of the top two wrestling leagues to country, and hindered by a dearth of depth and talent.
“I might have underestimated how hard it is to get a winning culture in place,” he said of the lesson he quickly learned at WVU. “I’m a competitor. I want to win. As much as I want to produce great young men and have people get jobs and graduate, I came to West Virginia to win, and win at a high level. So it’s been hard. It was a long year. But even though we didn’t have a good year in wins and losses, there’s a really good feeling in the (wrestling) pavilion that the program is going places. But it has been a lot harder than I thought.”
With just one senior and three redshirt juniors on a roster of 31 this past season, youth is still clearly the best single word descriptor of the roster. Five more freshmen will join the team for the 2020-21 season, so even with a handful of returning veterans around which to build, developing younger wrestlers will be the key to improvement. The Mountaineers could have as many as 18 freshmen and redshirt freshmen combined on the roster. They will also get a dose of experience, as Killian Cardinale, an NCAA qualifier at Old Dominion, will join the program after the Monarchs disbanded their wrestling program.
“The quality of the kids, we’ve gotten some great wrestlers and they are hard workers. Talent, academics and what kind of person are they — I think we’ve done a good job of finding out about thes kids,” the Penn State alumnus said of his future foundation. “I think it really looks bright bringing in kids like we did this year.”
Also assisting in the building process from a literal sense is the team’s pavilion, which includes renovated practice and lounge areas. The forthcoming Olympic sports weight and nutrition center, located in the recently vacated Natatorium, will put the Mountaineers in an enviable position in the view of their head coach.
“That is going to be huge. The way it is laid out it is right on the other side of our wrestling room. We’ll tell everyone it’s just a wrestling area,” he joked. “When you have brand new facilities, that’s what attracts [recruits]. We already have fantastic wrestling facilities. Our room is great, we got a really nice gift from out women supporting athletics group that let us add to our student lounge. I think once that all goes in, we will have a top five facility in the country. It’s a big deal.”
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Flynn also offered his take on the events that would have cost Lucas Seibert a spot in the NCAA Tournament, had that event taken place. It took place at the Big 12 Championships right before the shutdown of college sports.
To set the story up, the top eight finishers in the 133-pound weight class at the Championships were set to receive automatic NCAA invitations. Seibert lost the seventh-place match to Reece Witcraft of Oklahoma State, which left him as the number eight finisher. However, that’s when strange things began to happen.
“We were told the night before the championship we will not wrestle for ‘true ninth’ at 133 pounds,” Flynn related. “The top eight would qualify for the NCAAs. At other weights, they would wrestle for a true position. (For example), if at one weight only four guys qualified, and the fourth and fifth place finisher didn’t meet in the tournament, they would wrestle for that true spot. But they said they weren’t going to do that at 133. I don’t know why, but that’s what they said.
“So when Lucas lost his seven vs eight match, he was done. I was telling our sports info guy that he was a national (NCAA) qualifier, because he finished eighth.” (WVU’s web site indeed published an article including that information.)
“So, Lucas went back to the hotel. Then Bob Burda (the Big 12 associate commissioner in charge of wrestling) told me we had to wrestle the 133 match. We had already gone up to the table three different times to ask if we were going to wrestle that match, and they kept saying no. At one point our assistant Cody (Walters) went up and asked, and they laughed at him, and said ‘No! He is not wrestling that match.’
Then came a total direction switch.
“They came back to us and said we had to get him over here to wrestle,” Flynn continued. “I said ‘No.’ So then they called all the coaches together and had a vote, and it was 4-4, and the person in charge (Burda) broke the tie and said we would have to wrestle it.”
Seibert, prehaps not in the best mental state to compete after thinking his tournament was over, dropped that match to Taylor LaMont of Utah Valley. LaMont was the No. 1 seed in the weight class, but had been upset in his opening round match. He climbed back through the wrestleback (consolation) bracket to take ninth, then benefited from the change in procedures to take eighth with the win over Seibert.
LaMont would likely have gotten an at-large bid to the NCAAs even if he had remained ninth (and had the NCAAs taken place).
“I thought it was not handled well,” said Flynn, who did not make any criticisms of any other schools, confining his critique to the way the situation was handled by the Big 12. “I have never seen a tournament changed after it starts. You can’t change something after it starts. But Lucas handled it like a stud. He was beat up. He had a long year. And for him to qualify for the nationals was a monstrous feat. He didn’t complain or say ‘This is crap.’ It was inspiring. He handled it better than we did.”