PISCATAWAY, N.J. (May 21, 2014) – Few people understand the daunting challenge that Big Ten wrestling presents to a new arrival like Rutgers than Donny Pritzlaff.
“It’s the best wrestling league in the country – by far,” said Pritzlaff, an eight-year assistant coaching veteran of the conference and two-time NCAA champion during his undergraduate days at Wisconsin. “There’s no comparison.”
But even fewer people recognize or appreciate the potential Rutgers wrestling has.
“A diamond in the rough,” Pritzlaff calls it.
When the Scarlet Knights eventually make their mark in the new league – and Pritzlaff is convinced they will, although he acknowledges it may take some time – the latest addition to head coach Scott Goodale’s staff figures to play a prominent role. It’s the reason Pritzlaff decided to return home to New Jersey, leaving Michigan and its state-of-the-art wrestling facilities, to become an associate head coach for Goodale earlier this month.
“For Rutgers, picking up a coach like Pritzlaff gives them legitimacy in the Big Ten right away, especially with recruits who are familiar with Big Ten wrestling,” said T.R. Foley, senior writer at intermatwrestle.com, the sport’s preeminent web site. “He was instrumental in Wisconsin’s success early and he was instrumental in rebuilding what had been a struggling program at Michigan. He’s well respected.”
Like his two previous coaching stops, what Pritzlaff sees in Rutgers is enormous upside.
“New Jersey is a popular wrestling state. In any given year in can be in the top three or four or five in the country in high school wrestling talent,” said Pritzlaff, who starred at Lyndhurst High School. “You can build a program from here, no question about it.
“And now that Rutgers is in the Big Ten we can also go out and get recruits from different parts of the country and branch out a little bit.”
A four-time All-America at Wisconsin, Pritzlaff is renowned nationally for both his recruiting and coaching ability. His recruiting philosophy is based on a simple premise: Having passion for the place he is recruiting for.
“I’ve always been passionate about the schools I’ve been selling,” he said. “I feel that way about Rutgers. When you feel true passion about what you’re offering it’s not really selling anything to recruits. You’re presenting what you believe in. That’s how I feel here.
“I never would have come to Rutgers if I didn’t believe I could walk into a recruit’s home and say ‘If you come to Rutgers you’re going to have a special experience athletically and academically.’ ”
Goodale feels Pritzlaff’s hiring sends as strong a message locally as it does nationally.
“It shows how much the athletic department and the administration really wants to win,” Goodale said. “Obviously, Donny comes here with incredible credentials. He’s one of the best coaches in the country as far as technique and recruiting and building programs.”
Yet as optimistic as Pritzlaff is about Rutgers’ wrestling future, he’s also realistic. Elevating the program the program to even mid-pack Big Ten levels – a significant achievement, since the league’s top three finishers are generally national championship contenders – will take time.
How much time, he can’t say.
“I think we have certain individuals right now that are ready for the Big Ten,” Pritzlaff said. “To get a full team where we’re looking to be, which is in the top three or four in the Big Ten, that’s going to a little while.
“But I think we’re willing to put the work in and get the right guys in our program to make it happen. And I know it will happen.”