"More than a Coach"

More than a Coach

Scott Flannery ’92, penned an article for Ursinus Magazine following Racich’s induction into the National Wrestling Hall of Fame earlier this year.

On Sunday, April 29, Ursinus College wrestling coach Bill Racich was inducted into the National Wrestling Hall of Fame. His name will forever be enshrined in Stillwater, Okla. More than 20 Ursinus alumni who competed on the mat for the Bears were in attendance, representing each decade that overlapped with coach’s 36 years at Ursinus. 

I have not participated in a collegiate match since March of 1992, when I walked out of the arena at Trenton State having just earned Division III All-American honors with the man who I called “Coach” by my side. Twenty-six years later, I still referred to him as Coach and don’t recall a time that I ever addressed him as anything different, with the exception of few of our epic battles in the UC wrestling room, when I called him things not suitable for this outlet. We’d been close since the day he tricked me into joining the wrestling team midway through my sophomore year. 

Quick story: I was not on the team when he informed me that his 190-pound wrestler was hurt and wanted me to fill in for him for a couple of matches. I accepted on a few conditions: I was not going to practice, I was not cutting weight and when the other guy healed, I was going back to whatever it was I was doing, which, in retrospect, probably wasn’t very productive.
It was three weeks later—after having had some initial success—that he informed me that he really did not have a 190 pounder and since I was doing so well, I should just start coming to practice and getting in shape for the National Qualifying Tournament. Coach knew that would work and he duped me into doing it. 

From there, I was hooked. 

Coach made me a captain the next two seasons and I was back into the sport I had loved so much when I was younger, but lost passion for even as a four-year varsity letterman at Pottsville High School. Upon graduation, I served as his assistant coach for two years. He attended my wedding in Dallas, Texas, in 1999 and we stayed close despite living miles apart. 

As I watched Coach work the ball room at the Hershey Lodge and Convention Center that Sunday afternoon, there were very few of the 600 attendees he did not know. He greeted them all with a smile and a firm handshake. As folks offered congratulatory sentiments, they were confronted with the extreme humility that Coach displayed his entire career. He was quick to introduce everyone to his beautiful wife, Jules, and his son, Cole, which you would expect from a man that is proud of his family. 

What you may not expect if you didn’t know Coach is that almost without exception, had one of his ex-wrestlers from Ursinus stood within feet of him, he would quickly introduce them, their weight class and the year they graduated. The fact that he could recall all of this after coaching 36 teams was something to marvel, but also led my mind down a different path about Coach. 

Why would 20-plus ex-wrestlers from Ursinus College give up their weekend to attend this ceremony? Why would 15-plus teammates and coaches from West Chester University (where Coach was a four-year starter) give up their weekend to attend this ceremony? Why would referees and opposing coaches give up their weekend to attend this ceremony? 

Bill Racich was not just a wrestling coach. He was a builder of future generations and an ambassador of one of the purest sports that exists today. Through wrestling, he was able to show hundreds of young men that if you have integrity, a strong work ethic and perseverance, you can translate that into success in life. 

That became even clearer observing Coach interact with his wrestlers on this night. In his mind, he was talking to his 177 pounder from 1988, now an orthopedic surgeon; his 118 pounder from 1998, who was a wrestling coach and is now an athletic director; his 126 pounder, now a lawyer; and his 167 pounder, a successful salesman. The list goes on and on. He was talking to educators, scientists, lawyers and business leaders who undoubtedly drew much of their drive from the padded-walled wrestling room of Ursinus College; the same room that dawns the 16 All-American and 74 Academic All-American certificates of Coach’s “body of work.” 

Coach is credited with more than 500 wins in his Ursinus career. He founded tournaments, served on numerous organization boards, educated our youth, played competitive rugby, earned a doctorate from Temple University at 58 years old and earned numerous hall of fame honors, including the Ursinus College Hall of Fame for Athletes. What I believe is most impressive, though, is that he built a family that spans four decades of combatants. Men who are undoubtedly more successful in life because they had Coach. He stressed the importance of supporting each other and pushing each other to be successful, but when the whistle blew you were accountable for yourself and there were no excuses. Coach knew how hard he could push an athlete to get their best, and they often discovered they had another gear that only he knew. Oh, and once you found it, he would push you to the next one. 

All of this reflection drove me to yet another question. Why would he pour his heart and soul into a sport that does not carry large salaries or fame, isn’t front-and-center on ESPN and leaves most participants with cauliflower ear as a “badge of courage?” As a video of Coach speaking about how he got his start in wrestling played, it hit me like a run up the stairs with two bricks in each hand (one of Coach’s favorite conditioning drills): He had a coach

He had a coach that meant to him what he meant to all of us. He had someone who taught him how to display integrity, a strong work ethic and perseverance. He had someone who believed in him, made him find another gear and taught him how to be successful in life. That’s why he cared. That’s why he gave back to the great sport of wrestling and that’s why he pushed his student-athletes to balance athletics and academics. That’s why he built a family of gladiators who still called him Coach. 

One final observation: the bond I shared with Coach, he shared with so many of his guys. Once I got over the shock of not being the “favorite son,” I recognized that this bond—this brotherhood—was all by design. He was deliberate about everything he did. He created a circle to be filled with diverse individuals who he could help become better, but who could also push him to be better.

 I feel blessed to have had the wrestling success I experienced at Ursinus College and know that the two framed certificates that hang in my office today—one for earning All-American status and the other for earning a degree from Ursinus College—would not have happened without Coach. He kept me focused on the goals. He kicked my butt when it needed kicking, and he lent me a hand when I needed a hand. He encouraged me to stay diligent on my studies. I have 100 percent confidence when I say he made me the best I could be as a student-athlete. 

Today, as I reflect, I know without hesitation that his influence helped drive my career success as well. Ursinus College could not have been more fortunate to have had Coach Bill Racich leading their wrestling program since 1984. We should all be appreciative of the unparalleled dedication and heart-felt love of a selfless individual like Coach. He made us all better.