After a six-year hiatus, Steve Garland is finally a Cavalier again. The Cornell assistant wrestling coach was named head coach at the University of Virginia in an announcement released yesterday. Garland returns to his alma mater for the first time since being named Atlantic Coast Conference Wrestler of the Year after his senior campaign when he finished runner-up at the 2000 wrestling nationals.
“When you’re working at a place like Cornell, especially with how successful we’ve been, you never think you’re going to leave,” Garland said. “When this opportunity arose in such a quick fashion, I just had to jump on it. I’d be lying to tell you that [going back to coach at Virginia] isn’t something I’ve thought about since I left. I’ve had a lot of offers in the past to coach at other places and this is the only job for which I would leave Cornell. It’s something I couldn’t pass up.”
The announcement came two weeks after Virginia head coach Lenny Bernstein resigned after 13 seasons at the helm of the Cavalier wrestling program. Bernstein’s reasons for stepping down were reportedly due to “pursing opportunities outside of coaching.”
The hiring of Garland leads to a coincidental coaching carousel that is quite unique to collegiate wrestling – Garland leaves Cornell in order to take the reigns from his former head coach (Bernstein), who was a teammate at the University of North Carolina with the man Garland has worked under for the last six seasons, Cornell head coach Rob Koll.
“We’ve been spoiled to have Steve for so long,” Koll said. “It’s no accident that we hired him six seasons ago. I saw him wrestle in college, his energy, his camaraderie with his teammates, and I knew he was going to be an outstanding coach.”
Garland, a former All-American at Virginia, just completed his fourth season as the top assistant for the Red. In his time spent on East Hill, Garland has helped Cornell on its way to finishing in the top-20 in the country five times while capturing five Ivy titles in the process. He has done it by way of recruiting, building one of the strongest lightweight wrestling battalions in the nation, as he is responsible for the development of wrestlers such as Travis Lee ’05, senior Dustin Manotti and senior Mike Mormile along with the arrival of both freshman Troy Nickerson and freshman Adam Frey.
In his college days, Garland was a three-time ACC finalist and won the ACC tournament at 125 pounds in 1997. He was a three-time NCAA tournament qualifier, accumulating 93 career wins in a Cavalier singlet. Given his accomplishments, no wonder the race to get Garland back in Cavalier colors was so rapid.
“I got called Tuesday and I was flown down for the interview Friday,” Garland said. “The negotiations then went on through Wednesday and Thursday. Everything happened in less than a week.”
Although Virginia did not qualify a single wrestler for the national tournament for the first time in 13 years, Garland takes over a Cavaliers team that is young and talented. Despite going back to his roots, Garland admits that a lot of Cornell will be taken back with him.
“I’ve worked with Rob [Koll] here at Cornell for six years and I literally showed up with a duffel bag and my All-America plaque,” Garland said. “I had no idea what I was doing. I was just a dumb kid and [Koll] took me under his wing and literally, piece by piece, transformed me into the kind of coach I am today. I’ve been a part of a system that has not only produced multiple All-Americans, not only national champions, but one that has had amazing alumni support and put on major marketing campaigns. It may sound arrogant, but I think some other head coaches haven’t had the experience of doing that. What I plan on doing is taking all of this down to Virginia, tweaking it a little, and implementing it. We call it the Cornell model.”
The decision to leave the East Hill was a hard one to make, but it seemed to be the right family choice for Garland – he and his wife English are on the fast track to becoming parents, as they are awaiting the arrival of their first child, a baby girl expected to be born any day now.
“I have a baby on the way and my wife is from the south, so she’s wanted to get back down there since we met five years ago,” Garland said.
“This is going to be great for everybody. It wasn’t just me making the decision.”
Archived article by Tim Kuhls
Sun Assistant Sports Editor