Longtime assistant Peters assumes control for Pitt wrestling team
Two of the biggest challenges facing the Pitt wrestling team entering this season were joining the ACC and doing so without longtime coach Rande Stottlemyer, who retired in April after 34 years at the helm.
But because of Stottlemyer's successor, longtime assistant Jason Peters, the Panthers are confident the move to the ACC will be a smooth one.
Peters, 40, has been careful not to change much from a program that, under Stottlemyer, produced 304 wins, six Eastern Wrestling League titles, 56 EWL individual champions, 33 All-Americans and three national champions.
“It was like no transition at all,” said junior Tyler Wilps, a 174-pounder from Chartiers Valley. “We're doing the same things.”
Which means having picnics at wrestlers' houses and coaches' kids at practice, a true family atmosphere.
Peters maintains a strong friendship with Stottlemyer, who keeps tabs on his former team. During his first practice back, Pitt's wrestlers and coaches gave Stottlemyer a standing ovation.
Stottlemyer wrestled at Pitt from 1974-78, earning All-American status three times. He spent one year as an assistant before taking over as coach.
To Peters, iconic figures such as Stottlemyer — coaches who don't hop schools in search of bigger contracts — are almost mythical characters.
“Him retiring and me coming in has been a huge eye-opener for me,” Peters said. “Someone gives their life to a program like this. … I don't know that there's many of these guys left that spend 30 years at one school.”
Peters admits he doesn't think he has a 30-year run at Pitt in him, yet working with Stottlemyer for a decade left an impression.
“Sometimes, as young coaches, we get caught up so much in ourselves that we don't take time to appreciate what those guys have done,” Peters said. “I was fortunate enough to see it.”
Peters graduated from East Stroudsburg in 1998 and a few months later became an assistant at Princeton.
After three years there and one more at Harvard, Peters accepted the job at Pitt — while his wife, Stacy, still was working in Boston.
Stacy moved to Pittsburgh about a year later, and the couple married. They bought a house eight years ago in Mt. Lebanon and have two sons. Never once did Peters consider leaving.
“It wasn't just about being a head coach for me.” Peters said. “I wanted an opportunity to win and be successful and be around good people.
“I love Pittsburgh. I wasn't willing to move all over the place chasing a job.”
Film study, recruiting and running the day-to-day aspect of practice were three of Peters' duties as an assistant, responsibilities he misses having in what has become more of a CEO role as coach.
“I would rather just coach wrestling, to be honest,” Peters said. “But unfortunately, that's not the way it is. It's become more businesslike. It's not just teaching practice at 3 o'clock.”
Two former wrestlers, Matt Kocher and Matt Wilps, help run practice, while Peters keeps an eye on things from his office in the basement of Fitzgerald Field House, complete with two flat-screen TVs mounted on the wall for film study — a favorite practice of Pitt's new coach.
“A lot of guys don't want to see themselves fail,” Peters said. “It's hard to watch and swallow the fact that you're not doing what you think you're doing. But it gives us teaching points.”
Pitt returns plenty of talent from a team that won a third consecutive EWL title, including individual champions Nick Bonaccorsi (Bethel Park) at 174 pounds and Max Thomusseit at 184.
Thomusseit and 285-pounder P.J. Tasser (Belle Vernon) won titles at the Clarion Open the first weekend of November. Pitt wrestles at Maryland on Dec. 6 and in the ACC Championships on March 8, 2014, at Virginia Tech.
“This is my fifth year, and every year you say this is the best year we've had,” Tasser said. “But it really feels like this is going to be the best year that we will have.”