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WVU names Sammie Henson wrestling coach

| Monday, May 19, 2014, 10:48 a.m.

MORGANTOWN, W.Va — Sammie Henson is a lot of things: a two-time NCAA Division I champion, an Olympic silver medalist and a father of four.

But while interviewing to become West Virginia University's next wrestling coach, Henson was something else: embarrassed.

“I called (athletic director) Oliver Luck Andrew,” Henson admitted, referencing Luck's son, the quarterback of the Indianapolis Colts. “I thought I was done. My wife was kicking me under the table.”

Henson wasn't done. Not even close.

On Monday morning inside the Jerry West Room of the WVU Coliseum, Henson was introduced as the eighth coach in the history of the Mountaineers' wrestling program and the successor to 36-year veteran Craig Turnbull.

In Henson, West Virginia gets a 43-year-old bundle of energy who has spent 17 years as an assistant coach at several major college programs, most notably Oklahoma and Penn State.

“Wrestling is hard. It's intense. You train months for seven minutes,” Luck said. “His enthusiasm is going to be an asset for our program.”

Henson, whose salary will start at $110,000 and run through at least June 2017 with the possibility of a two-year extension, has some work to do generating positive news about West Virginia wrestling.

The ouster of Turnbull irritated many both inside and outside the program. Turnbull was an icon. He had 287 career wins and coached 26 All-Americans, including five national champions, but Henson views this simply as an opportunity, nothing more.

By his own admission, Henson plans on winning people over by doing such things as washing wrestling mats himself and showing up 30 minutes before his wrestlers.

“Those are things that, as a leader, if you do, eventually it takes over,” Henson said. “The people I'm going to bring in buy into that same mentality. That's what we need. We need to have kids take ownership.”

West Virginia needs something. The Mountaineers didn't win a Big 12 dual meet in 2013-14 and had five wrestlers go a combined 3-10 at NCAAs.

They're in the same conference as national powers Oklahoma and Oklahoma State, and West Virginia must compete with nationally ranked Pitt and four-time defending NCAA champion Penn State for local talent.

One thing West Virginia does have going for it is the $1.4-million WVU Wrestling Pavilion, one of the country's premier facilities for college wrestling. Henson's biggest tweak there: a bunch of Airdyne bikes.

“They tell me I have a lot of paperwork I need to do,” Henson said, “but I really want to just get it over with so I can get to work.”

Henson generated a few waves Monday when he insisted his staff would all have personal ties, which would theoretically leave associate head coach Greg Jones, a Greensburg Salem graduate and three-time NCAA champion at West Virginia, unemployed.

“I like Greg Jones. Greg Jones is a great man,” Henson said Monday morning. “But I have to go hire the people who I think will help us win.”

According to Jones, Henson contacted him after the press conference Monday, though he declined to reveal the nature of that conversation. Jones, whose contract expires at the end of June, would consider coming back but insists the situation is fluid.

“One the first things he's going to need to do is put together a staff,” Jones said by phone Monday afternoon. “He's probably not in a position right now with everything going on to discuss specifics. We'll sit down and talk in the very near future.

“The direction of the program seems solid. They made a great hire.”

Jason Mackey is a staff writer for Trib Total Media. Reach him at jmackey@tribweb.com or via Twitter @Mackey_Trib.

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