AS ONE OF THE YOUNGEST HEAD COACHES IN THE ATHLETIC DEPARTMENT, COLEMAN SCOTT IS LEARNING FROM CAROLINA'S GREATS
by Margaret High
There's something beautiful about the way wrestling serves as a microcosm for the real world.
Grit. Resilience. Strong morals. Strong will.
The real world is tough and it takes staying true to who you are to come out on the other side victorious. Or at least that's what UNC's wrestling head coach Coleman Scott says.
It's part of a common thread among some of Carolina's most storied coaches. Any of the six Hall of Fame coaches with offices in Chapel Hill will immediately start talking about developing their athletes into good human beings, emphasizing being moral people. The athleticism comes naturally. The values are instilled.
While Scott is certainly embracing that emphasis by being in close proximity to the Hall of Famers, it's something that he came to Carolina with.
"God, family, wrestling. In that order," Scott says. He was hired as head coach of the wrestling team at 29 years old. Now, at 32 years old, his program is beginning to show the benefits of his priorities.
Scott comes with a significant wrestling pedigree. The Waynesburg, Pennsylvania native won three state championships and went on to wrestle for Oklahoma State. There he was a four-time All-American and won an individual national championship in 2008.
It was at Oklahoma State where Scott was shaped by legendary wrestling coach John Smith, sharing the same last name and similar status as our beloved Dean.
"He was tough," Scott says. "You had to have thick skin. If I'm being honest, it was a love, hate relationship. But when you get to know him afterwards, he's a really good guy."
After a successful career at Oklahoma State, Scott set his sights on the 2012 London Olympics. Four years after his national championship, Scott qualified as Team USA's 60kg wrestler.
In Colorado Springs, Scott was introduced to USA Wrestling head coach Zeke Jones and assistant coach Bill Zadick.
Zadick says Scott was always a lethal wrestler, known for his powerful double leg takedown. He was a smart wrestler, dependent on technique and critical thinking over exhausting the opponent.
"Coleman just wrestled really intensely and really sharply," Zadick says. "We had the World Cup earlier in that year, and he went undefeated. He became very laser focused. He wasn't going to accept anything less than what he wanted."
As Scott arrived on the floor of the bronze medal match in London, his laser focus was directed on Kenichi Yumoto of Japan. It was a little over three hours after Scott barely lost to the eventual gold medalist, Toghrul Asgarov of Azerbaijan. Two or three more seconds on the clock and Scott could've won.
Physically and emotionally, Scott was drained.
Assistant coach Zadick stood beside the mat, looking at Scott as he got into the starting position to wrestle. It was man-to-man, will against will.
When Scott lost the first round, Zadick stayed calm, telling Scott to focus. Focus.
Zadick's façade broke once Scott pinned Yumoto to the mat in period three and won the bronze medal. Zadick and the rest of the coaching staff quickly embraced a panting Scott. Years of preparations paid off.
Scott, however, isn't really sure where the bronze medal is today. Maybe it's in the closet. The last time he brought it out was probably before Christmas when someone came over for dinner and wanted to take a look. His kids have only seen the medal once or twice.
"It doesn't mean anything," Scott says. "I remember seeing family members after the match. I was doing it for them."
Years of accomplishments barely decorate the walls of his office in Carmichael. A few certificates are hung, but photographs of his family dominate.
Humility. That's a characteristic Coleman Scott has in common with the six Hall of Fame coaches at UNC.
"He's a quality human being," Zadick says, now head coach of USA Wrestling. "I respect his philosophy and his competitive outlook and his information at large."
After the 2012 London Olympics, it was only natural that Scott transitioned into coaching by serving a brief stint at Oklahoma State before coming to Carolina. When Scott was hired by UNC, he was still vying for a spot on the 2016 Olympic team.
"Was it the best move for me competitively?" Scott says. "No. But you don't pass up opportunities to be head coach at a university like Carolina."
Scott remembers at the first head coaches meeting he attended, fencing head coach Ron Miller was being recognized for 50 years of service. Miller's coaching tenure was nearly double Scott's age.
He also was star-struck by Carolina's greatest. Scott grew up playing soccer and had followed women's head coach Anson Dorrance closely. Roy Williams was an obvious icon.
Scott found himself learning from Jenny Levy, UNC women's lacrosse head coach and a future Hall of Famer. Levy became a valuable mentor last year when Zadick invited Scott to coach USA Wrestling women's team.
"Coaching women is different than men," Scott says. "I can't get all up in their face like I can for the guys here."
The basics were the same: develop the athletes and do things the right way. Scott just needed to learn the best strategies for making connections with the women wrestlers and get the most out of them, something Levy knows how to do well with lacrosse.
"Like all of our Hall of Fame coaches, Coleman challenges himself even more than he challenges others," athletic director Bubba Cunningham says. "Coleman was coached and trained by some of the best teachers in the world and through that experience, he learned a lot about what it takes to be a successful coach."
In his fourth year as head coach at UNC, Scott has led the Tar Heels to a top-15 national ranking, something that hasn't been achieved since the ‘90s.
His athletes will say it's because he fosters a family environment, through both incorporating his own family with the team and also through placing the same level of emphasis on each wrestler, starter and nonstarter.
Zadick will say it's because Scott's a good person. He has strong morals and is a positive role model for all the athletes he trains.
Cunningham will say it's because he is a rising star in the profession; that he's committed to taking Carolina's wrestling program to unprecedented heights.
"I think Coleman has learned really well," Zadick says. "Taking the best of what he can draw from all his past coaches into what he already does extremely well, and then being innovative with it."
Redshirt sophomore Josh McClure says one of Scott's greatest strengths is always being a student of the sport. After helping coach USA Wrestling, Scott came back to UNC ready to implement some things he learned and adapting it to their program.
Another signature of Scott: energy on the floor. When any wrestler wearing Carolina blue steps on the mat, Scott is ready to have their back. He's famous for his foot stomping and letting the referees know when a call was questionable.
"Coleman will fight for anything," McClure says. "He wants to win so bad. I don't know if I've ever met anybody who is as competitive as him."
Despite intensely wanting to win, McClure says Scott won't accept anything other than the right way. There's no cheating to win, only winning through strong will.
"He's big on doing things the right way," McClure says. "Like doing things in the community, or cutting weight. If you're going to do it, do it the right way."
Scott's strong moral compass and young age confirmed to redshirt sophomore A.J. Rechenmacher that UNC was the right choice for him. Rechenmacher saw the strong sense of family within the wrestling staff and athletes, something he was looking for in college.
"I think where Coleman is different and has set himself apart is how he's still young and very relevant, but he has a level of maturity that makes him the best of both worlds," Rechenmacher says. "It's as if he has 40 years of coaching crammed into his few years of experience."
The differences between Scott and some of UNC's most successful coaches are few, the biggest being time. However some of the core values found in Dorrance, Levy, Williams, Brown, Fox, Hatchel and Sheldon are reflected in Scott.
The best coaches have a unique ability to understand each athlete so personally that they know how to squeeze the best out of them, Zadick says. He sees that quality in Scott.
"You've always got to be willing to change and adapt," Scott says. "Look at Anson and Jenny. But through that, it's about staying true to who you are and what you're about. It's about not letting your morals slip."
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