Snyder: Oklahoma State's hiring of David Taylor could lead to a seismic shift in NCAA wrestling  (2024)

STATE COLLEGE, Pa. — David Taylor smiled last month when the Olympic gold medalist and three-time world champion was asked if he hoped to one day become a college wrestling coach.

“Are you trying to make me move on?” the 33-year-old Taylor said with a laugh.

Known and beloved in Happy Valley, the Magic Man, who twice became an NCAA champion and claimed two Hodge Trophies during his illustrious career at Penn State, is indeed taking on another challenge. Just weeks ago, Taylor’s bid to defend Olympic gold this summer in Paris was dashed by Penn State’s four-time NCAA champion Aaron Brooks. Now, he will take on one of the most coveted head coaching jobs in the country.

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Late Monday night, Oklahoma State announced that Taylor will become the school’s next head wrestling coach. Taylor takes control of a Cowboys program that for the last 33 years was led by legendary coach John Smith. Oklahoma State had dizzying success under Smith, winning five NCAA team titles and churning out 33 individual NCAA champions and 153 All-America honorees.

It’s a tough act to follow, but it’s also the kind of coaching change that could prove to be monumental for the sport — similar to when Penn State hired Cael Sanderson away from Iowa State in 2009.

Oklahoma State is bringing in one of the top wrestlers in the world who has succeeded as an athlete at every level. While Taylor has never been a collegiate coach before, he is the wrestler who many of the athletes he’ll soon be recruiting have watched and studied. Like Sanderson was for Taylor, these recruits saw Taylor win Olympic gold in Tokyo and watched as he became in many ways the current face of the sport.

Welcome to Stillwater, Head Coach David Taylor. Let’s make some magic!#GoPokes pic.twitter.com/PEFPkuRzRL

— OSU Cowboy Wrestling (@CowboyWrestling) May 7, 2024

Taylor’s hire should make things a tad more tense around here as Sanderson’s wrestling protege — who as a coveted recruit followed Sanderson from Iowa State to Penn State — will now have the chance as a coach to showcase some of what he’s learned and observed after spending the last decade and a half in State College.

While no school appears poised to dethrone the Penn State wrestling dynasty anytime soon — the Nittany Lions have won 11 of the past 13 NCAA team titles — Oklahoma State has the program DNA to win big.

And Taylor has seen firsthand Sanderson’s blueprint for success.

“I see what college coaches do. I see what our coaches have to do to be competitive at the highest level and it’s more than a full-time job,” Taylor said last month.

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At the time he said he envisioned staying in State College whenever his career was finished and continuing to help wrestlers at his local training center. “It’s a significant commitment. Obviously, I look at the coaches every single day and I thank them for everything they do for so many people.”

Taylor is uniquely positioned to succeed at the highest level. He’s been around some of the sport’s top coaches, and he has valuable experience working with elite high schoolers who have flocked to his M2 Training Center near State College. That facility is a testament to just how many high-level wrestlers in this talent-rich area and beyond are eager to learn from him.

Penn State’s Levi Haines, the 2024 157-pound NCAA champion, was once one of those bright-eyed wrestlers whose dad regularly drove him two-plus hours starting in eighth grade so he could learn technique and strategy from Taylor. Penn State wrestler Tyler Kasak and current Nittany Lions commit Zack Ryder both have long-standing relationships with Taylor thanks to his training center.

Part of what made Taylor successful in that coaching role — one that also benefited Penn State as some wrestlers elected to spend their senior year of high school taking classes online while training with Taylor — was how relatable he was. The momentary shock and intimidation of being around one of the best wrestlers in the world quickly faded as Haines and others said Taylor became someone they felt like they knew forever. He became a friend.

“I’m forever indebted to Dave,” Haines said last month.

How Taylor goes about rounding out his first coaching staff and whether or not there are any familiar faces from inside Penn State’s wrestling room will get sorted out in the coming weeks. How he builds his program and how much of Sanderson’s influence carries over to Stillwater will undoubtedly garner interest around the sport.

Taylor knows what it takes to build a powerhouse program, and as he has seen firsthand from his mentor, a world-class athlete’s pivot into coaching can sometimes lead to a different kind of domination.

(Photo: Maddie Meyer/ Getty Images)

Snyder: Oklahoma State's hiring of David Taylor could lead to a seismic shift in NCAA wrestling (1)Snyder: Oklahoma State's hiring of David Taylor could lead to a seismic shift in NCAA wrestling (2)

Audrey Snyder has covered Penn State since 2012 for various outlets, including The Pittsburgh Post-Gazette, The Patriot-News and DKPittsburghSports. Snyder is an active member of the Association for Women in Sports Media (AWSM) and is the professional adviser for Penn State’s student chapter. Follow Audrey on Twitter @audsnyder4

Snyder: Oklahoma State's hiring of David Taylor could lead to a seismic shift in NCAA wrestling  (2024)

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