Two-time world champion just checking his options
By Jason Shoot
While most college athletic programs have assistant coaches to help out the head coach, Montana State University-Northern wrestling coach David Ray has worked without one for eight years.
That is rather notable considering Ray has coached the Lights to three NAIA national championships and a fifth-place finish at nationals last year with the help of nothing but graduate assistants.
But a visit to Havre this weekend by a virtual icon in the sport may change the look of Northern's coaching staff and give a boost to a program Ray has already taken to the upper echelon of the NAIA.
Terry Brands, a two-time world champion and bronze medalist in the 2000 Summer Games in Sidney, Australia, at 127 3/4 pounds, is visiting Havre this weekend to possibly join Ray's coaching staff and pursue his master's degree in education at the institution.
"If his wife likes it here and (Northern) has a master's program that fulfills his needs, I'd say it's 90-95 percent that he'll be here," Ray said. "It depends on those two things. He's not leaving (the University of Nebraska) yet, though. He's just checking his options."
If Brands does choose to leave his assistant coaching post at Nebraska in Lincoln, Neb., that would likely convince another national wrestling star to join Ray's staff.
Lee Fullhart, a four-time All-American from the University of Iowa who finished third at the U.S. Olympic Trials in 2000 at 197 pounds, would likely come out and give Ray two assistants, the Lights coach said.
"Budget-wise, I've never been able to pay for assistants," Ray said. "This will be the first time if it works out."
And if it doesn't work out, Ray still has another card he can play. Turk Lords, who went undefeated against all fellow NAIA wrestlers in his four years at Northern en route to four straight national championships at 197, would be welcomed back to join Ray as an assistant.
And though Lords comes across as a relatively quiet person away from the mat, he is all business on it.
"He's a lot more vocal in the corner of the mat," Ray said. "He gets involved in the coaching part."
Should Brands and Fullhart be swayed to join the Northern program, Lords may still return anyhow to train with Fullhart for a run at the 2004 Olympic Games in Athens, Greece.
"It could all snowball for me," Ray said.
Experience is simply the biggest attribute Brands and Fullhart would bring to the program, Ray said.
"This will make the guys in the room so much better," Ray said. "For Emmett Willson (174), Tyson Thivierge (184) and Kyle Fisher (165), it would make them better, and Lee would be able to work with them on technique.
"Terry would work with all the lower and middle weights all the way up to 165. It would be a great improvement for the program and the school."
Ray said he was informed by Brands of his interest in moving to Montana, so he approached Athletic Director Ted Spatkowski and Chancellor Alex Capdeville about perhaps adding an assistant coaching position to his one-man staff.
The idea was welcomed with open arms.
"Alex realized it would help the school," Ray said. "The universities in Missoula and Bozeman don't have this caliber of coaches. It gives good recognition to the college.
"And I need them; I can't do it all myself. I make the media guides, I recruit and I plan for trips all by myself. If I could get this done, it would be a dream."
Another bonus characteristic is that Ray, Brands and Fullhart have all wrestled under arguably the most widely renowned wrestling coach in the history of the sport, Dan Gable.
Gable produced an overall record of 355-21-5 in his 21-year reign atop the Hawkeyes' storied program, and his influence has been passed down to Ray and others.
"When you wrestle for Gable he instills a mentality that nothing can overcome work ethic," Ray said. "If you work hard, you're going to reap the benefits."
Ray has been working hard for eight years transforming the Lights into a perennial powerhouse and has reaped many benefits.
But with the addition of Brands and Fullhart, it's safe to say there's far more reaping to come.