Catching Up With... Greg Strobel
April 8, 2013
Catching Up With… Greg Strobel (1971-74; 190 lbs.)
Legendary OSU wrestler and three-time All-American Greg Strobel competed for legendary OSU head coach Dale Thomas from 1971-74, winning two-national championships and a total of 124 career wins, including 75 straight during undefeated junior and senior seasons.* After stints coaching under Thomas as a graduate assistant and full-time assistant coach, Strobel took over the Lehigh wrestling program in 1995, where he would guide the Mountain Hawks to 189 dual victories over 13 seasons, while seeing two of his wrestlers go onto win National Championships and 30 become All-Americans. Once he left the Lehigh bench following the 2007-08 season, Strobel accepted a position working in the Lehigh athletic department as the Assistant Athletic Director for Camps and External Affairs. OSUBeavers.com recently sat down with the former Beaver standout, while OSU battled Lehigh on the mats in Bethlehem to discuss his time in Corvallis and his work in the Mountain Hawk athletic department since.
How has the transition been thus far going from coach to administrator?
“It’s been a good transition and fortunately one that I had been planning. I think a lot of coaches don’t even think about it when they first start coaching, and I first started coaching as a grad assistant at Oregon State back in 1975. That is when I really first started doing it a little bit and then my first head coaching job was down at Roseburg (High School) in ’77. So for a long time I was really all over the United States and then maybe 10-12 years ago I started thinking that coaching wrestling is a bit of a young man’s game, more so than other sports because it is so hands on. You are out there, showing moves and all that kind of stuff, so I figured that if I was closing in on 50 plus, it’s probably time to start thinking about getting out.
I had already planted some seeds with administration here (at Lehigh) in terms of what I wanted to do next, because frankly I am too young to retire, I like working and I really like working in the athletic department. The transition was an interesting one because I didn’t realize how extensive the administration of an athletic department is. For me administration of the wrestling program at least came easy for me and it was the easiest part of my job as a wrestling coach. Making the transition, I was overwhelmed by the volume and variety of work but then once I got the job down, I would go to the AD and say, ‘Hey I got this part down, what else do you want me to do?’ So I have taken on more responsibility over the last several years of this job and it has really been fun. I enjoy going to work every day, I get to work with all of the coaches because I run our camp programs here, so it gives me an opportunity to interact with the coaches, the assistant coaches and athletes on a daily basis.”
What was it like for you this past January to have your two worlds collide, when Oregon State traveled to Bethlehem to take on Lehigh in a regular season dual meet?
“It was really fun and in a way a culmination of a lot of years of involvement with both institutions. *Going to Oregon State, wrestling at Oregon State and then when I got the job at Lehigh in 1995, one of the first things I did was schedule a dual meet with Oregon State at Gill Coliseum. It was my first year coaching here at Lehigh and I thought it would be pretty cool to go back and wrestle at Oregon State but I felt like coaching them because I related to Oregon State more than I did my team. Anyway, Oregon State ended up shutting us out and it was really a painful one for me as a coach. The team didn’t know how I’d react to that, so I went back into the locker room after that and the team was nervous because they didn’t know how I’d react, being a new coach. I said to them, ‘Well if this is the worst thing that ever happens to you in your life than consider yourself lucky.We got back at them though the very next year, we invited Oregon State out here (to Bethlehem) and we beat Oregon State here, so that was pretty cool to see the team come along that well. Then we wrestled Oregon State again in Hawaii in 2004 and that was really quite a trip because we had talked with Oregon State about going out and wrestling them and Oregon. The guys on the team thought it was the best trip they ever had. Then of course, just this past winter (2013), Oregon State had a heck of a team and came in here (to Leeman-Turner Arena in Bethlehem).* I actually thought we wrestled well but obviously we got beat here by Oregon State (20-14). Of course people were asking me, ‘Where is your loyalty?’, so I said, ‘Well I have been at Lehigh now for about 18 years, so I guess I’m pretty much Brown and White. I obviously really enjoy following Oregon State and the Orange and Black, but my wife wore a shade of orange to the match, which I thought was kind of funny. They took me totally by surprise though on this plaque that they presented. I guess Pat (Santoro) and Jim (Zalesky) got this idea way back at the start of the season. They contacted my daughter who had all this memorabilia left over from my mom that I had never seen since my college days, so as a retired coach it was really neat to be honored like that.”
As an Oregon native, what initially led you to Lehigh to become their head coach?
“The way it all worked out was that I coached at Roseburg, then I coached for Dale Thomas at Oregon State and he wanted to keep on coaching until he was 70 and I didn’t want to be an assistant for nine years, so Steve Combs, who was the executive director for USA Wrestling contacted me about becoming the National Teams Director. So I took a leap of faith and went to work for USA Wrestling where I was also the national coach. Really, that is where I developed some administrative skills too because I was in charge of a big program that had a 2.5 million dollar budget back then. My whole intent, way back in 1983 was only to do this for about five years and get the experience necessary to become a head coach somewhere. The problem is that head coaching jobs just don’t come up very often and especially the right ones. I looked at several different ones, but they just didn’t seem right to me and so I ended up working for USA Wrestling for a total of eight years and then I worked at Foxcatcher (Freestyle Wrestling) for four.
The reason I got the Lehigh job frankly is because I was living in Pennsylvania, coaching an Olympic level club down by Philly and one of the Lehigh alums that I knew very well, named Mark Lieberman, came to the NCAA Tournament in 1995 and said, ‘Hey have you ever thought about getting back into college coaching?’ So I said, ‘Well that’s what I have been training for my whole life.’ So he told me that they had an opening at Lehigh and that he wanted to get my resume up there. So I sent it up (to Bethlehem) and a week later I was hired, which was really quite amazing because way back in the 70’s I followed Lehigh because Dale Thomas was very good friends with Jerry Leeman, who was the coach here at Lehigh. So we came back (to Bethlehem) and wrestled Lehigh, I wrestled in the All-Star meet here in 1973 and I thought it was one of the neatest places I ever wrestled, was in Grace Hall. So I had been following Lehigh since the 70’s and then when Mark came to me and said, ‘We are looking for someone’, it was the chance of a lifetime because it was a coaching job at a really good wrestling school.”
You had an amazing career at Oregon State, a two-time National Champion, going undefeated your junior and senior years and ranking second all-time in program history in winning percentage, only losing five matches in your career, what do you attribute your success to?
“My freshman year (1970-71), I hit the ground running and had what would be considered a really good year, I only lost two bouts, one at the conference tournament and one a Nationals. My sophomore year, I went into what I’d call a slump. I lost five bouts, but I was an All-American and I did win the conference but I was just inconsistent. Then Dale Thomas organized this cultural exchange trip to South Africa, but I had hurt my shoulder and he wasn’t going to take me. So I said, ‘Look I’ll be ready by the second half of the trip, please let me go.’ It was a five week trip to South Africa, so first the first half of the trip I sat on the bench next to Dale and listened to him coach. I watched our guys win and I watched our guys lose and in almost every case, it wasn’t because they weren’t as good as the other guy or couldn’t have won the match. It was because I saw little nuances when people would win a match because they were in the right place at the right time and did the right thing and I would see them lose a match because they did something stupid. I came back from that and I don’t know what it was but I came back with a different attitude and I didn’t lose another match for two years.”
Did you feel any pressure while the two-year win streak (at 75 matches) went on or wondered when that firs loss would come?
“There are a couple things there that come to mind. My junior year, even though I didn’t lose a match, here in the All-Star meet at Lehigh, I was wrestling the second best guy in the nation and he threw me to my back for five points in the first opening seconds of the bout, I escaped and then he threw me for four more. So I was down 9-1, 30 seconds into the match but I came back and beat him. Then in the NCAA finals that year, I got thrown to my back and almost pinned and was down 5-0, but then came back and beat that guy to win the Nationals, so I had some close matches and comeback wins my junior year but I won all my matches.* The reason I won all those matches in my mind wasn’t because I was a better wrestler, I found a way to win and found a way to make the other guy lose.
My senior year I didn’t really have a close matches and I think I only got taken down once or twice all year. I made a lot of improvements my senior year, so that is one part of it. The other part of it was that I had this win streak going and how did it play on me? Well I went through a time period when I was like, ‘Oh, when am I going to lose now? When is that next loss going to be?’, because I had not lost in a long time. So I flipped that thinking one day when I said to myself, ‘Wait a minute, who cares? If somebody is going to beat me, that means they are going to have to be awfully good, so when it happens it happens, but I can’t be thinking about how many I have won in a row.’ So I stopped keeping track of that and when I beat Jess Lewis’ record for most wins, that was a surprise to me how many there were. I didn’t count them until they posted it, and I thought, ‘Really? Okay’, and then I tried to keep that totally out of my mind. Every match was my next match and I had to do my best to win it and that was it. That makes a difference and frankly when you go through that experience, then you take that with you to your coaching. I had guys with win streaks and they’d get nervous about it, so I’d try and get those nerves out of there because if you’re nervous it is not going to work. You have to be relaxed, confident and go out there and have fun.”
What do you say to Lehigh athletes, fans and alumni about Oregon State when they ask about the University and the wrestling program?
“Wrestling program wise it is all because of Dale Thomas who got that thing going. He already was the father of wrestling on the west coast, really much like Billy Sheridan was the father of wrestling here at Lehigh and in Pennsylvania on the east coast. Oregon State has had a tremendous track record of producing All-Americans, National Champions, Olympians, all of those kind of things, so the history is really impressive. Of course I am really happy now with the job that Jim (Zalesky) is doing, bringing them back and the future looks bright for Oregon State. When I talk to people about the state of Oregon, I say, ‘In the winter in rains quite a bit but the summers and gorgeous.’”
How often do you make it back to Corvallis?
“I went out there two years ago but this last year I didn’t make it out at all. My wife was just out in Oregon in March. She went out for her dad’s birthday. Her dad lives out in Keizer, Ore., and she wasn’t going out for Nationals (in Des Moines, Iowa), so I said, ‘Why stay home in a cold house for a week when I am gone? Why don’t you go out to Oregon?’ So she flew out there, spent 10 days in Oregon and had a great time. I still have a brother and a sister that live in Oregon so we are all over the place. It’s obviously a long ways to go and I would have to have a good reason to go out but what I would love to do is come out for one of those IOC things again that the wrestling guys do. I think it’s just a fun thing and I did go to it one time when they inducted me. Every year I get pictures and all that kind of stuff and think about that because it’s in May and it is a great event, so I’d love to be there. I’ll look ahead sometime and come out to that again.”
Greg Strobel's Lehigh Bio: http://www.lehighsports.com/staffdir...affMemberId=63