Keeler: New Cyclone wrestling coach Kevin Jackson refuses to come out swinging
By SEAN KEELER ? ? May 1, 2009

Ames, Ia. ? We tried. Honest, we did. We baited. We did everything short of tossing a big slab of bloody meat onto the table. Kevin Jackson would not bite.

?And I?m not going to say anything to get those guys heated,? Iowa State?s new wrestling coach told reporters today when the subject of ?those guys? ? the Iowa Hawkeyes, the two-time defending national champions ? was broached at his introductory news conference. ?It doesn?t take much to get them heated over there. And I?m not going to say too much to get them heated right off the bat.?

Darn it. Darn it. Darn it.

?There?s no need for me to come to a news conference and throw a gauntlet down at anybody,? Jackson would explain later. ?The gauntlet?s been thrown.?

Wait. It has?

?They know what the deal is. Anything else would be bulletin-board material. And I?m serious ? we want to do what they?ve done.?

As Sun Tzu wrote: ?If you know neither yourself nor your enemy, you will always endanger yourself.? Or something like that.

So rather than come out firing at his fiercest rival ? that giant shadow to the east ? Jackson played it cool. Played it smart, really. Confident, funny, and self-effacing, the 44-year-old Jackson flashed more wit and personality in 30 minutes than Cael Sanderson showed in 11 years.

Which is not to take another swipe at Sanderson as he rides off into the sunset ? not at all. Time will tell if things in Ames take a turn for the better or the worse. But at first blush, it certainly was different.

?I?m a little bit more verbal,? said Jackson, who agreed to a four-year contract with a base salary of $125,000 ? plus incentives ? as Sanderson?s replacement. ?A little bit more emotional than Cael ? I?m not going to be like off-the-chain or anything like that. I definitely am louder. My voice carries a little more.?

Of course, in this business, it?s more about what you say than how loudly you can say it. This might be Jackson?s first lap as a college head coach, but it?s hardly his first rodeo.

?He always came up with the right answer, particularly when he was coaching,? said Jim Gibbons, the last Iowa State coach to lead the Cyclones to a national title ? in 1987, on a team that featured Jackson as the captain. ?Sometimes, you wet-nurse these guys and wet-nurse them into placing about two or three places lower than probably what they should (place). His approach was direct ? but always positive, but always hunting for the truth. That?s what good coaches do.?

Fair enough, although how well that translates to an Iowa State team that should return most, if not all, of its roster intact is anybody?s guess.

?Kevin is in a tough situation,? Gibbons continued. ?If he goes out and wins championships next year with this team, they?re always ?Cael?s Guys.? ?

We know he?s a teacher. We know he?s a motivator. We don?t know yet if he?s a program-builder. Nor do we know if he was actually Jamie Pollard?s first choice. A Lincoln Journal Star story Thursday reported that Nebraska wrestling coach Mark Manning had been offered the job and turned it down.

?There (are) a lot of reports on the Internet about a lot of things,? Pollard, the Cyclones? athletic director, replied when asked about Manning. ?I probably feel like you guys feel in the media, that it?s tough to do your job when people can just anonymously say whatever they want to say.?

Not exactly a denial. But whatever. Jackson knows the campus, the state, the culture. The passion.

?I?m impressed with Jamie?s understanding of Cyclone Nation,? the new coach said, ?and understanding that we needed a Cyclone in this program, understanding that there?s a difference between a Cyclone and a Hawkeye.?

Ooh, finally. Here we go.

?And again, I?m not trying ? you guys (might) not want to print that. I don?t want those guys feeling too excited over there.?

Fun fact: Iowa assistant Terry Brands, Tom?s brother, used to work alongside Jackson with USA Wrestling at Colorado Springs. So he knows the family. He knows what buttons to push. Rest assured, he?ll push them soon enough.

At least, we hope.