The new face of Fresno State wrestling has a misshapen nose, cauliflower ears, hooded eyelids and a square jaw.
The new voice of Fresno State speaks with a clipped, smoldering intensity.
The new defining character traits of Fresno State wrestling are toughness, diligence, passion and selflessness.
“When (wrestlers) leave this program, (they’ll) know how to compete and how to work,” Troy Steiner said during his introductory news conference as the Bulldogs’ wrestling coach. “Because those are things they’ll have to do for the rest of their lives.”
The return of Fresno State wrestling is no longer a hope, a pledge or a timeline.
It now has a face, a voice and a philosophy.
People always say it takes a village to help raise a child, but it’s going to take a valley, this Valley, to bring home a championship.
Fresno State wrestling coach Troy Steiner
I suspect many of the dozens who packed the Save Mart Center podium room Thursday afternoon did so just to make certain.
When Fresno State President Joseph Castro stepped to the microphone and bellowed “Bulldog wrestling is back!” his words rang loud and clear in everyone’s ears.
Those in attendance included former coach Dennis DeLiddo, who raised his arm in triumph when recognized by athletic director Jim Bartko and later presented Steiner with a Bulldogs singlet he’d “kept in the trunk” since the program was disbanded in 2006.
They included Stephen Abas, the most decorated wrestler in program history; members of the Zinkin family who are helping foot the bill for the program’s return; and perhaps most crucially, several top high school coaches and athletes.
Steve Tirapelle, coach of the seven-time state champion Clovis High Cougars, was there. (Steiner made an introductory phone call almost as soon as he got the job.) So was son Troy Tirapelle, whose Buchanan Bears ended Clovis’ five-year run in March. And so were several top Clovis wrestlers, including Justin Mejia and Seth Nevills, individual state champs as a junior and sophomore, respectively.
Steiner did not fail to notice.
“People always say it takes a village to help raise a child,” he said from the podium, “but it’s going to take a valley, this Valley, to bring home a championship.”
That’s really what it boils down to, doesn’t it?
For the past decade, it has been pretty easy to rake Fresno State over the coals. How could the largest university in California’s wrestling hotbed drop its program?
Bulldog wrestling is back!
Fresno State President Joseph Castro
Castro, as he reiterated Thursday, heard the outcry. He listened. He got the ball rolling on this, and once that mass started gaining steam, there was no stopping the momentum. Nevermind the financial strain that two additional sports (don’t forget women’s water polo) places on Bartko and his Merry Band of Fundraisers.
Now it’s time for those who yelled the loudest, who demanded the program’s return with the most indignation, to lend more than just their lungs.
If that happens, you can have every confidence Steiner will take care of the rest. Which, of course, begins with recruiting the best athletes only a few miles from campus.
“He knows this Valley is rich in wrestling talent,” Steve Tirapelle said. “And I’d bet 80 to 85 percent of it would stay here if there was a good program where they know they can be successful.”
Can Steiner sway much of that local talent to stay home instead of going off to big-name programs in the Midwest and East Coast?
Twin brother Terry Steiner believes so, while cautioning it will take time to establish relationships and trust.
When he sits down in the living room across from (recruits), they’re going to know who they’re talking to.
Terry Steiner, U.S. National Women’s Team coach, on his brother Troy
“For anyone to say no to a Oklahoma State, a Penn State or Iowa and yes to a Fresno State, there’s got to be something to sink your hands into,” said Terry Steiner, who coaches the U.S. Women’s National Team.
“They’re going to have to know Troy Steiner. Believe me, when he sits down in the living room across from (recruits), they’re going to know who they’re talking to.”
Fresno State had 29 applicants for the wrestling coach position, winnowed down to five finalists. Steiner, according to two search committee members, was the clear No. 1 choice.
The native of Bismark, N.D., has an impeccable pedigree (four-time All-American at Iowa under legendary coach Dan Gable), résumé (20 years as a Division I assistant, the last 10 at West Coast powerhouse Oregon State) and reputation in the wrestling community.
It’s difficult to see how Fresno State could’ve made a better hire.
“You can tell, in one conversation with Troy, what he’s all about,” committee member and former Bulldog All-American Nick Zinkin said.
What Steiner is clearly all about is wrestling – and his family.
According to his twin brother, Troy has turned down multiple offers to become a Division I head coach. Why? Either because he didn’t think those jobs gave him a chance to succeed on a national level, or they weren’t the right fit for his wife, Shawn, a physical therapist who specializes in sports medicine, and their two children.
Steiner admitted he wasn’t entirely certain about Fresno State, either. At least not at first. It took a weekend job interview to convince him to leave Oregon State, where he was perfectly content.
In the end, the allure of jump-starting a dormant program in a wrestling-rich community proved too much to pass up.
“That’s what intrigued me most about this opportunity,” Steiner said. “It’s going to have my stamp on the whole thing.”
Fresno State wrestling is no longer a hope, a pledge or a timeline.
It now has a face, a voice and, at long last, a structure.