Four years ago, Melissa Simmons was coaching at a national team training camp when Olympic bronze medalist Clarissa Chun asked her if she knew of anyone interested in a director of operations position.
“I was an assistant coach at Oklahoma City at the time and honestly had no intention of switching careers,” recalled Simmons, a national champion at OCU. “I jokingly said, ‘If it pays better than OCU then I am!'”
A few days later she received a call from North Carolina State head wrestling coach Pat Popolizio about the director of operations position.
“He talked about his vision, philosophy and goals for the program,” says Simmons. “I was sold immediately.”
Simmons is now entering her fifth season as the director of operations for NC State’s wrestling program. She has played an integral part in the success of the Wolfpack wrestling program.
College wrestling programs across the country are utilizing directors of operations in the ultracompetitive landscape of college wrestling. It’s a position that requires handling many behind-the-scenes duties necessary to operate a wrestling program.
At NC State, Simmons is responsible for all aspects of team travel, monitoring and managing the team’s budget, weekly meetings with athletes, supervising managers/interns/work study students, assisting with official recruiting visits, coordinating team events and more.
“My position basically encompasses the day-to-day logistics of the program,” says Simmons. “Each day is different depending on the time of year, events coming up and needs of the coaches and athletes. Some days I could only be booking travel and meals for trips, others I am meeting with athletes and discussing school, goals and challenges with them.”
Simmons, a native of Ridgefield, Wash., works closely with the coaching staff and spends a lot of time with the team, both in Raleigh (N.C.) and on the road.
“Going on my fifth season, there are only two trips I did not travel on,” says Simmons, who also serves as North Carolina USA Wrestling Women’s Director. “I am there for pretty much anything. My office is in the wrestling room, so I get to watch all the practices, and I’m even there doing my own cardio most mornings at 6 a.m. while the guys have their preseason workouts and lifts during the season.”
The amount of time a director of operations devotes to specific tasks is often times dependent on the time of year.
“In the late summer and early fall I spend most of my time planning travel for the season, as well as communicating with parents and making sure the athletes have all their beginning of the year tasks and forms completed,” says Simmons. “During the season a lot of time is spent actually traveling, planning the Wolfpack Open and home duals. And every day a lot of time is spent being in constant communication with the athletics department staff, coaching staff and student athletes to make sure we are all still focused on the common goals.”
Jordan Kingsley is another former wrestler working as a director of operations in a Division I wrestling program. Kingsley, who wrestled at 125 pounds and 133 pounds for Minnesota from 2011 until 2016, was approached by the Gopher wrestling coaching staff about the director of operations position during his senior season.
“They wanted me to apply because they thought I would be a good candidate for it,” said Kingsley. “I ended up applying because I love the sport of wrestling and wasn’t ready to leave it. I always liked the coaching staff at Minnesota and thought this would be a great opportunity to help give back for giving me a chance to wrestle on the team for five years.”
Kingsley, a state champion from Apple Valley (Minn.), was hired as Minnesota’s director of operations for the 2016-17 season. Like Simmons, Kingsley handles many behind-the-scenes responsibilities and plays a key role in his program’s success. In addition to coordinating travel, he works closely with the school’s business office on creating and staying within a fiscal year budget, along with submitting expense reports. Some of his other duties include videotaping, uploading video to MatBoss, arranging recruiting trips, submitting compliance forms, scheduling, and a lot of fundraising.
“I help fundraise for both the University of Minnesota and Gopher Wrestling Club,” says Kingsley. “I run events such as the Minnesota Christmas Tournament, Coaches Clinic, Golf Tournament, and assist with the Gala and banquet.”
So what does Kingsley enjoy most about the position?
“I would say just being around wrestling 24/7. It has always been my favorite sport ever since I was little and has given me so many opportunities in my life. The biggest satisfaction is probably the fact that I feel like I’m giving back. I get to help 40 some wrestlers live the dream of wrestling at Minnesota.”
Like most positions, the director of operations position has its challenges.
“One of the biggest challenges is you never really have a day off,” says Kingsley. “No matter what time of the year it is we always have something going on. Whether we are fundraising, recruiting, competing, there is never really any down time. It’s similar to any other profession though that wants to be on top. We want to get back to the top and that is what it’s going to take.”
While Simmons admits there are challenges that come with the position, she says that she never feels like she has to tackle a challenge alone.
“There are so many moving components with a Division I college program, so there are challenges that come with that,” says Simmons. “But the staff is very supportive of each other and communicates very well, so I never feel like I am taking on a challenge by myself. The staff is always there to help.”
While being a former wrestler is not a requirement for the position, both Simmons and Kingsley believe it helps.
“Being a former wrestler and coach helps me because I understand things from their perspective,” says Simmons. “While booking travel, I take into consideration things like some of the athletes are cutting weight, so some flight plans may be less expensive, but a three-hour layover is miserable for the athletes. I also understand that the last thing a coach wants to worry about in the middle of an event or travel are things such as catering needs, hotel and transportation issues. It’s always my goal that for competitions and such the coaches only have to worry about coaching. Everything else I have under control.”
Kingsley, who is only two years removed from his days as a college wrestler, has built relationships with several members of the team, as well as the coaches. He uses his own experiences as a wrestler at Minnesota to both relate to the team and make improvements.
“I wrestled for the team for five years, so I knew a lot of the ins and outs of the program, and what worked and didn’t while I was on the team,” says Kingsley. “As the director of operations, I can now help fix many of the problems that I saw while I was on the team and help to push things in the right direction. I also feel like a lot of the guys on the team have no problem coming to me if they need something since I was on the team with many of them. This helps in communication and only makes us a stronger team and family.”