Joel Greenlee's head coaching tenure at Ohio University has spanned four decades. He took over as the program's interim head coach in 1998 before being named the full-time head coach in 1999. He has coached a national champion and a dozen All-Americans during his time as Ohio University's head wrestling coach. The Bobcats have started this season by winning two of its first three dual meets. Ohio University will conclude the calendar year by comping at the Midlands Wrestling Championships Dec. 29-30 in Hoffman Estates, Ill.
MatBoss caught up with Greenlee and talked to him about the Bobcats, Hunter Stieber, MAC, Bruce Baumgartner and more.
NCAA qualifier Alec Hagan has gotten off to a strong start. Thoughts on the way he's competing?
Greenlee: He's just hungry to compete. He had an injury last year. He wasn't allowed to even practice for the most part all year long. So he's just hungry to compete. He got on a roll at the end of his sophomore year and qualified for the nationals. He was doing really well … and that kind of was taken away from him with the injury. He's just hungry to get better every day. He's doing everything we have asked of him. I think you can see him getting better by leaps and bounds.
Gio DiSabato won the Ohio Intercollegiate Open title earlier this season. Really kind of dominated with three of his four wins coming by bonus. What kind of season do you expect him to have?
Greenlee: I think winning that open tournament was probably one of the most important things that could happen to him and his career. I've thought since day one on campus that he's been good and one of those guys that could be a podium type of guy. But he's always tried to cut to 125, or things didn't go right. He just lacks a little bit of confidence. I think winning that open tournament gave him some confidence. You can kind of see it in his work ethic every day. We expect big things out of him this year.
You added Hunter Stieber to your staff in September. Obviously, a wrestling great in the state of Ohio. What does he bring to your program?
Greenlee: A lot. He brings a little different outlook because he was at Ohio State and Oklahoma. He brings name recognition for recruiting. He brings some excitement. He's been there and not too long ago. He looks at wrestling in a real positive light and tries to convey that to our guys. Sometimes when you're training hard and you're working out twice a day, you forget about the fun parts about it. You forget about how much you're really doing. He brings up all the positive things about doing what you're doing.
Ohio University is hosting the MAC Championships. How important is that? Do you think it gives your wrestlers a little bit of an advantage?
Greenlee: I think it's exciting to have it at home. Obviously you always want to do well when it's at home. I think it gives you a little bit of advantage from the standpoint of the bulk of your matches or the bulk of your time spent cutting weight and preparing and all that is at home. So you don't have to worry about going to a hotel or what the weight cutting facilities are going to be like or the time you can get into the room or not get into the room. All that kind of stuff
Your program finished with the 11th highest GPA in Division I wrestling this past season. How much pride do you take in the academic success?
Greenlee: A lot. I think that's super important. We expect guys to do what they're capable of. I don't expect every guy to get a 4.0 or a 3.0, but if you're capable of 4.0 that's what I want you to get. If you're capable of 2.5 that's what I want you to get. I think that makes us stand out a little bit on campus.
Obviously, Missouri left the conference and returned to the Big 12. It feels like there is a lot of parity within the conference. Thoughts on the MAC for wrestling?
Greenlee: I really like it. I think it's competitive. You have a lot of up-and-coming teams. I think we're getting better every day. Cleveland State, Rider, Clarion, Buffalo, obviously Central Michigan's been good for a long time, Northern Illinois. I'm sure I'm leaving somebody out. I don't mean to. But I think all those teams are getting better and better. It's an exciting conference to wrestle in. There's a lot of competitive dual meets. I hate to see Missouri go, but at the same time I think it gives everybody belief they can win the conference when maybe they didn't have that before.
Your nephew Gabe Greenlee is wrestling at Iowa State. How is he doing? And what kind of future do you think he has?
Greenlee: My understanding is he's doing really well. He's one of those guys that loves to wrestle and has worked hard for it. His first couple years of high school he was a tall, skinny kid wrestling some guys that were grown men. He just wasn't there maturity-wise yet. But I think he's starting to get there now. He's doing really well wrestling-wise. I personally think he's going to be a stud by the time his career is over.
Obviously, you had a tremendous career as a competitor. You had several battles with Bruce Baumgartner. A lot of people know his accomplishments, but as someone who competed against him, what made Bruce so tough?
Greenlee: Bruce had an unbelievably good work ethic. He didn't get so tied up in what he was supposed to do to be good. He was an unbelievably hard worker. I worked out with him a ton, spent time in his house, summers at his house, training with him, getting ready for the Olympics and all that stuff, so I really saw that firsthand. He knew his body and would listen to his body. Some people just ignore it. He knew when he needed a day off. He knew when he needed to back off training. He knew when he needed to ramp it up and all that stuff and he did it.
I've heard you say that you enjoy work as one of your hobbies. It seems like you kind of recruit wrestlers who like to work as well. Maybe weren't the huge blue chips but they just work hard. Where and how did you develop your strong work ethic?
Greenlee: I was basically brought up with it. My parents instilled a work ethic in me. They said if you want anything in life you're going to have to work for it. I'm not a guy that likes to sit around. I don't like to watch television. I enjoy sports, but it drives me crazy to sit around and watch a football game, baseball game or whatever it might be. I like to be outdoors. So I would rather go outside and work than sit inside and watch television or do nothing. We grew up working on farms. It didn't matter if you got home from practice and you were tired or whatever, you still had things to do that had to get done. I quickly found out in college that I wasn't good enough, strong enough, any of those things, to have a lot of success. So if I wanted to be good, I was going to have to work hard for it and that's what I did.
Obviously, you've been at Ohio for 24 years. How different was recruiting when you first started to recruiting now?
Greenlee: Light years. It would be hard to explain. There are things that are good about it now and things that are not as good now. Obviously, there was only one signing period when I first started. That was the April period. So nobody was signing early. Like hardly anybody committed early. If it was early, it was a week, two weeks or a month early. It wasn't your junior year like it is now. Also, there is much more information available … results, media, film. You can google a kid's name now and find a free video of him easily. We didn't have email. We didn't have cell phones. We didn't really have the internet for some of that stuff. It was a completely different world. When I first started recruiting, you called the home phone. Nobody had cell phones. So you got a chance to talk to mom, dad or whoever answered the phone. Now they all have cell phones and personal emails. So you don't get the opportunity as much to talk to mom and dad. I think there's a lot of valuable information that you can kind of gather through that. You can win over mom and dad a lot of times. That helps you get a kid to commit. Recruiting is getting earlier and earlier. I'm not sure I'm a huge fan of that.
What are your expectations for this year's team? What are they capable of?
Greenlee: I think we're capable of winning a MAC championship. I really do. We had a terrible year last year, which I'll admit. I think a lot of it had to do with COVID. Some of it had to do with injuries. It was a strange year all around. I thought we had a good team last year too. But I think this year right now we're having some success. Guys are having fun. Guys are enjoying it. They've got their goals set. They realize how good they really can be. I think we should compete for that MAC championship. We should have guys go to the national tournament. I think we have guys that are capable of getting on the podium at the national tournament.