With the news that Sammie Henson has left the program to take the head coaching position at West Virginia, I wanted to get a sense for what that will mean to the program, but also give our readers a chance to understand a bit more about the dynamics of the wrestling room and what Coach Henson meant to the program. So I exchanged some more e-mails with former Mizzou wrestler Jordan Gagliano
The Beef: So let’s start there. Talk to us about how practices work with the coaching staff. Are the assistants broken out to work with certain weight classes? Where does Coach Smith come into play when it comes to practice?
Jordan Gagliano: Practices work differently throughout the season. In the off-season, it can be a random draw of which coach runs practice, it depends mostly on what area of wrestling we are working. Each coach has a certain specialty that they teach, and certain weight classes that they take charge of. In the pre-season and early part of the wrestling season, we mostly stay together as a team for weight lifting and practices. On a daily basis, one coach will take charge of the drilling and technique, while the other coaches will walk around and assist.
When we get further into the season, our morning practices will often be broken into weight class groups: dividing up the team into lower weights, middle weights, and heavy weights, and one coach will take charge of one specific group. In the afternoon, our whole team will practice together and either do technique and drilling, live wrestling, or a combination of the two.
Our schedules for what areas of competition we practice, be it top wrestling, bottom wrestling, neutral, will depend on where our coaches feel we need to improve the most. Our schedules are always changing in order to keep us focused and challenged. We trust our coaches to push us when we need to, but they also care a lot about us and give us a light day when we need it.
Coach Smith is the rock when it comes to our program. He is at every practice, hosts us at his house for the holidays, and sacrifices a lot of time from his family to be with us instead. He might not always be leading the drills, but practice starts when he says it does. He starts our practice with a talk usually, relating why we are here to some history lesson from his teaching days, and it always seems to bring us to focus. You can stop thinking about everything that went on that day, and all the stuff you have to do after practice, and concentrate on why you are here in the practice room today.
Coach Smith can have a practice set to be nice and easy, rewarding us for our past work, or we can be in for one long, hard practice. The rollercoaster difficulty of a week of practice can be exhausting, but it pushes you to be the best you can be, and it also challenges you to decide if you really want to be on the team. I have been through at least six assistant wrestling coaches while I wrestled at the University of Missouri under Coach Smith, and through all the change I learned that I never had to worry.
I knew Coach Smith would find the best help in the nation to make us a better program, and each time he brought someone new in, we became a better program. I applaud all the coaches that I was able to train under in college, and I always respected their decision to move on. They wanted to be head wrestling coaches, or advance their careers, and we would never stand in their way. In order for new coaches to get opportunities like coming to the University of Missouri, our current assistant coaches have to move on, and we have had a lot of great success with developing the assistant coaches that come through our program.
Coach Henson was with the Tigers since 2012, I believe, so it would appear he was there for at least a portion of your career. What sort of interaction did you have with him over this time? What is the biggest thing he imparted upon you (whether it was on the mat, off of it or something that related to both)?
Coach Henson was hired in the summer of 2012 when I was going into my fourth year of competition. I was gone a lot that summer fulfilling a mandatory internship I had to complete for school, so I didn't meet Coach Henson till right around school was starting up again in August. I probably didn't interact with him for the first month of practices, he really didn't talk to me at all actually.
With Coach Henson, if you want to get attention, you have to earn it. He is a hard nosed, player's coach, and I would say he is one of the best coaches I have had the opportunity to even be around, but he demands the utmost respect for the sport. I had been training all summer with Max Askren, but Henson hadn't seen the work I put in, so I had to start over. In order to get Coach Henson's respect, you have to give it to him, and that means putting in your time in. Once I put in the work, Coach Henson was one of the most loyal, caring, and kind human beings I've ever been around.
Still, you can't say Coach Henson takes it easy on his wrestlers. He really brought an intensity to our room that hadn't been felt in a long time. He really showed our team how to be physical and killer's on the mat, and the lessons he taught us on the mat will not be forgotten. All the stories that he shared with us had a common theme and that was to be the best.
You listen to the stories and advice of a World Champion and Olympian, and the one lesson that will always be in my mind that I learned from Coach Henson was to ask yourself why. Why am I waking up everyday at 6 am for practice? Why am I making weight for a competition? Why am I even here on this team? Everyone has a different answer, and a lot of times people quit the team because they can't answer those questions. My answer was that I wanted to be National Champion. Coach Henson's answer was that he wanted to be a World Champion. The only real difference between him and I was that he wanted it enough to truly make it happen.