The Navy Wrestling program began a new era on March 20th, 2020. That was the day Chet Gladchuk announced Cary Kolat as the new head wrestling coach. Kolat had spent the previous six years as the coach at Campbell University.
When I first read the news, it didn’t come as a complete surprise. But it wasn’t because the program had hit rock bottom. So before we start talking about why Coach Kolat is such a great fit, here’s a little history on the team to provide some context.
The Navy Wrestling Backstory
There can’t be any hard core collegiate wrestling fans out there who don’t know the names Ed Peery and Bruce Burnett. They are both in the National Wrestling Hall of Fame. And the Naval Academy was truly fortunate to have these two legends lead the Navy Wrestling program for a combined 40 years.
Ed Peery was synonymous with the Navy Wrestling program for 27 years. He took over in 1961 and retired in 1987. Sadly, he passed away in 2010 at the age of 75. Coach Peery is Navy’s all-time winningest coach, going 311-90-14, including a 22-2-3 record against Army.
Bruce Burnett arrived in Annapolis in 2001. According to him, he initially viewed the coaching position as a five to seven year commitment. It turns out he stuck around for 13. During that time as the Navy Wrestling coach, Burnett rung up a 113-57 dual match record and never once tasted defeat against Army, going a perfect 13-0.
Coach Burnett retired in 2013. His former assistant Joel Sharratt took over the following year after doing a remarkable job rebuilding Air Force’s wrestling program from 2007-2014. Coach Sharrat’s record at Navy, including this past pandemic-shortened season, was 43-24. And he owned a 1-5 mark against Army.
Do me a favor before you continue. Go back and read the last sentence in each of the previous three paragraphs. That will give you a clue as to one of the reasons why Chet Gladchuk felt it was time to make a change.
Shifting Winds . . .
Look, I’ll be honest and tell you straight up that I don’t have a direct line to the Navy Athletic Director. So there very well could have been other factors in play here. But I am a huge fan of all Navy Sports, and there’s one indisputable truth . . .
Whether we’re talking about football, wrestling, or checkers, a Navy coach’s record against Army is always front and center. The Mids own a 49-10-5 overall record against the Black Knights in wrestling. And they sang second a combined 35 times under Peery and Burnett.
But that wasn’t the most impressive part. Under Coach Burnett, Navy’s wrestlers simply dominated Army. The average score during that 13 match winning streak was a ridiculous 25-8.
Army finally broke that streak against the Mids in Coach Sharratt’s first year. Navy bounced back in 2016, but since then, they have dropped four consecutive matches to the Black Knights.
So as a fan, I’m wondering what is going on. Here is an otherwise excellent coach with a strong overall record, but half of Navy’s losses to Army in wrestling have occurred on his watch.
Like I said, there may have been more going on here than we all know about. But at the end of the day, having a 1-5 record against our arch rivals when previous coaches had beaten them over 84% of the time proved to be too tough to ignore.
. . . And The Resulting Course Correction
Gladchuk decided on the coaching change shortly after all spring sports were canceled. It only took him a week to find his man. Cary Kolat had just completed his sixth year at Campbell University, and during that time, he had turned the Camels into a wrestling powerhouse
In the five years prior to Kolat’s arrival, the Campbell wrestling program had an abysmal 28-63 record. And in just his third year, the Camels won their first ever conference championship. They followed that one up with back to back Southern Conference titles in 2019 & 2020, going 36-17 during that four year stretch.
I could practically feel Chet Gladchuk’s enthusiasm as I read the press release announcing Coach Kolat’s hiring. So that really piqued my curiosity. I decided to learn more about him, especially when it came to his coaching philosophy.
The Search Begins
It didn’t take me very long at all to find the information I wanted. I just went to YouTube and typed “Cary Kolat’s Coaching Philosophy” into the search bar. That gave me my first glimpse into how much influence Coach Kolat has across the entire wrestling community.
For starters, he’s had a YouTube channel since 2007 with over 163,000 subscribers where he provides a wide range of wrestling advice. I also spent a couple hours watching video from his channel, including some of his collegiate and World Cup matches. Kolat was as about as intense a competitor as you will ever see.
But I was more interested in identifying a some things that made him a particularly good choice to lead the Navy Wrestling program. The videos that really give you a true sense of Coach Kolat are part a series entitled Cary Kolat’s Wrestling Philosophy. And there were three topics that gave me the impression he’s the guy to get things back on the right trajectory at Navy.
Coaches discuss mental toughness all the time. But I haven’t seen anyone break it down with such clarity as Coach Kolat did when he related his story of his visit to a weight room in Cuba. His take on mental toughness was one of the best I’ve ever heard.
Kolat spoke about the Cubans having a culture of finding a way to win no matter what. They don’t have the fancy training facilities by any stretch of the imagination. Yet they consistently put together some of the best wrestling teams in the world.
Coach Kolat stated that the Cubans don’t have an “I need this to succeed” mindset. It’s all about getting the job done. I bring this up because of something Bill Wagner wrote in the Annapolis Capital Gazette when he broke the news that Coach Sharratt would not be returning as the Navy Wrestling coach.
At one point, Wagner asked Sharratt for his thoughts on what could account for Army’s current four match winning streak. The coach responded by saying “if you put twice the number of (wrestlers) in the prep school, it’s going to pay off down the line.”
Now, based on what I’ve read about him so far, I’m 100% certain that you’d never hear an answer like that come out of Cary Kolat’s mouth. He would see that issue as a challenge rather than an obstacle. So I think he’s going to be great at strengthening this mindset and taking the team’s mental toughness to a whole new level.
Comparing To The Best
Another difference between being a good wrestler and a championship wrestler is your frame of reference when analyzing your skills. And Coach Kolat shared a very interesting story that was the difference in him making that leap to the next level.
During the 1990s, Bruce Burnett coached the U.S. National team when Coach Kolat was competing to become one of the best in the world. And surprisingly, Kolat was not a Burnett fan for reasons he explains here (starting at the 2:10 mark). But then he talks about how Coach Burnett played such a huge role in his development.
In evaluating, Kolat’s performance in his international meets (he was just out of college at the time), Coach Burnett said that he needed more work on his front headlock. Kolat didn’t immediately accept the critique because he had become a two time NCAA champion largely because of his ability to score on an opponent when he got him in a front headlock. So it’s fair to say that he wasn’t really in the mood to listen.
But Kolat got the message because Burnett’s proof was video from his international matches, where he had only won a single event. It showed that at an elite level, Kolat wasn’t scoring nearly enough out of that front headlock position. So they put together a plan to work on that, and it proved to be a difference maker.
The lesson here is your frame of reference when trying to get to the next level. Great competitors become elite competitors by comparing themselves to the best. And I have no doubt that Coach Kolat has already begun instilling this mindset into the team, which will result in the Navy Wrestling program taking a huge leap forward.
The Real Deal
I watched all 13 segments on Coach Kolat’s wrestling philosophy. Here are a couple things I will share with you that really stood out to me. And they’re the things that could result in him building the same kind of legacy at Navy that Coach Peery and Coach Burnett left behind.
First, it’s pretty clear from his videos that Coach Kolat has a gift for connecting with people. That’s because he’s the real deal. And I’m not just referring to his record as a competitor either.
When I listen to him share his thoughts on any aspect of wrestling, the word “unvarnished” comes to mind. Put another way, what you see is what you get. There’s nothing fake about him, and athletes truly respect that in a coach.
Not Just Motivation . . . Inspiration
Here is the other reason. Coaches are paid for their ability to motivate their players and get the most out of them. All good coaches can do this. But not all of them can inspire their players and make their impact felt beyond the field of competition.
Look, you could fit what I know about wrestling into a thimble and still have room to spare. But I don’t need to know anything about this demanding sport to understand that Coach Kolat can not only motivate people. He also inspires them.
When coaches motivate, they are dealing in the moment. But the exceptional coaches know how to inspire, and here is the difference. Inspiration as a long term impact, and it can influence lives beyond sport. That’s what Coach Kolat can do, and it earned him an induction into the Wrestling Hall of Fame as a Distinguished Member.
Cary Kolat’s wrestling philosophy make him an ideal fit for Navy. No doubt, there will be a learning curve, which is pretty standard for coaches coming to a service academy. But with his drive and focus, he’s well on his way to figuring all of that out.
Now you can see why I’m pretty excited about the upcoming Navy Wrestling season. Coach Kolat definitely has the street cred to take over the program. His track record as a competitor and the results he has produced at Campbell University speak for themselves.
But it goes beyond that. Kolat is the kind of coach that thrives on challenges. And the service academies certainly aren’t short on those when it comes to competing at an elite level.
More than anything else, I have the sense that Coach Kolat’s wrestlers would run through a brick wall for him. He is 100% real. And I think he has a talent for getting the most out of his guys.
That’s because he knows how to inspire, not just motivate. Hell, I’ve been out of the Academy for 36 years. And my wrestling experience doesn’t go any further than my last day of plebe wrestling.
But I kid you not. After listening to the new Navy Wrestling coach, I found myself re-evaluating some of the things I’m doing in my professional life to make sure I’m staying focused enough. And if Cary Kolat is having that kind of impact on a guy in the energy consulting business, I feel pretty damn good about where he can take Navy’s wrestling program.
Until next time . . .
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