College Wrestling: Wolfpack lured content Popolizio
Pat Popolizio was planning the 2012-13 wrestling season for his Binghamton Bearcats, looking to continue six years of work that had brought the school from forgotten to formidable on the Division I landscape.
But when he got an offer from North Carolina State that he described as too good to pass up, the 1996 state champ from Niskayuna High School knew he had to accept.
“I wasn’t looking to move,” said Popoilzio, whose work had put his name into the mix nearly every time a DI team changed coaches the past three years. “I was content with where I was. The contact came from North Carolina State.”
Popolizio was formally introduced at the Raleigh, N.C., school on Tuesday, a few days after telling Wolfpack athletic director Debbie Yow that he would take the job that became available when the school did not retain Carter Jordan for a ninth year.
“Debbie Yow was one of the main reasons I took this position,” said Popolizio, one of three finalists to fill the vacancy at Northern Iowa last April. “She’s shown that she is a big supporter of wrestling.
“And the ACC is a nationally recognized brand. It’s a big-time conference.”
In six years, Popolizio took a Binghamton program that had been discontinued after the 2003-04 school year because of budget constraints to one that finished 14th at the 2012 NCAA Championships.
His 2010-11 team won a school-record 16 duals, and this year’s team went 15-4, setting a school standard for winning percentage (.789), giving Popolizio an 81-53 record in his first head coaching job.
Five Bearcats qualified for the 2012 NCAAs — giving Popolizio a total of 21 in his stay at the school. Two, including true freshman heavyweight Nick Gwiazdowski of Delanson, earned All-America status, the third and fourth of Popolizio’s athletes to reach that level.
All this came while Popolizio worked with less than half of the allowable number of scholarships.
“Pat is a builder of programs and of young men,” Yow said in a statement released by N.C. State, citing Binghamton’s improvement from 727 to 957 in the Academic Performance Rate. “He was an outstanding collegiate performer at Oklahoma State, and is a proven teacher and mentor as a head coach.”
Popolizio informed the Binghamton wrestlers of his move early Tuesday morning.
“That was the toughest thing I’ve ever had to do,” said Popolizio. “We were on spring break. I didn’t want to call or text them. It was one of those things I had to do face to face.”
Popolizio began his coaching career as an assistant coach on the staff of fellow Niskayuna alumnus Andy Seras in 2002. He took a similar post at Army (2003-04) before two seasons as Mark Cody’s lead assistant at American University, where they brought the Eagles to top-10 status.
Popolizio will be bouncing between the Binghamton and N.C. State campuses for the next few weeks, as he ties up loose ends and gets settled into his new job.
Even if no wrestlers or coaches follow him from Binghamton to Raleigh, Popolizio is sure of one thing he’ll leave behind.
“I’m going to sell my snow blower,” he said.