The Russian coach from almost four decades ago, when Andre Metzger was but a sophomore in college, came up to the American wrestler with some stark news.
“The Americans are fools,” said the Russian.
Fighting words now. Fighting words then, at the height of the Cold War. But the Russian coach was talking wrestling, so Metzger was listening.
That Soviet Union coach had watched Metzger’s match. He wrote down some suggestions and gave Metzger the notes. “You’re tough,” he told Metzger. “Here’s the mistake you’re making.” Some kind of technical snafu that only matheads would find interesting.
On Saturday night in Stillwater, Metzger goes into the National Wrestling Hall of Fame because he’s a mathead. Metzger is a Hall of Famer because he’s recognized as one of the great technicians in American history.
“I’m a sponge of knowledge and a filter of the information,” Metzger said last week. “All my life, I’ve always lived by that. I take what you give me, I take what I can, I throw out the rest, but I respect you enough to say thank you for your help. Each person in my life, that’s what I’ve done.”
Metzger was recruited to OU by coach Stan Abel out of Cedar Springs, Mich., in 1978, a legendary high school wrestler who won three national junior titles in freestyle and two more in Greco-Roman. Metzger didn’t disappoint at OU; he finished fifth in the NCAA in 1979, second in 1980 and won titles in 1981 and 1982.
Metzger continued his international career and was a frequent medalist in World Cup and World Championships. Metzger’s drive for wrestling was such that he competed, at age 52, in the 2012 national Greco-Roman championships. Metzger is believed to have wrestled more high-level matches than anyone ever, over 2,000, with 1,870 victories.
“It’s not a Samuari sport,” Metzger said. “It’s not a sport to the death.” Metzger always got back up. He says he once was asked how many times he had been beaten. “I said never,” Metzger said. “I’ve been outscored and I ran out of time.”
These days, Metzger coaches the University of North Texas club team and the Bombers of Frisco Wrestling Club. His confidence hasn’t wavered since those days he wrestled with the Schultz brothers for Abel at OU in the early 1980s. Metzger has made no secret of wanting the Sooner head coaching job and is dismayed at OU’s relative lack of NCAA success.
Metzger says he’s told athletic director Joe Castiglione, “You don’t need a CEO. You don’t need somebody that will talk a good game. You need somebody who will get down to business.”
Of course, coaching in the NCAA these days is a lot of organizational work. But Metzger says wrestling is different, in that it’s hard to teach at a high level if you haven’t performed at a high level.
Metzger asks a pertinent question. Who has coached an NCAA championship team that wasn’t an NCAA champion themselves?
The answer is Ohio State’s Tom Ryan (an NCAA runner-up), Minnesota’s J Robinson, Arizona State’s Bobby Douglas and OSU’s Joe Seay, who combined to win seven of the last 40 NCAA titles.
“In wrestling, it’s a totally different game,” said Metzger said. “It’s a physical chess game.”
Metzger has been playing that chess game for half a century, most of it as an elite technician. And it’s brought him to the Hall of Fame.
Berry Tramel: Berry can be reached at (405) 760-8080 or at firstname.lastname@example.org. He can be heard Monday through Friday from 4:40-5:20 p.m. on The Sports Animal radio network, including FM-98.1. You can also view his personality page at newsok.com/berrytramel.