After an eight-year hiatus, a familiar ally has returned to Penn wrestling.
Brian Dolph, who first joined the Quakers coaching staff as an assistant in 1994, left to pursue work as a high-school coach and physical education teacher in 2003.
But after discovering that career path was not for him, a series of fortunate events unfolded that allowed the prodigal son to return to his original position as assistant for the Red and Blue.
His digression, however, has helped him thus far in his second stint as Penn’s assistant.
“The progression of me teaching [wrestling] technique lends to that … high school lesson plan form,” Dolph explained. “The way [the wrestlers] say it is that when I teach, it’s easy to understand because of the way I describe it and how it flows.”
During his time away, Dolph coached two would-be NCAA champions at Massillon Perry High School in Ohio. He also spent one year as the head coach at Cleveland State University and three years at the helm of North Canton Hoover High School’s wrestling program.
When Dolph ultimately decided against continuing work at the high-school level, he sought out a position at a collegiate program. After a year as a voluntary assistant at the University of Michigan, Dolph still had not found the right fit.
Thanks to his connections to Penn and a timely shuffle of the coaching staff, Dolph found the college coaching spot he desired. He has enjoyed assimilating back into the Penn community.
“It’s kind of my home away from home,” Dolph said.
When Dolph last coached the Quakers, Penn had one of its best runs in program history. The Red and Blue produced 14 All-Americans, five Ivy League Wrestlers of the Year, an NCAA national champion and a future Olympic gold medalist — all in the process of winning seven Ivy League team championships.
Head coach Rob Eiter believes adding Dolph to the staff will help elevate the program to similar levels of success again.
“He [was] around Penn when it was a top 10 program,” Eiter said. “Obviously we’re striving to get back up there, so why not bring back someone that remembers how it was?”
Dolph’s success as a wrestler also adds to his value as a coach. He was a national champion and three-time All-American at Indiana University. Internationally, he competed at a world-class level and missed qualifying for the 2000 Olympics in Sydney by a single match.
Ironically, Dolph lost that match to Brandon Slay, a Penn wrestler who Dolph had coached at Penn. Dolph accompanied the team to the Olympics as an alternate, and Slay went on to win the gold medal.
In addition to his success with Slay, Dolph also recruited eventual NCAA national champion Matt Valenti to Penn. Valenti has since become part of the Red and Blue coaching staff.
Dolph accomplished a lot in his first stint at Penn, and hopes to replicate that success by following a simple formula.
“The things that I know about wrestling,” Dolph said, “coupled with [the wrestlers’] willingness to want to learn so much — it’s a great fit.”