NORMAN, Okla. – Oklahoma Head Wrestling Coach Jack Spates, who is in his 18th season with the Sooners, announced today that he plans to retire from the position at the end of the current season.
“This is something that I had planned for quite a while,” Spates said. “Our wrestlers, recruits and my friends and colleagues are aware that this is the direction I plan to take.
“I’ve been blessed by my tenure at OU. I’ve worked with the greatest kids, athletic director and president. I will leave with a smile on my face. It’s a young man’s game and a sport that requires tremendous passion and energy and I feel God is leading me in another direction at this time.”
That direction may involve ministerial work. Spates received a master’s degree in theology and education from Baptist Bible Seminary in 1980.
“About eight years ago, God brought me back to faith and I’m very excited about the plans that He has for me,” Spates said. “I anticipate that those plans are in the ministry and probably campus ministry.”
OU President David L. Boren said Spates impact reached outside of wrestling.
“Coach Spates has made a great contribution to the University of Oklahoma, not only as a coach but also as a mentor and role model,” Boren said. “The entire university community is grateful for his many years of service. We wish him well in the future.”
Joe Castiglione, OU’s Vice President for Intercollegiate Athletics Program and Athletics Director, said Spates was inspirational with his enthusiasm.
“I congratulate Jack on a wonderful career and on all his notable accomplishments within the sport of wrestling,” he said. “He has been a successful and passionate advocate for the Sooners and the sport for many years. His daily enthusiasm for the job has not only been refreshing, it has been inspiring.
“He has led our program to national prominence and further secured Oklahoma’s name among the top wrestling programs. We are and will always be grateful for Jack’s leadership and know that he will continue to be a positive influence on those he mentors in the future.”
Spates’ start in wrestling was the result of a high school prank. Spates was 15 years old and just 90 pounds when some of his friends signed his name to a wrestling team form without his knowledge.
“I could never have envisioned the career I’ve had in the sport,” he reflected. “Wrestling has been so special to me and has impacted by whole life.
“And I am so proud to have been associated with the University of Oklahoma. I will always be a Sooner.”
Spates’ OU mark currently stands at 235-96-12, including a 5-1 mark this season. Including his time as head coach at Cornell, he is 309-110-13.
He has been honored three times as Big 12 Coach of the Year and was the 2006 National Coach of the Year. He has coached two Big 12 conference team titles, 53 All-Americans and six national champions at OU. He has also led 30 Oklahoma wrestlers to individual Big 12 titles.
Under Spates’ direction, the Sooners have accepted six team trophies over the last nine seasons as a top-four finisher at the Tournament. He is also third among active head coaches for most All-Americans produced during his tenure with 53.
Spates became the University of Oklahoma’s 12th head wrestling coach in 1993. At that time, OU’s average finish at the Championships was 23rd over the previous three seasons. Recently, his Sooner teams have placed in the nation’s top four in six of the past nine seasons, including third-place finishes in 2002, 2003, 2005 and 2006.
Not only has Spates built programs into regional and national powers, he has also served as a mentor to several Division I head coaches. Among those are Rob Koll, head coach at Cornell, and Brian Smith, head coach at Missouri, both of whom were assistants to Spates.
As a wrestler, Spates won the New York State Championship and placed third in the nation, becoming a high school All-American. As a collegiate wrestler at Slippery Rock, he claimed the collegiate national championship in 1973 and was runner-up the following year at 118 pounds. He compiled a 118-8 career record, the second-best win total in school history.
Subsequently, Spates was inducted into the Slippery Rock Athletic Hall of Fame.
Spates began coaching as the head assistant at Baptist Bible College in 1975. He quickly earned a reputation as a builder of programs when he helped lead the small private school to six conference championships.
After leaving Baptist Bible College in 1981, Spates entered the business world before returning for one year as an assistant coach at Pittsburgh where he helped direct the Panthers to their first winning season in five years.
From there, Spates served as head assistant coach at the U.S. Military Academy. While Spates was West Point, the Black Knights attained their highest ever finish (13th) and were ranked as high as No. 11 during the 1987 season. Spates helped recruit Army’s highest-rated class, which was judged No. 7 in the nation. He was also named runner-up for national assistant-coach-of-the-year honors.
Spates became the head coach at Cornell in 1988. During his five years with the Big Red, he became Cornell’s all-time winningest coach by percentage. S pates compiled a 74-14-1 record and developed a program that offered no scholarships into an Eastern and national power. His last two Cornell teams dominated the Eastern Championships, crowning nine individual champions.
Cornell also steadily improved at the Championships, rising from no national placing to finishes of 20th, 15th and 10th place. Spates was named New York Collegiate Coach of the Year, Eastern Coach of the Year and New York State Wrestling Man of the Year.
Spates also wears many hats outside the world of wrestling. He graduated magna cum laude from graduate school and was awarded the Greek Award for Proficiency in the Koine Greek Language as well as the Literacy Award for Dissertation of Publishable Quality. Spates’ dedication to education is still evident today as his program regularly produces Academic All-Big 12 and Academic All-America selections.
Author of the highly-acclaimed wrestling book Mat Snacks: Wrestling Stories to Feed the Spirit and Tickle the Funny Bone, Spates has developed a reputation as a motivational speaker for businesses, schools and civic clubs. Spates is also a songwriter who has written ballads for all six of his national champions.
Spates, a native of Smithtown, NY, and his wife, Barby, reside in Norman. He is the proud father of four children: Jessica, Jeremy, Justin and Jenilyn.
Castiglione said that a national search will be conducted to identify Spates’ successor.