Busy Bono balances coaching competing after being named interim head coach at UTC

By Craig Sesker | May 11, 2006, 9:23 a.m. (ET)
Chris Bono has worked his whole life for opportunities like these.

An opportunity to win a World or Olympic gold medal in wrestling.

And the opportunity to become a Division I college head coach.

Before the year ends, the three-time World Team member may end up accomplishing both of his goals.

As the official announcement came late Monday afternoon that Bono was being named interim head coach at the University of Tennessee at Chattanooga, the top-ranked freestyle wrestler in the country at 145.5 pounds was at the U.S. Olympic Training Center in Colorado Springs.

With the U.S. World Team Trials less than three weeks away in Sioux City, Iowa, Bono was busy training in Colorado this week before returning home to Chattanooga on Saturday. He enters the Trials as the No. 1 seed after winning the U.S. Nationals last month in Las Vegas.

Bono said the trip to Colorado was planned before the recent coaching shake-up at UTC that saw Joe Seay resign after one season and Bono take over on an interim basis. Bono hopes the interim tag eventually will be lifted.

"It's been really crazy, that's for sure," Bono said Tuesday morning of the coaching change. "Now that it's all over, it's a huge relief off my shoulders. I am real excited and real fired up about this opportunity."

UTC now has had three coaches in three seasons. Terry Brands coached the Mocs for three seasons prior to Seay's arrival last year. Brands now is the freestyle resident coach for USA Wrestling.

"We have to make sure the program is stable," Bono said. "I am here for the long haul. I hope to have a long career as the head coach here."

Bono hasn't lost sight of his other goal, as a competitor. An NCAA champion at Iowa State in 1996, Bono made World teams in 2001, 2002 and 2005. He failed to place in the 2001 and 2005 World meets. The U.S. did not compete in 2002 in Iran due to a threat of violence against the American team.

"There is no sense of urgency for me," said Bono, who competes for the Sunkist Kids. "I know I can win at the World Championships. I've gone to two World Championships and laid an egg against guys I should've beaten. I've beaten some of the best guys in the World at other events - now I've got to go do it at the Worlds. Before I can worry about that, I've got to get through the Trials first."

This year's World Championships are set for Sept. 26-Oct. 2 in Guangzhou, China. The 32-year-old Bono said he hasn't decided if he will keep competing after 2006. He realizes it would require an enormous time commitment to be a D-1 head coach and to keep competing internationally.

"It's going to be difficult to balance coaching and wrestling," he said. "First and foremost is coaching. That's my first priority now. My dedication is to the University and to the kids on the team. My plan is to wrestle at the Trials in three weeks and see what happens after that."

Bono said he plans to assemble his coaching staff at UTC after the Trials.

"I have some ideas on what I want to do," he said. "Hopefully, I can get a couple top-notch guys to help me build this program."

Bono, known for his relentless work ethic and drive as a competitor, said he plans to build a strong program as a coach at UTC.

"Everything starts with recruiting," he said. "We have to keep all the top in-state kids from leaving Tennessee and we also have to keep some of the top kids from Georgia from leaving their home area. We also will look outside and go after the best kids in the country. I'm very excited about what we can do here."

Bono said the transition from Ames, Iowa, to Chattanooga has gone smoothly. He spent more than a decade in Ames as a wrestler and assistant coach under Bobby Douglas before coming to UTC prior to last season.

"I love Ames and I have great memories from my time at Iowa State," he said. "It was hard to leave Ames - I have a lot of friends there, in and out of the sport. But UTC is home now. I am loving it down here. I've already developed some great relationships with the people down here."

Bono, who originally is from Jacksonville, Fla., said it's been a wild year with all the coaching changes in Division I.

"I can't remember another year like it - it's been pretty crazy," he said. "It's exciting that universities want to have good programs and that's good for the sport. It's nice to see athletic directors making a commitment to wrestling and really taking an interest in what is going on. I think it's great."

Bono said even with everything going on in his life right now, he will be at his peak at the Trials on May 26-28.

"I feel great, I feel awesome," he said. "My training is going very well. I feel like I can compete tomorrow. I'm having a lot of fun right now and I still really enjoy wrestling and competing. I'm really looking forward to the Trials.