Mark Perry ready to make big impact as co head coach at Cal Poly

By Craig Sesker USA Wrestling | Oct. 19, 2010, 5:37 p.m. (ET)
How highly does Cal Poly wrestling coach John Azevedo think of Mark Perry?

When Perry was considering leaving his position as a Cal Poly assistant coach last spring, Azevedo made Perry an offer that was tough to turn down.

Azevedo offered Perry the chance to become a college head coach at age 26.

"Iowa was looking for an assistant coach last spring, and they were trying to get Mark" said Azevedo, an NCAA champion who made the 1980 U.S. Olympic Team. "I had been thinking about getting out of coaching the past couple of years and I figured it was a good time to step aside."

Azevedo sat Perry down and made an offer to him.

"I said, 'What if I made you co-head coach next season and then you become head coach the following season?'" Azevedo said. "Mark's a great coach and we wanted to keep him."

Perry, a two-time NCAA champion for the Iowa Hawkeyes, decided to stay in California.

"I feel extremely fortunate to be in the position I am in" Perry said. "I am really lucky things fell this way for me. It's a great opportunity."

Perry placed second, third, first and first in his four trips to the NCAA tournament for Iowa from 2005-08. Even with his success, Perry was injured during much of his career in Iowa City.

"One of my goals was to wrestle in the Olympics and I planned on trying to make the Olympic Team in 2008" Perry said. "But my senior year, I tore my knee up and wasn't able to wrestle at the Olympic Trials. I was not a very durable athlete and never wrestled much outside the college season because of my injuries. It was frustrating."

Perry was contemplating continuing his competitive wrestling career in freestyle when Penn State offered him a position as an assistant coach in 2008.

"It was one of the toughest decisions I ever had to make" he said. "Do I want to keep training or take the opportunities I had in coaching? It was a great opportunity to be an assistant at Penn State.

"I was going into unfamiliar territory at Penn State, but I have always been a risk taker. Without taking risks it's hard to get big rewards. That's my personality."

Perry comes from a great wrestling family. His father, Mark Perry Sr., has been a top Division I assistant coach. His uncle is two-time Olympic gold medalist and four-time World champion John Smith, the head coach at Oklahoma State.

"I grew up around great coaches" he said. "I'm very, very fanatical about the sport of wrestling. I knew I was going to stay in the sport no matter what. I love wrestling."

Perry wrestled in high school for national powerhouse Blair Academy before competing collegiately at Iowa, which won the NCAA team title during Perry's senior season in 2008.

He was coached by Olympic and World champion Tom Brands his final two seasons at Iowa.

"I bring a lot of energy to my coaching" Perry said. "My dad is very energetic and driven. My mentors were guys who coached with a lot of emotion. I think that style of coaching helps athletes a lot. I bring a lot of intensity. It's about having fun and enjoying what you do.

"I preach a lot of what I learned from being around the programs at Iowa, Oklahoma State and Blair."

Azevedo, 54, is in his 10th season at Cal Poly. This is his eighth and final year as head coach for the Mustangs.

"I feel very good about leaving the program in Mark Perry's hands" Azevedo said. "He did a great job last year. He has a great demeanor for a coach. He can really motivate the guys and inspire the guys to work hard and be the best they can be. He knows great technique. All he really needs at this point is experience. He is going to be a great head coach."

Cal Poly is expected to put a strong team on the mat this season.

The Mustangs are led by brothers Boris and Filip Novachkov. Boris is ranked fourth nationally in the preseason by Amateur Wrestling News at 133 pounds and Filip is No. 7 at 141.

Boris placed seventh in the 2009 NCAAs at 133. Filip suffered a knee injury right before the NCAA tournament last year and fell short of placing at 141.

"They are switching weight classes this year" Perry said. "We are excited to see what they can do this season."

Perry said Boris Novachkov, a junior, has looked superb in practice.

"He's an unbelievable athlete" Perry said. "He has a great upside. He's one to watch this season."

Cal Poly's Nick Fisher is ranked 16th at 149 and Barrett Abel is 18th at 157.

Abel and Stephen Hampton (184) transferred to Cal Poly after UC Davis dropped its program after last season. Abel was a Pac-10 champion last season. The Mustangs also brought in talented big man Atticus Disney (285), a transfer from Minnesota.
Cal Poly is unranked as a team.

"We are kind of flying under the radar right now" Perry said. "We have very high expectations. There is a lot of talent on this team."

Perry's brother, Chris, will wrestle as a freshman for Oklahoma State this season. Chris Perry won a bronze medal this past summer at the Junior World Championships. Chris Perry will compete collegiately at 184 pounds this season. He is ranked No. 5 nationally.

"Maybe I'm a little biased, but Chris really is rare as far as being a special kid" Mark Perry said. "He's a better wrestler than I ever was. He learned from the positives and negatives in my career. He's very good technically and he's a lot stronger than he looks. He's a very physical wrestler.

"Chris has expectations for winning the NCAAs as a freshman. In the summer, we expect him to contend for World titles at whatever level he's competing at. He could really make a strong push to make the Olympic Team in 2012."

For now, Mark Perry is focused on his Cal Poly team for the upcoming season.

"This is probably the best team Cal Poly has put on the mat in 10-plus years" Perry said. "We feel like we can compete with any team in the country. It's a matter of our guys competing hard, believing in their ability and believing in this program. It's an exciting time for Cal Poly wrestling. It's just a matter of kids buying in."