Simon Fraser coaching great Mike Jones to retire after 41 years of mentoring top Canadian and U.S. wrestlers

By Gary Abbott, USA Wrestling | May 12, 2017, 1:38 p.m. (ET)
SFU wrestling coach Mike Jones (right) with SFU wrestling star Mallory Velte (left). Jones is a native of Oregon, while Velte hails from California.

Trivia Question: Name the North American college wrestling coach who has coached both men and women Olympic wrestling champions, including athletes from two different nations.

Answer: Simon Fraser University wrestling coach Mike Jones, who coached Olympic champions Daniel Igali (Canada, 2000), Carol Huynh (Canada, 2008) and Helen Maroulis (USA, 2016).

Jones, a native of Lebanon, Ore. and a two-time NCAA runner-up for Oregon State (1971 and 1973), went north of the border to take over the Simon Fraser University wrestling team in Burnaby, B.C., Canada in 1976. This month, there is a retirement celebration for Jones, who coached the Simon Fraser Clan for 41 years.

“I have a different philosophy than some people. I came out of Oregon. I am in Canada. I don’t care what country you are from. I cared about whether you wanted to finish school and that you wanted to wrestle. I have actually been criticized for that. The way I see, it, it doesn’t hurt to have Helen (Maroulis) and Vicki (Anthony) in our room. It elevates everybody,” he said

Jones is considered one of the greatest wrestling coaches in Canadian history, not only with his championship men and women’s teams at Simon Fraser, but also for the Olympic-caliber wrestlers he has tutored through the Burnaby Mountain Wrestling Club. He has also been a part of the coaching staff with Wrestling Canada Lutte.

Rather than focus on his amazing success developing Canadian wrestlers for this tribute, we look at his impact on wrestling in the United States. His legacy in his birth nation comes through the U.S. athletes he has developed at Simon Fraser, who, like Jones, had no problem wandering north of the border.

Consider Maroulis, a Maryland native who spent her senior year of high school with the USOEC program at Northern Michigan, then competed her first college season at Missouri Baptist. She was looking for a new college opportunity, and her friend Victoria Anthony, a California native who wrestled for Jones in Canada, had told Helen about the Simon Fraser program.

“I remember on my recruiting trip, Vicki and Mike met me at the airport. Vicki had told me about the team before I went up there. Mike was trying to give me the most realistic things about the school and the wrestling program. He would say we don’t have this, but we do have that. And then he’d say they don’t quite do it here the way they do it in the USA. Finally, Vicki said, ‘Mike, are you trying to recruit her, or trying to drive her away?’ It was real funny,” said Maroulis.

Of course, Maroulis decided to join Anthony and move to Western Canada to wrestle for Jones. Both had amazing college careers, becoming the first four-time WCWA College national champions side-by-side in 2014. Now graduated, both Maroulis and Anthony are very successful international wrestling stars for Team USA. Most recently, they both earned spots on the 2017 U.S. Women’s World Team.

Jones knew what kind of athlete he was getting with Maroulis, who was already making noise on the international level. However, he wasn’t sure what to expect from her as a person.

“She elevated the room. She wasn’t a demanding person, and didn’t want to be center of the attention. She was great to coach,” said Jones.

To understand Jones impact on the U.S. women’s wrestling program, you only have to look at the 2017-18 USA Wrestling Women’s National Team, which was decided at the recent World Team Trials in Las Vegas, Nev. in late April. Five wrestlers from the Simon Fraser made the National Team, the most of any college program this year, with the next closest college placing three athletes on the team.

Three Simon Fraser athletes made the World Team and claimed No. 1 national rankings, Anthony at 48 kg, Maroulis at 58 kg and Mallory Velte of California at 63 kg. Also making the U.S. national team out of Simon Fraser were Francesca Giorgio of Pennsylvania (No. 2 at 60 kg) and Dominique Parrish of California (No. 3 at 55 kg).

Jones admits that he is not the greatest recruiter. Actually, he says he is pretty bad at it. It is not like he has spent an immense amount of time and resources going after American wrestlers.

“A lot of those athletes approached me. I didn’t go down just to recruit them. First, you had to be at least 85% to get into this school. I don’t have a bunch of scholarship money. I didn’t go out and specifically do it. But, when they checked us out, they say that the kids have done very well here,” said Jones.

Anthony, a Junior World champion while in high school, was the first of the USA high school women’s stars to compete for Jones. She had a ton of options in the USA and was heavily recruited, and can confirm that Jones didn’t really recruit her very much.

“Mike is the opposite of a sales person. He is honest. The program he runs is honest. SFU will never beg you to go there. He won’t beg you to wrestle for him. We had to email him to make sure we could go there,” said Anthony.

There were many things about Simon Fraser’s women’s team that made great sense to Anthony, things that were different than the women’s college opportunities in the USA.

“Mike was a big part of the reason I went to Simon Fraser. The program he built at SFU had everything I wanted. There were multiple Olympians on the team and coaching staff. He is such a great person and a great guy. At Simon Fraser, we wrestled alongside the men’s program, a full men’s team and women’s team training together. Everyone was on an equal playing field there. Women’s wrestling didn’t develop the same way in Canada as it did in the United States. The men and women teams were built together. It developed in a more accepting way there which I like,” said Anthony.

When Jones first started coaching, he was working only with men wrestlers. In Canada, college men compete in international freestyle, but Simon Fraser was also in the NAIA, where his teams would compete in American folkstyle. In recent years, Simon Fraser became an NCAA Div. II school, which again means they continue to compete in American folkstyle. Ever since he started coaching in Canada, he has worked with many American men student-athletes who wrestled alongside Canadians.

When he started, Jones wasn’t too sure if his team was any good, or if he would make it as the coach at Simon Fraser.

“I was 25 years old when I started. The best guy in the room was my weight, and I was beating him up on a daily basis. They weren’t doing things like I did it. That is when I told my wife maybe we shouldn’t unpack our bags. This kid had none of the things I had. But, he went undefeated for two years. That’s when I realized kids can’t do everything I did. You had to think about what to do with each kid. I started off with a good team. So, I thought, hey, we can win the NAIA. But the next year, I had that kid, and all freshman. I learned that it will take a little longer. But, at least I had that one kid,” said Jones.

Among the American men who have wrestled successfully for Jones in college include Kevin Pine, who is still competing as a U.S. Masters wrestler who has won numerous World medals. He also mentions American wrestlers Anders and Lars Blomgren, and Troy Jindra, who had great achievements competing for Simon Fraser. There are many others.

The women’s program got its start in the early 1990’s. It first came about when a group interested in promoting opportunity for women approached him about adding a women’s division to their annual international wrestling tournament, known as the Clansman International. Jones was able to get some women wrestlers from Venezuela, Japan and the USA to come up and compete against Canadian women, and it took off from there.

“They gave us some money and we got a lot of press there to see the women. We also brought all of the teachers in. As soon as they separated the men and the women, they all thought it would be a great idea. Women’s wrestling also fit well into the government model. From then on, we never had a tournament without women,” said Jones.

Jones didn’t have an official women’s varsity team at SFU in the early years, but later on, it made sense for the university to formalize the program.

“I always allowed women on the team. When we went into the CIS (Canadian college sports organization), they needed another program. That is when Simon Fraser made (women’s wrestling) a varsity sport. Carol (Huynh) started with us before it was a varsity sport. At that time, the women wrestled in all-women’s tournaments. Our men and women all trained together, but it was always a separate sport,” he said.

Simon Fraser’s women’s team dominated the CIS, capturing the Canadian national title in seven of the eight years that the Clan was in that organization. But Jones, never afraid to cross the border for competition, also signed Simon Fraser up for the WCWA, the U.S. women’s college organization that ran college national tournaments. It was not much different than Jones bringing his men’s team to wrestle down in the States.

“We have always gone North and South, rather than East and West,” said Jones of his competition schedule.

Joining the WCWA allowed Simon Fraser women to battle against the best in Canada (in the CIS) and the best in the United States as well. He was able to enter his women’s teams in both national tournaments, until Simon Fraser officially became an NCAA Div. II school in all sports and the CIS would not allow SFU teams in that program.

“On the women’s side, it was a great deal for us to go into the WCWA, then into the CIS, and then into the international season,” said Jones.

Since joining the WCWA, Simon Fraser has placed in the top four at the women’s national tournament every year, and captured the WCWA nationals in 2013. That 2013 Clan team included national champions Anthony and Maroulis from the USA, plus four national champions from Canada, Sidney Morrison, Danielle Lappage, Justina Distasio and Jenna McClatchy. Simon Fraser has produced 23 WCWA individual national champions, behind only Oklahoma City with 28.

If you know Mike Jones, then you probably have a few great Mike Jones stories. Known for his great sense of humor and his witty timing, part of his success as a coach and mentor comes from his tremendous people skills.

Maroulis indicated that he has been a great support, during both the ups and the downs of her career. One situation she remembers, after losing in the finals of the 2012 Olympic Trials, was going back to Simon Fraser and meeting with Jones. She was not handling the loss well, as might have been expected.

“Nobody else could get away with it like Mike could have… We got there and I was on the edge of tears. When I walked in, he says, ‘So, you want to get the elephant out of the room? What happened?’ Of course, I started crying and we talked about it. He cared, but he also wasn’t going to not deal with it, either,” she said.

With Jones’ retirement coming upon him, he jokes that it is amazing how many people want to talk with him now that he is quitting. In addition to his retirement celebration, there have been some nice articles in the media about him. Jones quips that it’s better to have this kind of thing happen now, while he is still alive.

Long-time SFU coach and Olympian Justin Abdou, who has worked alongside Jones for years, will be taking over all aspects of the program. The next coach to work with the women’s team has not yet been announced.

“It is interesting to look back. Over the last few weeks, I realized that for 40 years, you wake up and you know generally that you are going to be doing something that day in wrestling. It is taking time to get used to that part about retirement. But, I will still be helping with the wrestling club. The hard thing about this is the kids you have recruited, you want to help them get through to the end of their career. I know next year, they are going to be strong on the women’s side and the men are coming on, as well,” said Jones.

It is pretty difficult to talk about Mike Jones without a smile on your face. Consider these testimonials from those who care about him, south of the border.

“He’s amazing. The good person part and the good coach part go together with Mike Jones. I really value his wisdom and his opinions, both on and off the mat. He truly cares a lot about the athlete. When he is working with you, he sees the total person, and gives really great advice about everything.”
- Helen Maroulis, Olympic champion, World champion, 3x World medalist, 4x WCWA champion

“He is one of my favorite people and one of the best people I know. He will now have a little more freedom. He will have more flexibility in his life. He has given the program at Simon Fraser a lot, and a lot to Canada wrestling and a lot to American wrestling. He deserves a little bit of his own time now.”
- Victoria Anthony, two-time Junior World champion, 2x USA World Team member, 4x WCWA champion

“Mike Jones has had a significant impact on the sport of wrestling across the globe. In the mid 1990’s, I was a young coach at Oregon State when I first met Coach Jones. I had no idea that he was an Oregon State alumni at the time, but from the first time I met him I realized his influence on the sport in that part of the country. As time has passed, I realize that his impact has been a lot farther reaching than that. It is hard to put into words what he has meant to wrestling over the years. I have always respected not only what he has done but how he has done it. He has had a tireless energy to push the people in the sport to doing the right things to move our sport forward but in a very rational and matter-of-fact way and always with a great sense of humor. Mike Jones will never be replicated. He has left a legacy for the ages. Mike will be missed, especially by all that he has been in contact with over the years. We wish him only the best!”
- Terry Steiner, USA Wrestling National Women’s Coach

For more on Mike Jones’ career from the Canadian viewpoint, check out the links below

THE PEAK: Mike Jones retiring as head coach of women’s wrestling