Hall of Fame Distinguished Member Joe Seay, 80, coach of two USA World Champion Teams, passes away

By National Wrestling Hall of Fame | July 11, 2019, 12:19 p.m. (ET)
Photo of Joe Seay coaching courtesy of the National Wrestling Hall of Fame.

STILLWATER, Okla. – Joe Seay, a Distinguished Member inducted into the National Wrestling Hall of Fame in 1998, passed away on Thursday, at the age of 80.

Funeral arrangements are pending.

“Joe Seay is one of the most successful coaches in the history of our sport, coaching numerous individuals and teams to championships at the high school, college and international levels,” said Lee Roy Smith, Executive Director of the National Wrestling Hall of Fame. “After he stepped off the mat, he turned his passion and motivation towards coaching.

“He was a very positive yet very competitive coach, who created an environment that helped a wrestler maximize his mental, physical and technical capabilities to succeed. You could not find a more friendly and caring person, who would give the shirt off his back to anyone in need.”

After leading his teams at Cal State-Bakersfield and Oklahoma State to a total of nine NCAA championships, Joe Seay then coached the USA to milestone victories in the Goodwill Games, World Championships and Olympic Games.

“Joe Seay was arguably one of our greatest freestyle coaches of all time, coaching two of our three World Champion freestyle teams as well as our highly successful 1996 Olympic squad,” said Rich Bender, USA Wrestling Executive Director. “His contributions and legacy in our sport is cemented forever. We lost a legend today. Our hearts and prayers go to his family and friends and the hundreds of athletes who he impacted throughout his life.”

A 1964 graduate of Kansas State, Seay wrestled there three years and later won three national Greco-Roman crowns while placing second twice in Freestyle.

But it was as a coach at all levels that he earned lasting renown.

Starting with eight years at Bakersfield South High in California, he compiled a record of 177-12-2 and was national high school Coach of the Year. Moving across town to Cal State Bakersfield, he coached a dozen years and won seven Division II national championships with a record of 189-56-2. At Oklahoma State, from 1985 to 1992, he went 114-8-2 with back-to-back Division I crowns in 1989 and 1990.

His folkstyle record adds up to 480 victories and a winning percentage of 85.9 percent. He is the only coach to win collegiate team titles in both divisions, and he was named national Coach of the Year five times.

When his collegiate coaching career ended in 1992, Seay quickly stepped into a major role on the international scene. Already closely affiliated with the Sunkist Kids program, he became their head coach and continued the club's unbroken streak of national freestyle championships.

He coached the USA to its first-ever Senior World Freestyle championship in 1993 with gold medalists Bruce Baumgartner, Terry Brands, Tom Brands and Melvin Douglas and silver medalist Dave Schultz. He led the USA to the title again in 1995 with gold medalists Kurt Angle, Bruce Baumgartner, Terry Brands and Kevin Jackson and bronze medalists Douglas and Zeke Jones while also leading a Pan American Games victory in 1995.

And at the Centennial Olympics in Atlanta in 1996, Seay's wrestlers won the medal count with three gold (Angle, Tom Brands and Kendall Cross), a silver (Townsend Saunders) and a bronze (Baumgartner). From those World and Olympic teams that Seay coached, Angle, Baumgartner, Terry Brands, Tom Brands, Cross, Douglas, Les Gutches, Jackson, Jones, Kenny Monday, Saunders and Schultz are all Distinguished Members of the Hall of Fame.

At Oklahoma State, he coached Distinguished Members Cross, John Smith and Pat Smith as well as Randy Couture, who was honored as an Outstanding American by the Hall of Fame. At Cal State Bakersfield, he coached Distinguished Member Joe Gonzales.

Click here for Joe Seay’s Hall of Fame biography

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