Wrestling legend Bruce Baumgartner retires today after over 36 years working at Edinboro University

By Gary Abbott, USA Wrestling | May 08, 2020, 6:13 p.m. (ET)
36 years is a long time for anyone to be doing anything.

When asked, Bruce Baumgartner said that he has been with his wife Linda longer than that. The conversation came up, mainly because today is the day that wrestling hero Bruce Baumgartner retires after over 36 years working for Edinboro University.

His resume shows four different jobs at the university, each with its own set of challenges and achievements.
1984 – Hired as assistant wrestling coach
1990 – Promoted to head wrestling coach
1997 – Named Director of Athletics
2018 – Appointed Assistant Vice President of University Advancement

Of course, wrestling was also a part of Bruce’s life the entire time that he has been with Edinboro. When he first accepted the job as an assistant wrestling coach to work with in-coming head coach Mike DeAnna, Baumgartner was a 23-year-old young wrestling star, trying to make his first Olympic Team. Today, as he leaves his employment with Edinboro, he is the president of USA Wrestling, helping lead the organization through the COVID-19 crisis. Even when his professional job was not specifically in wrestling, Bruce Baumgartner has always been part of USA Wrestling in some important capacity.

At the time the Edinboro opportunity came up, Baumgartner had been completing his graduate school studies at Oklahoma State, where he was serving as a graduate assistant wrestling coach and was also training for a shot at the Olympic Games.

“In March of 1984, I had the opportunity to train up in Iowa for the Olympics, and I met Mike DeAnna. He said he had taken a position at Edinboro University, where they are starting a Div. I wrestling program. It was a Div. II program when we first got here. We had a 0-11 record the year before we got to Edinboro. I went to the World Cup in March and drove out to Edinboro. We liked it, and it had some opportunity. I wanted to be part of a program to grow a program and help make a difference in athletes’ lives and make a change,” said Baumgartner.

Baumgartner accepted the job, then went through the process of making the 1984 Olympic Team. After training with the team, he went to Los Angeles where he won the Olympic gold medal at super heavyweight in men’s freestyle. Baumgartner worked with DeAnna doing a lot of recruiting and organizing by phone during that Olympic year while on the road. He did not move from Stillwater, Okla. to Edinboro, Pa. fulltime until after winning that Olympic gold medal. From there, DeAnna, Baumgartner and a grad assist went to work building the Scotsmen program.

“Mike DeAnna was a great coach, a great guy. We still talk to this day. He still supports Edinboro University wrestling. A great wrestler, great coach, awesome recruiter. He helped me in my wrestling and helped me in my coaching. He had a little bit different philosophy. Oklahoma State and Iowa had two different philosophies. He was a middle weight. I was an upper weight. I think we really complimented each other. It showed as our team grew over the years. He helped lay the foundation for what I think is one of the big success stories in Div. I wrestling,” said Baumgartner.

During the years that Baumgartner assisted DeAnna, the team became a top10 program, and had its first NCAA Div. I champion in Sean O’Day at 134 pounds in 1989. For the 1990 season, Baumgartner became the team’s head coach. Clearly, Baumgartner had other opportunities elsewhere, but chose to remain at Edinboro to pursue his head coaching career.

“I believe in Edinboro, even to this day. It provides a very good education for the cost. It is academically student-centered. We are not all about winning, although we have won in a lot of sports, including wrestling, at Edinboro. A lot of conference championships, All-Americans in a variety of sports. I like its academic integrity. I liked that it provided a good atmosphere for wrestlers to be successful. It also allowed me to be the head coach as I competed. I was head coach from 1990-1996 with my competition. It afforded me some things personally. It is a great town to raise your family,” he said.

During Baumgartner’s tenure as head coach, Edinboro placed as high as sixth in the nation (in 1997) and had some athletes who were NCAA All-Americans multiple times, including Tom Shifflett, Jason Robison, Lou Rosselli and Tony Robie. One of the big stories during that era was that Rosselli and Baumgartner went on to be teammates on the 1996 U.S. Olympic Team which competed in Atlanta, Ga., a huge thing for Edinboro as a university and as a community.

“Lou was an excellent college wrestler, excellent freestyle wrestler. In the 1996 Olympics, one of the most heartbreaking things for me was when Lou hurt his elbow, and he won that match and had to withdraw from the tournament. He was poised to be an Olympic medalist, if not an Olympic champion in 1996. He went on with a very good coaching career at Edinboro, then Ohio State and now Oklahoma University. He still supports Edinboro University’s program. He was a very hard working, driven, no-nonsense type of guy. One of those guys whether in the practice room, on the mat, that you want to have around because he is driven for success,” said Baumgartner.

In 1997, Edinboro’s athletic director left the school and the university sought an interim athletic director who might possibly take on the position full-time. Baumgartner had the opportunity to be that person.

“Some of the people I looked up to in coaching, I saw those guys, when they hit their 50’s, 60’s maybe, their bodies seemed to wear out. I knew I did not want to coach wrestling when I was 45 or 50, I’ll be 60 this year. It was a great opportunity for me to move up. It was going to be an interim position at first. I had to search for it. I had about an eight month period to see if I liked it. I wanted the job and they offered it to me. It was also a great move for Edinboro wrestling, because (assistant coach) Tim Flynn was getting ready to have his own head coaching position. Had I stayed as coach, I am almost positive he would have moved on to a different school, and I would have had to break in a new assistant coach. It worked out for myself and my family,” said Baumgartner.

With Baumgartner as athletic director and Flynn as head coach, Edinboro kept improving into one of the best college wrestling teams in the nation. During Flynn’s 21 years at the helm, he mentored NCAA Div. I champions: Josh Koschek (2001), Gregor Gillespie (2007) and Jarrod King (2009). Flynn also coached Edinboro’s most successful team, which placed third at the 2015 NCAA Championships with four All-Americans, an amazing feat for a school of Edinboro’s size and resources. Baumgartner’s impact on Edinboro as its athletic director reached much farther than just the wrestling program.

“I felt good that for most of my career (as athletic director), the university was in a situation where my job was to provide our coaches the resources, the guidance and to do a little problem-solving for them, so they could provide a great opportunity for the student-athletes,” said Baumgartner.

His final few years at the university was as Assistant Vice President of University Advancement, a position that he was quite familiar with, because of his fund-raising experiences as athletic director, a role that he enjoyed and was challenging for him. So why now for retirement?

“Two things. One, I have seen too many people work long, 65 or 70, and when they retire, they don’t have the ability to do what they want to do because their health isn’t there. I am healthy and my wife is healthy. I am a state employee of the state system of higher education. They did give the faculty, and I am faculty, an incentive to retire, and I took the incentive. The way it is structured, most people don’t work after 35 years. I did 36-plus. I felt it was time,” said Baumgartner.