This week the Muhlenberg athletics department was stunned by the resignation of Wrestling Coach, Shaun Lally. The resignation was officially made public by a PR release on the Muhlenberg Athletics website on Sept. 29. It also is less than three weeks before the team starts their preseason when the team is allowed to begin official practice, and just over a month until the team has their first meet of the season on Saturday, Nov. 4.
“Because our first practice is less than two weeks away we are leaning heavily toward naming an interim head coach who will work with Coach Blanco and Coach Drake to run the program for the 2017-18 season,” said Director of Athletics Corey Goff. “We will conduct a more thorough search for a full-time head coach in the spring,” added Goff. As mentioned, for the meantime the program will be run by assistant coaches Sonnieboy Blanco and Andrew Drake. Blanco was recently hired as an assistant after graduating in the spring of 2017 and compiling an impressive resume on the mat for Washington and Jefferson. Drake has been with the Mules wrestling program since the 2014-15 season, when Lally was hired.
“Coach Lally left us on a positive note, and made it clear that he will always be around for us” – Gennaro Cerminara
Details are still unclear as to the specifics of why Lally resigned, but one thing that is quite clear was that this move was quite unexpected. “[The resignation was] very much a surprise to us,” said Goff. Administration weren’t the only ones surprised by the move either. Gennaro Cerminara, ’19, shared Goff’s reaction. “There was a bit of shock among team members. Many were questioning why he had left and why he left so close to the season,” said Cerminara, who earned a bronze medal in the 197 weight class at the 2016-17 Centennial Conference Championships.
Cerminara says that even though the resignation was a surprise to the team, Lally did address the team personally. “Coach Lally left us on a positive note, and made it clear that he will always be around for us,” Cerminara said. He added that Lally’s final message suggested the program “continue to rise and build a championship program after he departed. He laid the groundwork, but it’s up to us to continue to build the program in that direction.”
Although the Mules may not be looking for a permanent answer to carry out Lally’s short-lived but notable legacy just yet, the team doesn’t look to waste an opportunity to build on the success it has started to lay the foundation for. “We are looking for someone who will fit in well with the current team,” said Goff regarding the short-term solution the Mules are looking for. Goff added, “Our student athletes need quality leadership in place so they can start their season on time.”
Goff mentioned one particular outlet that had already offered some promising options Muhlenberg may consider looking into. “Through our contacts at the National Wrestling Coaches Association, we have already been in touch with several potential candidates and have our first interview scheduled for October 3,” Goff shared. He had a similar message for the team when he met with them on the day of Lally’s resignation. “I told the team we will move as swiftly as our candidate pool will allow, meaning we will not settle for anything less than a great fit but we will also not be waiting around for the dust to settle.”
Not settling is a key component of the successful formula Goff hopes to maintain in this time which will serve as a test for the Mules. With that in mind, he does have an idea of the type of person he would like to fill the interim roll. “Our new interim head coach should be someone who is passionate about wrestling and is heavily invested in the personal development of our student athletes,” said Goff. Cerminara had a lot of similar views regarding the qualities he thinks are important for future coaches of the program to possess. He is personally looking for a coach who is “engaged and ready to take our program to the top of the NCAA.”
Another measure the athletic department will take to ensure a proper fit for the coaching vacancy is involving the current program. “Members of the team will have the opportunity to meet candidates and provide feedback,” said Goff.
The PR release on Muhlenberg’s athletics website opens the statement acknowledging “The up-and-coming Muhlenberg College wrestling program is seeking a new head coach,” and up-and-coming they are. Under Lally’s tenure, which started in 2014, the Mules have had an uptick. In Lally’s first season they improved three places in the Centennial Conference standings. They continued to grow in the 2015-16 season, having one of the largest teams in the programs history, and also taking an in-season trip to the Citrus Duels in Florida, the first trip of its kind. Fast forward one more year to 2016-17 and the Mules won 10 duel matches, the most in 14 seasons.
Looking further into the future, the move to name an interim head coach shows that the Mules are willing to wait to find the right long-term fit. As Goff mentioned, Muhlenberg is not willing to settle. “We have a tremendous group of young men who have worked hard to rebuild our program,” said Goff.