Coach Bono On The Record | A New Beginning | Part Two

By TomM March 29, 2018 15:19

Coach Bono On The Record | A New Beginning | Part Two

Coach Bono On The Record | A New Beginning | Part Two

by Abigail Ruckdashel | Monday, March 26, 2018 Interview | Part Two Posted March 29

In Part One of our Coach Chris Bono interview we stated Wisconsin Badger wrestling will see a change Badger fans are going to like.

In the remainder of the interview Coach Chris Bono shares more insight into Coach himself and his vision for the future of Wisconsin wrestling.

We considered ‘stretching’ out the interview Q&A into a few more days, but with the anticipation and excitement coming from the Wisconsin wrestling community we are posting the full transcript today in “Coach Bono On The Record | A New Beginning | Part Two”.


CB = Coach Bono / WWO = Wisconsin Wrestling Online

WWO: How did your wrestling career begin?

CB: That’s a good little story. I was five years old, growing up in Pennsylvania. My brother signed up for wrestling. I was young, but I tagged along with him. I begged my dad to stay and my dad left. When my dad got home my mom said to him ‘you better go back and grab that little guy I don’t want him over there.’ When my dad came back I was rolling around with all these kids and doing a good job and the coach told dad to give him five more dollars, so we could sign this little guy up. And from there on it was history. I’ve never stopped.

WWO: Things are probably moving fast, but do you have a timeline of your move to Madison?

CB: Yep, I’ll be there Monday (April 2). I have a commitment. We are going up to the tournament in New York. I’ve got a commitment to some of these guys. I coach for Sunkist Kids as well, the big kids club. So, I have some responsibilities there. Plus, I have a lot of loose ends I have to tie up here. I need to make sure I leave this place the correct way. I’ll be back in South Dakota Sunday, and in Madison Monday morning.

WWO: Did you ever think you’d be coaching at a Big Ten School?

CB: I don’t know about Big Ten. I’ve always been a Big 12 guy, a Big 8 guy. I grew up in those conferences, but you know, I saw myself at a big university, with a chance that we could win the national title. Whether it was, Big 10, Big 12 or a power 5 school, I definitely wanted to be there. That’s the ultimate goal in the college world.

WWO: Wisconsin grows some amazing talent at the high school level. And then they are either recruited outside of the state or have a “lackluster” college career. Some people have blamed coaching. I don’t know if that’s true or not, but what would you do? How would you try to amend that problem?

CB: We must secure the boarders no matter what. We can’t let anyone come in here and take our kids. That starts with relationships when they’re young kids, at the youth level, at the junior high level, at the high school level. So, we are going to get in there and we are going to establish relationships with all these youth coaches, and high school programs. Ben Askren is going to be a key for us. He’s big about keeping the Wisconsin kids at home. We’ve got a great relationship with Ben already. I talked with him last night. I’m going to meet with him when I first get there. We must secure our boarders, and make sure no one comes in and gets our kids. If you start recruiting a kid when he’s a sophomore or junior, everybody in the country has the same advantage as you—it needs to start earlier.

As far as lackluster career, there could be a lot of things. Sometimes it’s the kid. Laziness can set in. Everybody wants to blame coaching, the system and all that. Who knows what it is? There are probably multiple reasons. Like I said, we are going to get in there and make stuff happen. Securing Wisconsin’s boarders for not only kids but growing the fan base and getting them behind our program and making sure we do that. We did it at South Dakota. We had two South Dakota kids become all Americans this year. The whole state is fired up. I know if we secure their Wisconsin kids and they become All-Americans and National Champions we will have that fan base behind us and this program will take off.

WWO: Did you pursue the job, or did the job pursue you?

CB: Well they reached out to me to begin with and just asked my interest. Then when I told them I was interested it took off.

WWO: Barry Alvarez is a sly guy that way. I love that guy.

CB: I do too!

WWO: There was a lot of “Big Names” associated with this job. Why do you think you were the best man for the job?

CB: Well first you look at my experiences. I’ve been around a long time. I started off at Iowa State. That was a big-time program with big-time tradition. Then I got a chance to be a head coach at Tennessee-Chattanooga. There were a lot of challenges with raising money and facilities and recruiting in a state like Tennessee that isn’t a real powerhouse, and we did a heck of a job. We got them in the top 20 and had a couple All-Americans and did good things there. Then I went into the medical field in sales and I have a history there of learning how to run a business and learning things that go along with being the CEO of a program like leadership and managing people and things like that.

Then I came to South Dakota State. We turned a program around that was on the brink of extinction and got them into the top 12 in the country. We were packing arenas and recruiting the best kids in the country and marketing the program. I think these guys saw what the possibility would be that we could do at Wisconsin. I think those things could be lacking—the marketing, the fan base, the excitement the things like that. We have to grow that. Keeping the kids in state here in South Dakota was a big thing that people looked at. You know, “Hey we gotta keep our kids at home in Wisconsin. How is he doing that out there?”

It’s the little things like that. Plus, we bring a little excitement. We are a fiery staff. We love our kids. We know they are the lifeline of the program. We are going to start loving on them and treating them like our own and get the whole place fired up and bring a sense of energy around there.

WWO: I know you plan to bring your head assistant in Jon Reader, but do you plan to keep any of the current Wisconsin coaches on staff?

CB: We are going to get there next week, and we are going to talk to everybody. I don’t know what’s going to happen in that second assistant position yet. We have a lot of people reaching out. We need to get there, we need to talk to everybody. I need to get advice from administration and see who they’re leaning towards. I’m not going to make any decisions really quick. I’m bringing my right-hand-man, my lifeline, my brother [Jon Reader] and family. We are going to get there and make decisions once we get there, talk to people, and evaluate the situation. Like I said, I don’t want to make any decisions off of emotion right yet. We are still riding this high and I want to see. I’m going to get a lot of input from the people around me and around the community. I don’t know those guys very well at all, but I know we will make the right decision because we will get a lot of opinions from a lot of different people. 

WWO: People know that your ultimate goal is to make Wisconsin a National Championship team. They also know that Wisconsin has that potential. Where do you see the team in 2, 4, 6 years? Have you set your sights on a specific timeline?

CB: Timeline right now is to be the best we can be right away. I’m not coming there to take a step back. We are going to start building right away. How long will it take to become a national champion team? I don’t know that. My two-year plan: we want to be in the top four. My four-year plan we want to be winning national titles. My six-year plan, we want to be winning national titles plan. My ten-year plan, we want to be winning national titles. That’s my goal. How we get there is going to be a long road. We aren’t coming there for anything less than a national championship. With the resources and everything Wisconsin has we can produce great students off the mat and get them their great degrees, but on the wrestling mat we are coming to pack arenas, we are coming to win national titles, and we are going to work 24/7 until we get there.

WWO: Is there a change that you would make to Wisconsin wrestling right away?

CB: In what sense?

WWO: Maybe in terms of culture?

CB: I have to get to know the guys, but I know Coach Davis really well. I’m sure everybody on the team are good guys. We don’t need to make a social change. Obviously, I’ll have to evaluate, but I don’t see Wisconsin guys getting arrested, getting in trouble. So, I’m sure they are good socially. Is there going to be a change culturally in terms of work ethic? Absolutely. I bring a proven system into place and it evolves around three things.

First and foremost, it’s getting these kids the best academically they can be. That’s number one. Number two is becoming the best person you can possibly be socially. You know, how do you treat people? We call it the 6pm to 6am. What are you doing between then? How are you treating people? Are you sleeping right and eating right? Are you downtown doing bad things? What are you doing? The last thing is working as hard as you possibly can and doing the best they possibly can athletically. This includes on the mat, in the weight room, on the track. If we are getting the best and maximum effort in all three of those areas, we are going to succeed at the highest level.

I’m 100% sure Coach Davis preaches that. He is a good man, a great man and great coach and I’m sure he preached exactly that, but is it getting through to the guys? That’s the next thing. How do you get that message through to the guys? So, I think culturally, if you ask how we are going to change it, it’s going to be that the message is getting through to our guys and making sure they are doing the right things. If it’s not getting through we are going to force-feed it until it does get through, because if you do all the right things in every aspect of your life you give yourself a chance to win national titles.

WWO: How are you going to engage High School Coaches?

CB: That’s so important. First and foremost, we are going to get a camp set up immediately. I was just typing an email right now to try and get that done. I’ve got a lot of people asking me about getting a camp set up right away. I also think that the relationship is a two-way street though. If I set these camps up, they need to be supported. If I get to spend a week around these high school coaches, talking philosophy and just getting to know them that’s going to be the number one positive [of a camp].

The second thing is that I plan to reach out to them. I want to go out to lunch with all of them, I want to get to their high school practices, I want to do all the things they want to do. I’ll never turn down a speaking engagement, I’ll never turn down a chance to meet somebody. I think that’s all very important. You’ve got to get out into the community and meet all these people. They’re going to see me in the stands watching matches.

We are also going to get the youth coaches involved. I’ll show up at youth practices. I’ll be around. We will host youth things around our program. We will host high school things around our program. We will do all those things to make sure we are involved, but we are also going to need support from these coaches. They need to make sure their kids are having Wisconsin Badger wrestling force fed to them. If there’s a dual they can get to, they need to be there. If there’s an RTC practice, they need to be there if they meet the qualifications. If there’s a camp that we are doing, the need to be there. If we are doing a coach’s clinic, they need to be there.

As soon as we get these coaches to buy in, which I know we will once they meet me and the staff, and get enough time around us and get to know us as people first, and realize we are good people and find we want to do the right things and grow Wisconsin wrestling, we will definitely have a great relationship with these guys and be able to support each other in everything we do.

WWO: Greco has been taking off in Wisconsin quite well, would you plan to add a better emphasis on Greco at the RTC?

CB: I can’t say any names right now, but we had a big-time guy contact us about getting into the RTC there in Madison. So, before I even get there, we are already trying to add guys that want to wrestle Greco. I’m a Greco fan! I think wrestling Greco helps your collegiate level. Here at SDSU we went and got a great Greco kid as a recruit that trains with Brandon Paulsen up in Minnesota who was a silver medalist. We would love to establish some Greco kids at the RTC, 1000%. I’m a fan of it. One of my kids at SDSU is on the Greco scene. Cody Pack trains out of Sioux Falls. I would definitely emphasize it.

We want Greco kids in there. I think if you can wrestle Greco, it just enhances everything. I think a lot of collegiate coaches don’t emphasize Greco, and they should. You know, being able to clear underhooks and things like that. Greco makes you a complete wrestler, because then you know how to wrestle in the upper body. I think having world-class Greco guys will enhance that in our room.

WWO: What do you look for in a recruit?

CB: First and foremost, they need to be a good person. We aren’t going to be have kids that aren’t decent people. Number two, academically they have to be the best. Wisconsin is an unbelievable academic institution. I’m not going to be, and I don’t want to be, chasing kids around that don’t want to go to class and don’t want to get great grades. I believe if you don’t want to be the best academically, then you aren’t going to be wired to win at the highest level. Plus, we are there to get kids degrees and make them marketable for the next 50 years.

Next, we want kids that want to compete. I love kids that love to compete. You know, when’s the next event, where are we going next, what are we doing. I love kids that are wrestling a lot. That are competing a lot. So, we are excited about that. Lastly, we want talent. We are going to recruit the best kids and kids that want to be at the University of Wisconsin for the right reasons. We say that all the time. We don’t want kids coming for this reason or for that reason. We want kids to come to Wisconsin because they want to be a Badger. If we can get that nature of kid, then we have a chance to produce national champions.

WWO: How is your coaching style different from not only Barry Davis, but other coaches in general?

CB: You know, I don’t know. I don’t know what Barry does, I don’t know how he is in the wrestling room a whole bunch. I know him off the mat and what a great person he is. For me, I’m demanding, but I’m very fair. On the mat, off the mat, I love my kids. I think that’s the main part of coaching, loving them through thick and thin. As far as technically and things like that, our kids will be the best trained kids in the country, and that’s first and foremost.

We will be the best in shape team in the country. We will not lose because we get tired, we are going to grind, we are going to win all overtime matches. Our philosophy is going to be stingy in all positions, score a lot of points, and wrestle as hard as you possibly can for seven minutes—and be exciting. You know, after the match, we like to have a little excitement. You know, you fist pump to the crowd after a win and wave to them. I think that’s all going to be awesome. I think that you work so hard, so why not get the crowd involved? We are going to wrestle harder than anyone else in the country, and outwork everybody, so why not share that with the fans after a hard-fought win?

WWO: How did you build that SDSU program from basically nothing?

CB: Oh boy! That’s in my 38-page manual. All of that. We did it the right way here. We didn’t try to win at all costs. My first two years here we were 77th both years at the national tournament—last. We definitely had to have a culture change and it took me those two, well almost three years. There was a complete culture change and a complete buy in. I mean, we were losing kids left and right who didn’t want to be here or didn’t want to work or actually didn’t want to go to class.

Soo, we had a complete culture change where we didn’t compromise on principles at all. And once the kids realized that if they didn’t go to class, they couldn’t practice and maybe even get kicked off the team, or if I don’t get a 3.0 they’re going to put me in study hall for all these times. They realized that they better be showing up 15 minutes early to every workout, treatment and class. They better be sitting in the front row, with the hat off or they weren’t going to make it on the team. Once we had that complete buy in, then we started winning, and that was just unbelievable. Then, we got the community support. The community in Brookings is just amazing. They started to buy in and we started to pack arenas, and the rest I think is history.

WWO: Is Barry Alvarez giving you a good amount of leeway to run this team the way you want?

CB: I mean, I think he hired me for that reason. He’s fired up. I didn’t know this but Coach [Alvarez] was a wrestling coach at one point in his career. So, we had great conversations. I mean he supports wrestling and is super fired up! Going into this, let me tell you: that guy supports wrestling. He wants to win, and he wants to do it the right way. I have no doubt he is going to support us 110% all through this. Doug, our administrator, has been awesome through this whole thing too. He wanted wrestling to start yesterday. The support is there from the top, all the way down.

WWO: Have you had a chance to look at the lineup? Do you see a spot that has the most need?

CB: 125 is a little bit of a need I believe, but I have to get there and see their weight classes. I have to see what everybody weighs and see how they train. You know what I mean? We really just have to evaluate everybody. Watching them from afar, they’re the 16th best team in the country. They finished 6th in the Big Ten. They have a great foundation. They have great recruits coming in. I’ve talked to everybody on the phone, and they all seem like great kids. We are fired up about building off that 16th place finish and using it as a starting point to vault into the top four and atop the Big Ten. As far as need, I have to go in and evaluate plain and simple.

WWO: Do you see potential in Wisconsin to be greater than they already are?

CB: Absolutely. I think everybody can be greater than they are. That’s my philosophy. They finished 16th, they could have been 10th. They were two seconds away from beating my guy at 174. Christensen could’ve advanced to the next round. He could’ve been an All-American. Could they have been better? Yeah. You can always be better. That’s my motto. That’s my approach daily.

WWO: Was this move a tough decision for you?

CB: You know, it got real really quick, let me just say that. I made the decision because I knew this is where I wanted to be. The hardest part was telling people goodbye. It was an easy decision, because of how great Wisconsin is and the support and the potential, but then it got really hard saying goodbye to people around town and friends and my team. However, that’s a good thing I think, because it means we did a great job in creating great relationships. I’m a relationships guy, I love people and I want to establish relationships with them. If you can hug another man and you both can cry, then you know you’ve touched lives and that’s what we do. That’s why we are in this sport—to make impressions on young student-athletes and fans.

WWO: A lot of people believe that Evan and Zander Wick were some of the best recruits Wisconsin has seen in a long time, and their relationship with Barry Davis was strong and personal. They aren’t from Wisconsin and a lot of fans are worried they may try to leave without Coach Davis at the helm. Can you tell me if they are on board staying in Wisconsin?

CB: I’ve spoken with both of them over the phone and I can tell you they’re both fired up about us coming there. When we get there and meet them face to face, and get ahold of Jon Reader, they will soon realize that Jon Reader is the best workout partner they’ll ever find in the world. You can ask any coach in our profession and they will tell you just how outstanding of a guy Jon is. When Evan, Zander and the rest of the guys get around [Jon] they are going to be so impressed it’s going to be unbelievable. So, are they on board? I would say they are based on our conversations. They are great kids. I had a great conversation with both of them. I already think the world of them. When we get in there and see our philosophy, I think they will realize our beliefs are the same. We do plan to get in there, and make sure they are 1000% on board.

WWO: Do you have any of your athletes considering coming to Wisconsin?

CB: I have no idea. I met with them all on Saturday morning. I’m letting things calm down. I have been getting a lot of phone calls and text messages from them. There’s been a lot of tears, but I showed up this morning and they’re running and lifting as usual like they should be doing. They’ve got to settle down some more though. They’re going to make a great hire here [SDSU]. The administration is great. Who knows what’s going to happen there? I’m not sure.


Everything is on the table right now. The main thing right now is we need buy in. We need buy in from the [high school] coaches, from the fans, and from the guys. The sky is the limit. Who knows where we go from here!! I’m excited and can’t wait to get it going!

By TomM March 29, 2018 15:19


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