A New Vantage Point
June 17, 2010
By Larry Watts
It is a passion he developed when he first started wrestling as a eighth grader in the Glenview (Ill.) Park District, but Tim Cysewski, now 56, isn't ready to walk away quite yet. He's simply moving over one chair.
After a brilliant career at the University of Iowa, where he was an All-American and five-time Midlands champion, Cysewski returned to his roots 28 years ago to become an assistant coach under Tom Jarman at Northwestern University. When Jarman left eight years later, Cysewski took over the reigns of the Wildcat program, a position he has held for the past 20 years. The most successful mat coach in Northwestern history ended that ride at this year's NCAA Championships when he switches places with associate head coach Drew Pariano.
"It's just a switch in job description," says Cysewski. "I just won't be the face of the program anymore, which is OK since I'm kind of ugly anyway.
"I don't know what's going to change; we'll just go from year to year. The architecture might change a little bit, but I think this will make us stronger in the long run because Drew is younger (33) and he's going to continue what we've been doing all this time and adding a little more to it.
"I recruited Drew as a wrestler to Northwestern and now we've been working together for the past five years," he added. "I know his strengths and he knows mine. We'll both be out there trying to recruit the best possible kids we can for Northwestern."
Cysewski believes Pariano, a 2000 Northwestern graduate, is his only former wrestler to go into coaching on a full-time basis. The former three-time NCAA qualifier spent three seasons as an assistant coach at Division III John Carroll University and two years as head coach at Cornell College in Mount Vernon, Iowa before returning to his alma mater.
"We both feel the time is right to make the move," Cysewski says. "We all wear the same hats here, but Drew is more into the high tech stuff. He's on his Blackberry or Facebook all the time contacting people. I'm not getting close to that Facebook stuff because people already know more than they need to just by Googling me. I'm old school, where I'll get on the phone and do the faxing. Drew hates to use the fax; he just e-mails people."
Although eighth grade is considered a late start in wrestling circles, Cysewski was always determined to reach the pinnacle of his sport as he ascended each level. As a senior at Glenbrook South High School, a 15-minute drive from the Northwestern campus, he claimed the Illinois state championship at 119 pounds and earned a scholarship to Iowa.
"Going into wrestling was a way to separate myself from my twin brother Kenny and create my own identity," he says. "Kenny went to Iowa State on a gymnastics scholarship and they won the national championship while I went to Iowa and we won the national championship.
"Wrestling really appealed to me over sports like baseball, football and basketball because I liked the challenge of figuring out your opponent, both mentally and physically. I didn't have to rely on a team to do it and your wins and losses don't depend on other people. In wrestling, it's basically just you, and if you do a good job you win.
"I always looked for the ultimate goal in the sport," he added. "In high school, it was the conference and state championship. Then in college, it became the Big Ten and NCAA championships. Internationally, it's winning the U.S. Nationals, being on the world teams and becoming an Olympic champion. I was driven to reach those goals."
Cysewski remembers sitting in his dorm room before the start of his freshman year watching Iowa State great Dan Gable win the gold medal at the 1972 Olympics in Munich without giving up a point. Three days later, Gable was in the Iowa wrestling room for a morning practice as a new assistant coach.
"It was a double-edge sword," he says. "I remember thinking, 'Great, we have Gable in our room, and now he's going to beat the crap out of us."'
Although Gable wrestled at 150, all the weight classes were his prey in the wrestling room. Cysewski, who was 5-foot-5 at the time, wrestled at 126 for his first three seasons and had more than his fair share of scrums with the Olympic gold medalist.
"Big or small, he was going to find a way to teach you a lot of things," Cysewski says of Gable. "And he was going to tire you out."
As a senior, Cysewski hit a bit of a growth spurt, growing two inches, and was moved up to 134 pounds. All the Hawkeye co-captain did was take third place, earning All-American honors, at the NCAA Championships while Iowa won the team title. Cysewski completed his Hawkeye career with a record of 99-23-4.
After graduating in 1976 with a degree in business administration, Cysewski elected to remain in Iowa City to continue wrestling and help run the Hawkeye Wrestling Club with his ultimate goal to wrestle at the 1980 Olympics in Moscow. Gable was named Iowa's head wrestling coach the following year.
During his time with the Hawkeye Wrestling Club, Cysewski added three more Midlands titles to the two he won as a collegiate wrestler. He also added titles at the World Cup, Pan Am Games, New Zealand Games and National Federation Championship to his resume.
However, his quest for an Olympic gold never came to fruition. In the midst of competition at the U.S. Trials that summer, President Jimmy Carter ordered a boycott of U.S. participation in the Moscow.
"I thought I had a great shot at making the Olympic team because I felt I was in the best shape ever," he says. "It's always going to be one of those things where you wonder 'what if,' especially in the Olympic years. It was something taken out of my control."
It was at the Midlands Championships in 1981 when former Northwestern head coach Tom Jarman first approached Cysewski with an offer. He wanted the Glenview native to return home as an assistant coach for the Wildcats.
"I told Tom I had to fulfill my duties as coach of the Hawkeye Club and I might consider it later," Cysewski says. "I figured Tom would go ahead and fill the position, but a few months later he called and told me the offer was still on the table.
"My wife (Kim) and I talked about it. She had a good job in Cedar Rapids and I was running the Hawkeye Club, so I wasn't looking to move. But if I wanted to stay in this (wrestling), I wanted to remain in the Big Ten and Northwestern was offering me the opportunity. Fortunately, Kim was able to transfer to a corporate job within the company here."
After eight years, Jarman left and Cysewski became the new head coach. During the next 19 years, he would coach 27 All-Americans, 12 Big Ten champions and four NCAA champions. He has had a total of 88 NCAA qualifiers and twice led the Cats for fourth place at the NCAA Championships.
"What really appealed to me was the challenge of the private schools versus the state schools," he says. "Not only did we have to recruit top wrestlers, but we had to bring in smart kids as well. I like those kinds of challenges. I could have coached in a different area, but I liked the idea of bringing in good kids both athletically and academically.
"The big problem we face, especially in these economic times, is dividing up those 9.9 scholarships the NCAA allots us. People don't say no to Northwestern because they don't want to wrestle here, it's because of the finances. As a coach, you just have to convince there are other ways to do things financially and how much this education is going to mean to their sons when they graduate."
Cysewski has no time frame when it comes to deciding how long he will remain as Pariano's assistant.
"When I started doing this, I didn't think it would be for this long," he says. "I can't believe how quickly the time has gone because I've been having so much fun. It's been 28 years at Northwestern and I still want to be part of all this.
"When you're having a good time and have a passion for something, time is never an issue. But it does get kind of interesting when I go into the homes of some of my former wrestlers to recruit their sons. That's the kind of stuff that makes me go, 'Holy smokes!"'
As the new head coach, Pariano is hardly inheriting a bare cupboard. The Cats' last freshman class was ranked in the top 15 nationally and their incoming recruiting class, has been ranked as high No. 2. Add in the fact that NCAA qualifiers Brandon Precin, an All-American, and Jason Welch both elected to take a redshirt in 2009-10 in order to strengthen themselves for the future.
"I just consider myself very fortunate to have been around and learn from so many great coaches throughout my career," Cysewski says. "Our dual meet record might not be as good as others, but we feel individually we can match up with anyone. It never has been about my dual record; it's about how many national champions and All-Americans I can produce."