By Patrick Cooley, Sports Editor
Former members of the UNO wrestling program are close to finalizing plans to start a new wrestling program at Maryville University, a Division II school located in suburban St. Louis, according to former head coach Mike Denney.
“We’re progressing along with it,” Denney said. “I think we’re close to doing it. We’re just looking for a home.”
While Maryville and UNO had hoped to have a decision made by this week, Denney said Maryville President Mark Lombardi has been out of the office on business this week.
“The president is out traveling this week, so a week or so,” Denney said in reference to when a possible decision would be made. “They are making sure, with NCAA rules, everything is done correctly. They are working on all that.”
Denney and the Maverick wrestlers have been making trips to Maryville to see the campus and meet with University officials.
“We took another group down this week,” he said. “We’ve been able to get most of our guys onto the campus, and we have to do that. It’s hard for somebody to commit to something they’ve never seen. Its something you don’t want to force.”
While Denney is hopeful that many former Mavs will come with him, there are still a number of uncertainties surrounding the wrestlers’ decisions.
“We’re having to recruit every guy because it’s a new location and a different school,” he said.
Despite a desire to stay together, the former program faces many practical challenges. The former Mavs have academic and geographic challenges that still need worked out.
“Location and academic challenges exist especially for those that are further along,” he said. “And then there is the money challenge. We have to get all the financial aid to match up.”
Despite the hassles of trying to complete what Denney claims would be the first movement of an entire program in NCAA history, the coach has found a true home in Maryville.
“For the last couple of years we’ve felt like we weren’t valued [at UNO],” he said. “It’s nice to have people who are embracing us. They are impressed with our guys.”
According to Denney, Lombardi has eased the concerns of staff and wrestlers alike.
“The president talked to every group [of UNO wrestlers and coaches that visited],” Denney said. “I wanted that, because they are a little weary because look at what happened here. They wanted to know this guy is for real and wants us here.”
Maryville was the first to contact the former UNO head coach about the possibility of starting a program, but Denney also spoke with Creighton University, Bellevue University and Benedictine College.
While he hopes to bring along some of his former staff, Denney said many are firmly grounded in Omaha.
“All of us [at UNO] are part-time,” the former coach and HPER instructor said. “I can’t bring along a lot of our coaches because they’re established here.”
Denney hopes to at least bring along former UNO graduate assistant James Reynolds and graduating seniors, Ryan Pankoke and Mario Morgan to join his staff.
“My wife and I are willing to do it,” Denney said. “We’ll sell our home and go where we need to go. It’s not like I’m trying to build up my resume. We’re doing it for the kids. I’ll start a fire somewhere else.”