Prayer Answered

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By Patrick Cooley, Sports Editor

Former Nebraska Omaha wrestling coach Mike Denney will become the first head wrestling coach at Maryville University, according to Denney and a Maryville advisory. 

Denney also anticipates bringing a number of his former wrestlers with him to the Division II school.

“We’re providing an opportunity for them,” Denney said. “I’m not trying to improve my resume, I’m just trying to provide an opportunity for [my wrestlers] to carry on what we started here.”

On Tuesday, Maryville Associate Vice President Marty Parkes sent out a press release stating that the University was set to “announce [the] hiring of [a] national championship coach,” it also stated that it was launching a new varsity sport.

Denney, who has won seven national championships in his 32 seasons as head coach at UNO, confirmed that he would be named head coach at the suburban St. Louis school. Maryville will introduce Denney at a press conference Thursday at 11 a.m.

Both Denney and Maryville have been in discussions since the NU Board of Regents’ March 25 approval of UNO’s proposal to move to Division I athletics, and drop both the wrestling and football programs in the process.

According to Denney, Maryville was the first school to contact him following that decision.

“Maryville was the first to call and it was like a prayer answered,” Denney said. “Our prayer all along was, ‘Is there anyway we can hold this thing together?'”

Denney has been vocal in his disapproval of UNO Athletic Director Trev Alberts and his handling of the decision. The coach was notified of UNO’s decision to drop wrestling just hours after his program won its third consecutive national championship. 

While Denney has questioned the timing and the professionalism of Alberts, he said his experience with Maryville President Mark Lombardi has been completely different.

“For the last couple of years we’ve felt like we weren’t valued,” Denney said. “It’s nice to have people embracing us.”

Though the coach has found a new home, his work is far from over. Denney said he is having to recruit his former student-athletes to join him at Maryville.

“I’m having to re-recruit every guy, because it’s a new location and a different school, ” Denney said. “I’d like to bring everybody, but I guess it just depends on how good of a salesman I am.”

Maryville’s tuition has been one obstacle to Denney’s recruitment of his former wrestlers. The private school’s tuition for the 2010-11 school year is $21,922, according to the University’s website. UNO’s, on the other hand, is $15,982.50 for out-of state students and $5,947.50 for in-state students. While athletic scholarships take care of some of the financial burden, Denney said more is needed.

“We’re having to get all the financial aid to match up,” said Denney. “But they’re working with us on it.”

In addition to his former wrestlers, Denney hopes to bring along some of his 11 former assistants, though many have other jobs in Omaha, which won’t allow them to move.

“A lot of us were part-time at UNO,” Denney said. “I can’t bring along a lot of the coaches because they’re established in Omaha.”

The coach said he hopes former graduate assistant James Reynolds and two of his national champions from last season – Mario Morgan and Ryan Pankoke – can join him at his new school.

Maryville is currently completing its reclassification from Division III to Division II athletics.  The new wrestling program will be eligible to compete for championships in its inaugural season, though it is unclear whether they will join a wrestling conference or wrestling as an independent.

More information will be made available after Thursday’s press conference.

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