The Minnesota Golden Gophers wrestling team is currently 5-2 overall and has a 2-1 Big Ten record. That has earned them a spot in the national rankings at No. 13. The team has seven wrestlers in the top 20 of their respective weights as well. Things are looking good for the program’s immediate future; however, just over a year ago the program was in a completely different place.
On September 7, 2016, longtime coach J Robinson was fired for not sharing everything he knew about members of his teams use of the prescription sedative Xanax. The University of Minnesota’s investigation into the scandal also led to the suspension of several wrestlers.
After Robinson’s firing, then assistant coach Brandon Eggum took over the head coaching duties on an interim basis. On January 26, 2017, Eggum was named the full-time head coach by athletic director Mark Coyle. Since then, the program has slowly been building its reputation back up under the new head coach’s guidance.
The wrestlers on the team have loved Eggum’s positive and light-hearted style since day one. Something that differed from the former head coach’s more serious demeanor.
“I think coach Eggum is really good at staying positive,” red shirt senior Nick Wanzek said. “I think wrestling, most people are kind of perfectionists in a way. In every match, we always try to look for something to improve on and sometimes that can kind of get you down. He has a really lighthearted sense. He keeps stuff fun and entertaining. Overall, I think that helps in the scope of the sport.”
Wanzek has been a member of the Gophers’ wrestling program since the 2013-14 season, so he was here through the transition from Robinson to Eggum. He thought the uncertainty of the situation was difficult, but that it never derailed the goals of the Minnesota wrestlers. He said he was glad that Eggum got the job because the program has been headed in the right direction since.
Wanzek noted that they are similar in some ways, yet different in others.
“I think [Robinson and Eggum’s] fire for competition is the same,” said Wanzek. “They think that we can’t be worried about winning and losing, but just going out and competing for seven minutes. That’s kind of the Minnesota wrestling mindset: we’re going to battle as hard as we can for seven minutes and the score is going to take care of itself. I think both of them did a good job of stressing it. I think their biggest difference is that Eggum keeps things more fun. He jokes around a lot and that makes it more fun to come to practice; whereas, coach Robinson was more serious.”
Sophomore Owen Webster also enjoys Eggum’s silly side.
“They’re fun,” said Webster. “Eggum is super goofy sometimes.”
When it comes to the x’s and o’s, Eguum hasn’t changed many things since taking over the position of head coach. The reason for this is the program had great success before he took over. However, he and his staff have made some minor adjustments due to different athletes entering the program.
“The tradition here and the system that we have is something that has been proven to work at the very top,” said Eggum. “It’s one of the best programs in the country, so there’s a lot of things that we kept with it. We added some things here and there, or added our own tweaks, but that comes with every season and different individuals. The most important thing as a coach is you have to realize that you have different individuals out there. It’s not like these guys are the same; they’re not robots. We have to look at them and see what each guy needs. As a coach, if you can do that well. You can have good success.”
There has been one area where he has focused on making some changes. Eggum has focused a lot on developing good leaders and good people. He’s done this by developing a leadership program that consists of breaking his guys into smaller teams that makes younger guys mesh with older guys. He thinks this mentorship will help his younger wrestlers become better leaders in the future.
“It’s difficult to be a captain, but [guys] get thrown into it,” said Eggum. “We want to mentor these guys, so in the process they become leaders. We want to make sure that we pick guys that are going to live all three parts of their life: the social part, the academic part and the competitive part in the way that we want our program to be looked at and admired. I think that the guys are doing a great job of that.”
On top of developing leaders, Eggum and his staff are also trying to focus on building good human beings. Eggum’s top priority as a coach isn’t about wins and losses, it’s making sure that his guys are ready to be successful and contribute to society after they graduate.
“Just get the guys prepared academically, so that when they graduate from here they can go on to do great things,” said Eggum. “The big thing is that when guys come in here, we want to develop them to be great students and great wrestlers, but when they leave we want to make sure that it’s not wins and losses that we’re concerned with, but that we develop them as people, so that when they leave, they are the types of people that are going to go out in the community and do great things.”
Eggum wasn’t new to the Gopher wrestling program when he was hired as head coach. He had spent the prior five seasons as the head assistant coach, before that he had been on the staff as an assistant coach since 2004. Eggum was the strength and conditioning coordinator from 2001-2004 as well.
What Eggum is probably best known for, besides being the current head coach, is his career as a student athlete at the University of Minnesota. He lettered as a member of the Gophers from 1997-2000. Eggum was a three time All American during his career. He also won two Big Ten Championships at 184 in 1999 and 2000. He was a member of four top-three teams at NCAA Championships as well. Eggum’s success wasn’t just limited to the mat. He also was a four-time All-Big Ten academic honoree. All of this success led to Eggum thoroughly enjoying his time as a Gopher and he thinks it helps him as a coach when it comes time to recruit.
“My experiment as a student athlete here was phenomenal,” said Eggum. “I loved it. That’s one of the things that makes it easy to sell this program. I can actually talk to these kids and individuals about what it’s like to be a student athlete in this program.”
The former Gopher wrestler will continue to try and rebuild his programs reputation and produce good results on the mat. While doing this, he is enjoying his opportunity to be the coach of the program that has provided him with so much.
“It is amazing to be able to be the coach at your alma matter.”