Wartburg’s head wrestling coach Eric Keller was named the d3wrestle.com National Coach of the Year last week.
This is the third time he has received this honor in his career.
Keller was previously recognized in both 2012 and 2015.
“It’s not about me, it’s not about our coaches,” Keller said. “It’s about our guys. That’s how we approach everything we do.”
Keller has been part of the Wartburg wrestling program for nearly 17 years and led the team to their record-setting 13th NCAA Championship this season. They have won six of the last seven NCAA championships.
Keller, along with All-American wrestler Logan Thomsen, attributed this success to the entire coaching staff within the program.
“I don’t think anybody has success doing things on their own,” Keller said. “This shouldn’t be a coach of the year award, it should be a staff of the year award.”
As a transfer student from Iowa, Thomsen came to Wartburg to improve his wrestling career. During the decision-making process, Thomsen said the Wartburg staff told him he was going to be a champion.
“They all make an effort to make our wrestling a priority to them. It’s about our development, not the coaches’ image,” Thomsen said.
Along with improving their techniques in the sport, Keller also emphasizes the importance of improving the students’ character, earning an education and learning valuable life lessons.
“One of the great things about coaching is that there’s a different challenge every single day,” Keller said. “The main challenge is changing the way guys think and keeping their minds right.”
Thomsen said Keller achieves this by being professional in his coaching, but also being able to reach the athletes on a personal level.
It’s not always about working harder, but smarter.
“Keller’s style as a coach is kind of hard to describe in a few words,” Thomsen said. “Previously, I wasn’t really getting the attention and coaching that I needed to thrive and was actually going backwards. Right from the beginning, Keller made me feel like my development as a wrestler was a priority and I wasn’t just a practice partner.”
Another characteristic of the program that draws wrestlers from around the country is their tradition of success.
Keller said every athlete that has gone through the program in the last 24 years has been a part of at least one national championship team.
Keller’s favorite tradition of the program is the quarter-century party in celebration of their championship banners. This event is held every five years and brings back years’ worth of wrestlers, stories and praise for the program and Wartburg College.
Keller said he and the team would not be where they are today without Wartburg.
“Wartburg supports athletes, it supports excellence. It’s amazing to be in a place that really gets excellence because that’s what we are ultimately striving for.”