Zeke Jones’ blueprint for restoring Arizona State wrestling also comes with red and white ones as well.
The newly appointed Sun Devil head coach plans on rejuvenating the ASU program by using the same approach employed to bring the U.S. Olympic freestyle program back to prominence.
“We had one medalist in Henry (Cejudo) in ’08 (Olympic Games),” Jones said. “No one could say it was successful considering and we had to rethink what we were doing. I put together a strategic planning committee in order to better understand what was needed to turn things around.
“You need to know what the end (goal) is before you can begin chasing it.”
It worked once (two gold and two bronze medals in 2012), so Jones is attempting a similar approach with Arizona State after being hired 10 weeks ago.
There were about 40 people from the Arizona wrestling community making up the Arizona State wrestling strategic planning committee hoping to figure out what is needed to make the state better as a whole.
They held sessions this past week while Arizona State hosted the three age levels of the U.S. national team.
The focus of the planning committee is to help the Sun Devils once again becoming the best program in the West and getting mentioned with Iowa, Oklahoma State and Penn State nationally, but it is also about getting the high school and Arizona USA wrestling programs up to a level of excellence as well.
And many believe Jones, with his knowledge, connections, passion and personality, is the guy to bring it all together.
“That is exactly who Arizona as a whole needed, but especially Arizona State,” said 2008 Olympic gold medalist Henry Cejudo, a Maryvale product. “This should be the premier program in the West every year with the sunshine, co-eds, facilities and history Arizona State can offer. He is the guy to bring ASU back to the glory days.”
Many believe that process has already started with the way Jones has approached the first two months, whether it is visiting the Sunkist Kids camp in Blue Ridge, starting the strategic planning committee, having college wrestlers like Dalton Brady (Chandler/Utah Valley) and Alex Bambic (Desert Vista/Central Michigan) return home as transfers or getting top verbal commitments like he recently received from Zahid and Anthony Valencia, top-ranked siblings from St. John Bosco (Calif.).
“He knows how to get things done and goes about it the right way,” Queen Creek coach Tom Wokasch said. “He just gets it, and there has been a change for the better happening already. This is the place to be right now.”
And not just because the national team camp for the U.S. Worlds team, Junior Worlds team and Worlds University team are working out at ASU’s Riches Wrestling Complex through July 2.
Although it doesn’t hurt having the wrestling community focused on news coming out of ASU while having someone like Jordan Burroughs, the sport’s most popular athlete, inside the Devils’ facility working hard with youth wrestlers watching every step and going live against Aaron Pico, a high-school-aged athlete who turned pro earlier this year.
“He’s a proven winner as a competitor and a coach at the Olympic and international level,” Burroughs said about Jones. “He has been around high-level guys for a large numbers of years, so there is no doubt in my mind that he will have Arizona State turned around in no time.”
Jones, 49, could have stayed in Colorado Springs with the U.S. Freestyle team for years to come, where the athletes come to you instead of having to go out recruit them. And he told ASU officials when they first called as much. He was happy and wanted to see through what he helped start.
Then he got a sense of Arizona State’s commitment. A feel for what school officials wanted the program to become. An idea of the lengths they were willing to go to make the Sun Devils a championship program.
“When they approached me and I laid out what I thought it would take, including a world-class coaching staff, and they said they wanted the same thing, I had to think twice,” he said. “As much as I loved being part of USA Wrestling, I’m a Sun Devil.
“My wife and I vacation here and planned on retiring here. Now we are already here and I can stay here as long as they’ll have me.”
It will take some time on the mat to get the results he wants. He isn’t about to predict championships or timeline even though he has a clear idea of what he wants to happen in the years to come. The roster he inherits is nowhere near the type of team he helped become national champions in 1988 as a three-time All-American.
Technique, toughness and the right culture in the practice room will come with time.
He fully admits he is bit rusty on all of the NCAA rules and regulations, having last coached at the NCAA level in 2007 for Penn, but Jones is not only fully up to speed in the wrestling room, he sets the pace.
“We are going to have to work the talent we have in the room,” he said. “When I first got to USA Wrestling, we got some wrestlers like Jordan Burroughs, Jake Varner and Brent Metcalf to commit to being builders. They wanted to be part of the change, to be the ones who turned things around and build for the future. We need to find those types of committed wrestlers for Arizona State; those who are ready to be part of the change.
“I am here and I am ready to build.”
• Contact writer: (480) 898-7915 or JSkoda@ahwatukee.com. Follow him on Twitter @JSkodaAFN.