Lorenzo will enter National Wrestling HOF
STATE COLLEGE — As hard as it is to imagine, there was a time when Rich Lorenzo, whose name is as synonymous with Penn State wrestling as any other, gave no thought to coaching.
A quirk of fate in the late 1960s, as Lorenzo was finishing up his degree at Penn State, spawned a Hall of Fame coaching career for the man whose name graces the training home of the Nittany Lions, the Lorenzo Wrestling Complex.
Lorenzo, who was an assistant coach at Penn State from 1968-72 and head coach from 1978-92, will be inducted into the National Wrestling Hall of Fame on Saturday in Stillwater, Oklahoma.
“It means a lot to me,” Lorenzo said. “I look at it this way: I’m receiving the award but there’s a lot of people out there who earned the award and helped me earn it. It’s really Penn State wrestling. That’s what it’s always been. It was never just my team. There have been so many people who have helped me and so many great fans and supporters that I’m just so honored to receive it.”
While growing up on a 350-acre dairy farm in Newton, New Jersey, Lorenzo wrestled for Newton High School. He won two district titles and was a state runner-up before walking on to the Penn State wrestling team.
At Penn State, Lorenzo was a three-year starter, an Eastern Intercollegiate Wrestling Association champion and an All-American.
Following his senior season, Lorenzo was working on his family farm when he received a call from then-assistant coach George Edwards.
“He said, ‘Lorenzo, you’re the new assistant coach here at Penn State.’ I said, ‘What are you talking about, George?’ He said, ‘I put your name in and you got the job,'” Lorenzo said.
Edwards, who was leaving Penn State to be the coach at Virginia, submitted Lorenzo’s name to be considered as Edwards’ successor.
“I never dreamt one day of my life about being a coach. I never thought about being a teacher either,” Lorenzo said. “So I said, ‘Wow.'”
Lorenzo reported back to Penn State in the fall to assume his new duties as assistant coach and physical education activities instructor, teaching self-defense courses, weight and strength training, squash, boxing, racquetball, handball and, of course, wrestling.
Lorenzo still had one course to finish for his undergraduate degree and decided to add a couple graduate courses in dairy management, which dovetailed with his agriculture degree.
“I thought, ‘if I don’t like this coaching and teaching, I’ll be a field man or a county agent in agriculture, because I loved agriculture,'” he said.
“After two weeks of coaching and teaching, I said ‘The Lord really gave me an opportunity that I’m not failing on.’ It was just a great time to go to work for 30-some years at this university and run the wrestling program and never feel like it was work.”
Lorenzo’s teams compiled a 188-64-9 record, won 11 Eastern Wrestling League championships, produced six top-five finishes at the NCAA Championships and finished in the top 10 in 11 of his 14 seasons as coach.
He was named EWL coach of the year in 1981-84, 1987 and 1991 and was national coach of the year twice. He coached 53 All-Americans and four of his wrestlers — Jeff Prescott (2), Carl DeStefanis, Scott Lynch and Jim Martin — won five national championships.
Lorenzo’s impact on the sport resonated beyond Happy Valley. He was co-executive director of the National Wrestling Coaches Association from 1993-95, raising one half of the NWCA coaches’ $1 million capital campaign challenge. He served as membership chair and treasurer for the NWCA from 1993-99. Lorenzo also served as executive director and treasurer for the Nittany Lion Wrestling Club, serving as the major fundraiser to fully endow the wrestling program. He was the chief fundraiser for the $4 million wrestling complex that bears his name.
The coach whose team now trains in that facility, Cael Sanderson, has maintained a close relationship with Lorenzo since taking the job.
“I was very happy to see Coach Lorenzo get inducted into the Hall of Fame,” he said. “It’s very much deserved. I say it every chance I get, Penn State wrestling is what it is today because of Coach Lorenzo. The support that we have is because of the relationships he built with wrestlers when he was coaching, the attitude and a lot of the standards — the high standard that Penn State wrestling has. I think that was a great decision to induct him into the Hall of Fame.”
Lorenzo’s admiration for Sanderson and his assistants, Cody Sanderson and Casey Cunningham, is obvious.
“It’s respect, I think. They’re doing so much for Penn State, the three coaches — Cody, Cael and Casey. They’re giving their all. It’s their life. That’s what wrestling was for me, my life,” Lorenzo said. “People say it was a job. No, it was my life. There wasn’t a day that I got up and didn’t think about wrestling. These guys are able to get the most out of people. It’s just amazing. They wrestle an aggressive style. They wrestle an entertaining style. They go for it. They get the kids to get relaxed, have fun and push themselves to no end. I just respect those guys so much.”
Through all the years, Lorenzo still shares an affinity for the young men he coached. He refuses to single any out.
“I never have ranked any of my wrestlers and I never will. They’re all special,” he said.
You can witness his former wrestlers’ admiration for him, and his for them, before home Penn State dual meets. Many climb to the top of Rec Hall’s south side to visit him in his reserved viewing spot on the track.
“That means everything to me. In life, I just think we try to help each other. If there’s any way we can make each other’s life better, staying within the rules, keeping integrity and honesty. I think it’s just neat,” he said.
“To see guys start to succeed in their lives, in their vocations, their marriages and their kids, it’s just a great feeling. I’m a very wealthy person. That’s why they named me Rich. I’ll always be Rich, and I feel that way.”