AMES — Iowa State athletics director Jamie Pollard was looking for a way to make an impression.
Pollard was set to fly to meet with then-Virginia Tech wrestling coach Kevin Dresser, but was really looking for something to make an impact. So he asked a guest to go with him.
Iowa State football coach Matt Campbell came on board.
The two spent a day in Blacksburg, Va., earlier this month meeting with Dresser and his family. With Campbell’s recent transition from Toledo to Iowa State, he was there to sell the athletics department as well as the life change his family would undergo.
“I’m pretty good at recruiting,” Campbell said with a smile. “More than anything Jamie asked me to go in terms of the transition piece of it. From my end of it, very limited, but very happy to be able to go through it.”
There were plenty of factors that sealed the deal for Dresser to become the new Cyclones wrestling coach, but sending the two highest profile figures in the ISU athletics department didn’t hurt.
“My son, who is 14-years-old, when he heard the head football coach from Iowa State was coming to our house, he was pretty pumped, Coach Campbell,” Dresser said. “I’m telling you that.”
Dresser, 54, officially accepted the job as the Cyclones coach Sunday, agreeing to a seven-year deal worth $2.25 million guaranteed plus incentives. His base salary next year is $300,000, making him one of the highest-paid wrestling coaches in the nation.
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A Humboldt, Iowa, native, Dresser was pulled back to his home state through a variety of channels. He spent 18 years as a high school coach in Virginia and 11 at Virginia Tech — his team finished fourth at NCAAs last year — but ultimately the family draw was key.
“Luckily Jamie paid me enough money so I can go back and forth to Virginia a lot and keep my other side of my family happy,” Dresser said. “So it’s a win-win.”
In the short term, Dresser wants to reach out to recruits and meet with the current team — although he said he doesn’t want to distract from upcoming Big 12 and NCAA Championship runs. He also wants to meet with alumni of the program and increase the presence of the Cyclone Wrestling Club by developing a Cyclone Regional Training Center.
“The advent of the regional training centers potentially makes the haves and the have-nots get bigger,” Dresser said. “We have to understand the culture and understand we have to put systems in place that allow us to compete with the Penn States, the Iowas, the Oklahoma States of the world. That’s going to take a little bit of time.”
Some of Dresser’s long-term goals are the norm — graduating wrestlers, developing NCAA and Olympic-caliber athletes — but he ended with a declaration. He wants Iowa State to start beating Iowa again.
“It’s OK to say we want to beat Iowa, isn’t it?” Dresser said. “No. 1, it’s fun. It’s a lot of fun. No. 2, it’s a benchmark. Let’s face it, Iowa’s pretty darn good and I don’t see them getting any worse. So if we’re competing at that level, we’re in the hunt.”
It’s hard to consider the Iowa and Iowa State wrestling rivalry as a traditional rivalry, given it’s so one-sided. Iowa has won 43 of the last 45 duals, including 13 straight. The Cyclones never beat Iowa under coach Kevin Jackson, losing nine duals by an average of 15.9 points.
“(Iowa head coach) Tom and (associate head coach) Terry (Brands) will do their parts to stoke this fire,” Pollard. “We won’t have to bring the gas or the matches.”
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When Dresser took over at Virginia Tech in 2006, it was coming off a one-win dual season under Tom Brands.
“That situation was much different, much more difficult,” Dresser said when asked to compare Iowa State’s one-win dual season. “The previous administration took all the guys, wink wink.”
Brands left for Iowa in 2006, but the divorce between he and Hokies was messy. Virginia Tech wouldn’t allow five wrestlers scholarship releases, which culminated in a lawsuit that was ultimately dropped in 2006. Dresser took over the program — which the school considered dropping — and won 20 duals in his third season.
“I respect the heck out of them,” Dresser said. “There’s nothing wrong with saying I want to beat them, and I want to beat them.”