Robie ready for the challenge as Tech's head wrestling coach

Virginia Tech Wrestling News Conference

Head coach Tony Robie quotes

Student-athlete Jared Haught quotes

By Jimmy Robertson

BLACKSBURG – The person running the Virginia Tech wrestling program these days may be different, but fans can rest assured that the same lofty expectations remain in place.

After thanking all those who played a role in his elevation from interim to permanent head wrestling coach at Tech, Tony Robie made it a point to tell those in attendance at his first news conference since being named the head coach that the expectations weren’t changing with him in charge.

“What I can tell you is this – I’ve been here for 11 years and the goals and expectations of this program are not going to change,” Robie said. “Our goal is to produce individual national champions. Our goal is to produce a team national championship. Our goal is to compete for a trophy at the NCAA tournament every single year. None of those expectations will change.”

Whit Babcock, Tech’s director of athletics, removed the interim tag off Robie’s title two days ago, tabbing him to replace Kevin Dresser, who departed to take the Iowa State head coaching job in mid-February. Babcock’s decision came exactly three days after Robie guided the Hokies to a sixth-place finish at the NCAA Wrestling Championships, marking the program’s fifth straight top-10 finish.

Rather than go outside the program and bring in a new coach, Babcock chose continuity, which makes sense. He not only chose the man who guided Tech to the team title at the ACC Championship and the top-10 finish at the NCAAs, but also the man who helped lure many of the All-Americans over the years who brought the program into national prominence.

Robie definitely wanted the job and for good reason. Primarily, as Dresser’s lieutenant, he helped build it. He invested 11 seasons worth of work and sweat to get it to where it resides today, but he also wanted to be a head coach, telling Dresser that he wasn’t following Dresser to Ames, Iowa.

“I kind of let him know right off the bat,” Robie said. “I passed on opportunities to leave Virginia Tech as an assistant coach, good opportunities. The next move for me was going to be as a head coach. I didn’t see it being at Virginia Tech, quite honestly, but I’m very excited with how things worked out.

“When I moved into the role of interim head coach, I was excited for the challenge, to be honest with you. I was ready to lead this team, and I was excited about being able to work with our guys and move through the postseason. I felt like we did a pretty good job. We won an ACC championship by 30 points. We had five All-Americans at the NCAA tournament. We had a sixth-place finish. We had a lot of really good things happen here in the recent past.”

Without question, and now, he’s been elevated to the position in charge of helping the program reach that final step. Of all of Tech’s 22 varsity sports, wrestling appears the closest to winning a national championship. Five straight top-10 finishes show that the program is not a fluke. On the contrary, it shows a consistency common among all the great programs.

However, the final step is the hardest. Robie knows this, of course, but Tech fans need to understand this, too. Schools such as Penn State, Ohio State, Iowa, Oklahoma State and others take wrestling very seriously, and toppling any of them would be an incredible accomplishment. Tech officials continue to make the commitments needed to put the program in position to do this – from facilities to coaches’ salaries to budgets.

“Absolutely,” Robie said when asked if he had the tools he needed to be successful. “This is a great place. There’s a reason we went from where we were to where we are currently.

“The next step, is it hard? Absolutely. There are some great teams, great programs and great coaches out there, but I am very comfortable with the resources that we have and with the institution that we have. This is an easy place to draw people to. People want to be here. I guess the answer to that is yes. I think we have everything in place to make that next step.”

Any success starts with talent. The Hokies face somewhat of a transitional period next season, as longtime stalwarts Joey Dance, Sal Mastriani and Ty Walz depart. The trio combined for six All-America nods and more than 250 wins over the past four seasons.

But 2017 All-Americans Jared Haught and Solomon Chishko return, along with several other regulars in the lineup and a talented recruiting class. They give the program a core group from which to build, and more importantly, they bought into Robie as a coach a long time ago.

“Having him as the head coach is kind of comforting because I know what kind of coach he is,” Haught said. “I’m glad he’s the head coach. I have a lot of trust and faith in him.

“He deserves it. He’s been here a long time, and I feel like he’s paid his due. He’s been working hard, and I think it was a goal of his – to be the head coach. I think that he has a vision for the program, and we’re going to keep going up toward that national championship and toward getting more All-Americans.”

Robie plans on spending the coming weeks getting his staff solidified, and whether Mike Zadick and Derek St. John stay aboard remains to be seen. He’ll also plan offseason workouts, schedule summer camps, fundraise for the regional training center, and of course, recruit.

Robie will attack it with the same work ethic that he used to help build the program.

“Our approach isn’t going to change much,” he admitted. “I’ve been a big part of the day-to-day operations here at Virginia Tech for 11 years. I’ve worked closely with Kevin Dresser for those 11 years, and I feel like my footprint or my stamp is on this program.

“At the end of the day, it’s about work – getting up and working hard every single day and trying to improve. If you take that approach every day, you can get a lot better over the course of 365 days and certainly over the course of four or five years.”

If that’s a strategy that sounds familiar to Tech fans … well, it is. It got the Hokies into national relevance as a program. Now, Tech officials and Robie are banking that it takes them one more step.

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