High-profile hire: Zalesky looking forward to coaching Jimmies

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Michael Savaloja, The Jamestown Sun, N.D.
·5 min read
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May 5—A desire to return to coaching, coupled with a sense of camaraderie felt while visiting the University of Jamestown campus, is bringing National Wrestling Hall of Fame coach Jim Zalesky back to the mat.

The University of Jamestown announced Tuesday it has hired Zalesky to become the school's next head men's wrestling coach. Zalesky will be replacing Dan Lovell, who was let go in March after heading up the Jimmie men's wrestling program for six seasons.

"I'm just looking to get back into coaching," Zalesky said. "That camaraderie amongst the coaches (at UJ) kinda sold me. I like that type of environment."

Zalesky's head coaching resume is impressive, with an NCAA Division I dual record of 274-109-2 in nine years at Iowa and 14 more at Oregon State. Zalesky guided the Hawkeyes — his alma mater — to three national team championships between 1998-2000.

A four-time All-American and three-time individual national champion for the Hawkeyes as a wrestler between 1981-84, Zalesky was inducted into the National Wrestling Hall of Fame in 2003.

Zalesky is stepping into a rebuild at the NAIA level. Jamestown finished the 2020-21 season with a dual record of 4-7 and has produced seven NAIA national qualifiers since 2017.

"He's a great fit for us," University of Jamestown Athletic Director Sean Johnson said. "He's a small-town Iowa guy. He fits our culture, he likes what we do, and, obviously, we like what he's done.

"He's incredibly accomplished and we're fortunate to have him."

A native of Shueyville, Iowa, and a two-time state champion for Cedar Rapids Prairie High School, Salesky is returning to coach in the Midwest after more than a decade in the Pac-12.

Zalesky's former high-profile jobs came with equally high expectations. Oregon State let the six-time Pac-12 coach of the year go in March of 2020 after winning 147 dual victories and seven conference titles, the last Pac-12 title coming in 2016.

Zalesky was also let go from Iowa in 2006 after placing fourth at the NCAA national tournament, following his run of three national championships. Zalesky followed legendary Iowa coach, Olympic gold medalist, and 2020 Presidential Medal of Freedom recipient Dan Gable as coach of the Hawkeyes. Gable's dual record at Iowa stands at 355-21-5.

Zalesky was hired at Oregon State in 2006 by Bob De Carolis, who resigned as the school's AD in 2015. Oregon State's current athletic director is Scott Barnes.

"The leadership changed, and when the leadership changes sometimes it's good and sometimes it's bad," Zalesky said, on his departure from Oregon State. "When I look at this job I look at the leadership of Sean Johnson.

"I liked the situation, I liked the town," Zalesky added. "It's kinda like going back to the Midwest a little bit for me."

The Jimmies will be a different type of challenge for the former Division I coach.

Jamestown holds a Great Plains Athletic Conference dual record of 12-19 since joining the conference in 2017-18 and finished eighth out of nine teams at last February's GPAC championships held in Fremont, Nebraska.

"It doesn't matter where you're at, whether your team's on top or not where you want them to be," Zalesky said. "As a coach, you go in there and try to change the culture to where you want it. You work with the kids that are there and you try to turn them around to thinking they can be as successful as they want to be."

Zalesky has been in new, challenging situations before, citing his stint as an assistant coach at the University of Minnesota in 1986.

"When I went to Minnesota with (former Gophers head coach) J Robinson, you looked and maybe they weren't the top-notch guys, but we turned a lot of guys around that year and you just kinda build from there," Zalesky said. "It comes down to just putting the time in every day. When you work hard good things happen to you."

Zalesky has coached 59 Division I All-Americans, four Olympians, and was named the NCAA's national coach of the year in 1998 and 1999. He was inducted into the Iowa Wrestling Hall of Fame in 1994.

"At the end of the day, when you look at Jim he's a teacher," Johnson said. "He's a teacher of the game, he's a teacher of life. That's what he loves to do.

"He's been nothing but successful and I think he is really going to bring that pride back to the Jimmie wrestling program."

Zalesky said he'll be settling into Jamestown this summer. Current Jimmie men's wrestling staff also includes assistant coach Claude Robinson and graduate assistant Theo Robinson.

"I like teaching. I like being in the room, I like working with kids and helping them reach their goals," Zalesky said. "Not just on the mat, but off the mat. Helping them get their degrees and preparing them for their future.

"That's what coaching's all about. You get them there for four or five years and then they're off and, hopefully, they had a great experience, not just wrestling but also academically."