King of the mat
Wins. Titles. Championships. Legacy. J.D. Alley and the Culver wrestling program is in the midst of a dynasty.
Twelve state titles in 13 years, 50 state individual champions, 47 runners-up, 14 National High School All-Americans — are just a few accomplishments the Culver wrestling program has had under the helm of Alley.
Multiple Oregon Athletic Coaches Association Wrestling Coach of the Year awards, OACA Coach of the Year, National Federation of State High School Association State Wrestling Coach of the Year, National Collegiate Wrestling Association State Coach of the Year for the sport of Wrestling, OACA 25 Years of Service to the Sport of Wrestling are just some of the accolades Alley has received over his 30-year coaching career.
Alley didn't just win awards for coaching wrestling. His wrestling awards came a long time before taking up the duty of reviving a dying wrestling program, when he took the program over in 1989.
As an athlete at Culver High School, Alley did not lose a single match, winning three state titles as a Bulldog. The only year he didn't win a state title, he broke his leg and couldn't wrestle.
From there, he went on to break records at Southern Oregon University. Alley finished his SOU career with a 93-33-2 record and, upon graduating, was the program's career leader in victories. The heavyweight wrestler finished third at the NAIA championships in 1988 and second in his senior season in 1989.
Alley grew up on the family farm in Culver, in the house he stills lives in today.
"The house I live in is the house they took me home from the hospital to," Alley said.
"I was the youngest of three kids and after I graduated high school, my parents decided to go separate ways," he said. "The house became empty. At college, I got married and moved back into the house. A few years later, my brother and I bought the farm it sits on. In February I will be 53, and it is the only place I have lived except for a couple college residences. Not many people can say that."
When Alley was growing up in Culver, he saw older family members achieve success on the mat. J.D. Alley's cousin, Ray Alley, was the first Culver state champion wrestler in 1973 at 136 pounds. Another cousin, Lee Alley, won a state title at 176 pounds in 1976, and older brother, Dale, was back-to-back finalist in 1978 and 1979. The Alley name was becoming well-known for wrestling.
"My brother was fairly instrumental in some of my athletic wrestling success," Alley said. "He was a bit of a turd, six years older and would come and just sit on you and squeeze you ... I guess wrestling was an Alley thing and I was the youngest of all those guys, so I guess I benefited from traveling to some of those matches."
Alley started wrestling in third grade and at the time, Dan Elliott was the Culver High School wrestling coach. Elliott is currently the coach at Ridgeview High School.
"He did a lot of cool things," said Alley about Elliott. "He had a Volkswagen van bus and you are in fourth grade and he is loading kids up, hauling them around the state, trying to instill passion and fundamentals in the sport of wrestling. I am tremendously grateful for the input Dan Elliott put into Culver wrestling and me, myself."
Alley was soon dominating the mats in high school and even though he was having great individual success, one program was dominating in team success, Lowell High School. Alley didn't know it yet, but his rival school would play a bigger role later in his life. Lowell's head coach was the legendary Jerry Dilley, and the Lowell wrestling program was as dominant then as Culver wrestling is now.
"Mr. Dilley is one of my idols," Alley said. "I am a bit of a copycat, trying to learn from the good and the bad and incorporate things into my program. Mr. Dilley is amazing. He holds the record at 13 for individual team titles held by one coach, and if we can find a way to win another championship, we would tie one of my idols, which is pretty cool to me."
"When I was a senior in high school, Lowell had about 150 points and there were three teams trying for second place, Culver being one of them, and we all had about 50 points (in the state tournament). They had three times more points than anyone else," said Alley. "Culver had two kids in the finals -- one won and one lost to a Lowell kid in overtime. We ended up fourth and in those days, only the top three got a trophy."
Legendary college career
With an undefeated high school career at Culver, Alley soon began visiting potential colleges where he could wrestle. Alley initially committed to Oregon State University, but on one of his last college visits, something about Southern Oregon made Alley decommit from OSU and commit to be a Red Raider at SOU. That gut feeling was right on the money because the SOU program was about to have historic years with elite wrestlers that took the wrestling world by storm.
"I had a senior captain named Steve Kanter; I don't know why, but we formed a bond and learned a lot about what senior leadership is supposed to look like," said Alley. "Not putting kids' heads in toilets, turning the handle, making the medkit or whatever. He was a phenomenal competitor; I was fortunate that he was my captain and I learned a lot of things about contributing, being tough, working for a goal, putting in extra time."
"My friend Steve took me under his wing and had a great assistant coach, Billy Nugent, who won the U.S. Open in a non-Olympic year. He had some injury problems, but would have been an Olympian for us at 149 pounds in the right year," he said. "A couple of brothers were setting the wrestling world on fire. If you are not a fan of wrestling, they are Dave and Mark Schultz. They relocated to Ashland and Dave was one of the most respected wrestlers in the world."
"They came through our room and coach Nugent was working out with them and there was all kinds of new techniques that Dave was dreaming up daily. It was coming through our room at a regular basis. A lot of it and at least the concept behind it, is taught in Culver's wrestling room as well. I just fell into some really lucky things."
During the 1987-88 season, Southern Oregon went undefeated in dual matches, going 15-0, beating teams like the University of Oregon, Oregon State and Portland State. The team later became known as "Riehm's Dream Team," named after their head coach, Bob Riehm. In recent years, Alley was inducted into the SOU Hall of Fame as both an individual and a couple years later, as the captain of the historic "Rhiem's Dream Team."
Alley's last wrestling match was in March 1989. He married in September 1989, and he and his new wife, Tammy, moved back to Culver. When he moved home, Alley was a few credits short of graduating with a degree. He'd always planned to return to his hometown to work on the family farm and wasn't sure it was necessary to have a degree. However, his mother wasn't happy with Alley not finishing his degree, so he decided to try to complete his schooling.
Alley drove to Ashland from Culver to attend classes, taking all-day classes Tuesday through Thursday, and staying on a friend's couch. Between the long drives and a couple classes at Central Oregon Community College, Alley earned his degree at the most opportune time — Culver High School was looking for a new head wrestling coach.
Start of coaching legacy
After Alley graduated from Culver in 1985, the wrestling program had gone through four different head coaches. One night, Alley's wife, who knew his passion for wrestling, came home and suggested that he should apply for the position. Surprisingly, Alley had never even considered coaching.
"I never took any education classes; that was the first time in my life I ever thought about coaching," said Alley. "I thought, I am no coach. Then realized, wrestling has been pretty good to me, taken me all over the world, South Africa, United States, it has been a phenomenal experience. I believe that more so today than then. It is the best sport in the world, the oldest sport in the world."
"I took the job out of a sense of duty," he said. "There was no burning passion to be a wrestling coach and here we are 30 years later. I would have bet you every lunch on Sunday that I would not be here 30 years later. I was going to be there until they found someone better. I was the only guy that applied, which in not uncommon in a 2A high school."
Alley's coaching journey was just starting when he arrived in the familiar wrestling room. His focus was not on state titles, breaking records, trophies or legacy; he had one main focus, reviving a dying program, keeping it from getting cut, and getting more athletes in the wrestling room.
"The focus was to find more bodies, give it some survivability, and keep it," said Alley. "There were three seniors on the team when we started; they were great athletes. People were thinking the wrestling program was crappy, thinking if we cut the program, these seniors would play other sports."
"It was a real struggle to just find the numbers to keep the program around," he said. "That was the goal — find people. I tell people we take anyone. I did not care if you had four Fs, couldn't wrestle yourself out of a wet paper bag; we needed bodies. That was a good thing, too. If I inherited a state championship team, I would not appreciate those days and learn things. You get those rough-around-the-edges kids, treat them with respect, battle for them a bit and they are more loyal than your favorite dog. They will battle for you and that was an early lesson learned, an unintended benefit."
Alley was quickly learning that not everyone wanted to keep the wrestling program around and the majority of athletes were playing other sports. He fought for the program, fought for the wrestlers and fought to keep the wrestlers in the mat room.
"I used to say, those who could, played basketball and everyone else wrestled," Alley said. "It was more popular and we took the rest. Today, that is not the case."
Training those early wrestlers taught Alley about working with kids and focusing on fundamentals. Most importantly, standing up for his wrestlers became a cornerstone of Alley's philosophy.
"It has rubbed some people the wrong way — teachers, administrators and such," said Alley, who regularly advocates for his wrestlers. "I have always been a fighter and there are a lot of ways to fight without going to a judge or ending up with bloody knuckles. You can fight with a pen; just fight."
"I don't make things go away or sweep things under the rug," he said. "Those kids need advocates. That hasn't always happened to them. We found that out early on; that it is important ... We may hold you accountable for your actions, but we still advocate for you. If we think you have been wronged, we will swing the bat really, really hard for you ... That is what the early years were about."
Culver had a state champion wrestler the first year Alley was at the helm, but he doesn't take credit for the success of defending state champion Evan Thomas, who had an undefeated season and won the title fairly easily, with a 22-0 record.
"I never really claimed Evan as a state title," said Alley. "I do not want to short him a state title, I just inherited that. It was someone else's product; I just sat in the corner. I do not know how much I really taught Evan."
After Thomas' title, Culver didn't see another individual state champion until 2002. The program was not only rebuilding and trying to grow in numbers, but one school was still on top of the 2A wrestling world, Lowell.
"As I started being a coach, I still had some teammates in college that were from Lowell and were still some friends of mine," said Alley. "I had a lot of questions about coach Dilley. When I started coaching, Lowell becomes a nemesis and Jerry Dilley was kind of phasing himself out as a new coach was coming in."
Coach Jeff Cardwell, one of Oregon State's first four-time state champs in college, was selected to replace coach Dilley. Not only was Cardwell experienced at the highest level, he was coaching an already dominant program.
"The kids that won state titles in the '70s and '80s for Lowell weren't kids anymore; they were now parents, parents who invested in wrestling and continuing a winning tradition through their own kids," Alley recalled. "They were second- or even third-generation kids and they had good genetic makeup, with parents that were passionate about wrestling."
"Coach Cardwell was a very talented technician and coach. All the tools were there and Culver was competing against those with people who were first-generation wrestlers, parents and kids," he said.
Six years into coaching the wrestling program, the Alleys became parents to a baby girl, Gabrielle Alley. Out of all the days in the year, he noted, Gabrielle was born on the Saturday of the Culver Invitational Wrestling Tournament in 1995. She is currently the Culver varsity volleyball coach.
When the year 2000 rolled around, the Culver wrestling program was still unable to earn individual or team state championships. They had come close, with individuals placing second, but couldn't find a way to get over the hump. Over a decade with Alley and the program was still searching for success in the form of titles.
"I did not think about quitting," Alley said. "There was a desire to be a winner and we hadn't got there yet. I wasn't much of a quitter and it wasn't time to quit I guess."
After the end of every season, all the winter sports had an end-of-the-year banquet together. With the success of the Culver basketball program, Alley felt that the wrestling program was getting pushed to the side, which left him with a desire to improve their situation.
"I hated going to that because our basketball program was having some success," Alley said. "We didn't have a lot to talk about and I felt like a bit of a side show. Those banquets are long and people are there for their kids."
"You look in the crowd and it is all basketball parents, who aren't interested in wrestling. A lot of them wished we would drop wrestling, so the wrestling kids would play basketball," he said. "It is really hard to put a cherry on top of the season when you feel like the audience does not want to hear it. At least that is how I viewed it."
Lorne Stills helps shift tide
After the banquet, a parent of some young wrestlers, Lorne Stills, came up to Alley to ask if he could throw a barbecue for just the wrestling community to talk about the vision for the future of Culver wrestling. One barbecue and one parent changed the entire course of the future for the Bulldog wrestling program.
"We had it at the old Christian Church," Alley said. "He just cooked the barbecue out of the back of his pickup. Lorne says, 'Hey, I want to go to some camps, take our high school kids to a faraway cool trip.' Those were the type of things he pushed me into that I would probably have never done."
With Stills as assistant coach, Alley said, "We made our first trip to Disneyland with a group of kids. We were going to Oklahoma State camps and Reno. He was shouldering that load. He was such a great assistant. He always said he didn't know much about wrestling, but he knew quite a bit about winning. He created some great relationships with some of our very best wrestlers."
Stills, who had been a state champion wrestler for Culver in 1980, saw that young kids were eager to wrestle, and with assistance from Madras residents, started a Jefferson County youth mat club, which later turned into separate Madras and Culver mat clubs.
Before Stills started taking over some of the youth programs, including middle school wrestling, there was a time when Alley was the head coach for both the high school and middle school wrestling programs.
"There were two years where I was coaching at the high school and the middle school at the same time and those seasons overlap," said Alley. "That was a complicated scenario. I am trying to build that youth program and keep it from getting cut. I did both and along in my life comes Lorne Stills."
With Stills, the youth program found a great coach who pushed for taking the kids to distant wrestling tournaments. Stills helped build relationships, camaraderie and a successful culture.
For his efforts, Stills would go on to win his own awards, such as the National Wrestling Coaches Association Assistant Coach of the Year. He also won the Middle School Coach of the Year, which is awarded to only one middle school coach, among all classifications, at all levels in Oregon.
Individual success was increasing and the first team title came in 2007. The team was led by Culver's first four-time state champion, Miguel Baltazar. Baltazar was a high school All-American and a collegiate All-American at Southern Oregon University, where he is currently an assistant coach.
"He was an anchor point of that group," said Alley.
Not only did Culver win its first state title in 2007, but the football team also won the state title right before the wrestling season began that year.
"It came at a tremendous time; we won a football title at the same time and if you do some research, you will find only two, three times in the history of OSAA that a football program and wrestling program from the same school won a state title in the same year," Alley said. "That first football title, 29 of 31 kids were wrestlers."
Alley and the Bulldogs didn't stop at one title in 2007. As one dynasty was starting to end, Culver's was just starting. Things started rolling for Culver, which won six straight team titles, with rival Lowell watching the colors of Orange and Black placing first.
"You win one and there is a tremendous relief," said Alley. "You start to think about things. Then you win back to back, then three-peat; four is pretty dang cool to be part of a group that contributed since they were freshmen and gets to win four titles in a row. Then you start to have conversations about dynasty; where do you go from there?"
Unexpected 2013 loss
Six in a row. The Bulldogs wrestling program was on fire and had everything go their way, but in 2013, Culver fell short and placed second. The team that beat them? Lowell.
"I had been a coach for 23 years or something," said Alley. "Maybe this was it, maybe I'd reached the top, or we can go home, go back to work and come back with a vengeance. I think that is what we did and I am proud of that."
For the first time in a while, Culver wasn't standing on the top of the podium, and uncertainties started to surface. How would Alley and the wrestling program react to losing their first state title in six years?
"People responded and here comes Marco Retano's class; they were instant leaders as freshmen," he said. "They won four team titles — just natural leaders from day one. They had a passion for wrestling and it infected everyone around them, including me. It was fun."
Retano is currently a wrestler at Eastern Oregon University.
"There were moments in 2013 that were less than fun," said Alley. "We really got to see the other side of it and some of those kids didn't achieve the success they hoped for. They get the credit for riding that ship and getting four more in a row. I hope that was very satisfying for those kids."
The Bulldogs responded with six more team state titles — 12 in the last 13 years for Culver wrestling, which continues to build success and a dynasty. Lowell was finally in the backseat, and Culver stood alone with the crown.
"I really believed we weathered Lowell's best storm," Alley said. "They got us in 2013 and kept us from setting some cool records. Burns holds the record for most consecutive team titles at 10, so that would have been number seven for us and it would have been 13 in a row, today."
"We weathered the storm and Jeff Cardwell resigned his position and he is going to coach at Thurston this year," he said. "A lot of those second-generation names came through Lowell's program. People don't really understand that backstory, but I think that is really good credit to our group and how we beat that fire back. Lowell was always right there. All those blues (ribbons), Lowell was second."
Proudest moment in sea of success
In a dynasty that has lasted for over a decade, there are lots of amazing, memorable moments. With all of those to choose from, Alley couldn't pick just one. Favorites included Baltazar becoming the first four-time state champ for Culver and the others that would soon follow him; Mark Coy winning the first individual title with Alley as his coach; and Lorenzo Vasquez winning not only back-to-back titles at Reser's Tournament of Champions, which is an elite tournament against all classifications, but also winning outstanding wrestler for the entire event.
One of his proudest moments as a coach came after a two-year period, which included a series of tragedies, not just for Culver wrestling, but for the community itself.
The first occurred in 2001, when a Culver family was heading to school in icy conditions after a two-hour delay. The van was heading down a hill, and the driver tried to stop in before the railroad tracks, but couldn't, and ran into the path of a train. The mother, who was driving, two sons and a daughter, were killed, but a 10-year-old son survived. One of those killed was a freshman and a Culver wrestler.
In 2002, two more tragedies occurred.
"... A very successful kid from our program — successful, beloved, great kid — jumped off the Crooked River bridge from all the way on the top of the pillar, 110 feet from the water and doesn't come back up," Alley said. "Three days later, his very best friend, who took medication for seizures, had a seizure in the bathtub and drowned, with his entire family (in the house) feet away from him. They were both third place at state that previous year."
A homeschooled wrestler, who was a young senior at Culver and wanted to be a firefighter, volunteered at the fire hall often. He was on call for both the railroad and bathtub tragedies.
"It rattled him," said Alley. "He decided he did not want to wrestle anymore and he would have been a No. 1 ranked wrestler. There were three No. 1 ranked kids; two of them died and one of them couldn't do it."
"We had been a dominant second place at state the year before. Nyssa got by us in 2002, and we really thought 2003 was going to be our breakout season," he said. "Then all this tragedy hit us."
In 2002, the Bulldogs were the champions of the Oregon Wrestling Classic, in Redmond, but as the date of the 2003 Oregon Wrestling Classic approached, a severe weather warning almost stopped the Bulldogs from traveling 15 miles to participate.
"Now, it is the year we are trying to wrestle without these kids (2003)," Alley said. "We are having issues making weight, filling the lineup. We were doing our best to put a good dual team on the mat and we had a really good freshman, who also broke his back and was unable to wrestle."
"I went to bed that night and the weather forecast was blue skies, no issues," he said. "I laid down in bed the night before, and told my wife I was going to pray for 4 feet of snow. She asked why and I said these kids that are left deserve to win this and I don't think we can win. I would just like some excuse where the defending champs can't be in the building, rather than coming up with why we didn't win. So, I prayed, please snow, please snow. I wake up and no snow; we have to go."
With clear skies, Alley and the Bulldogs started to leave for the tournament, but soon, Alley discovered that three wrestlers were over their weight limits. Culver had helped set up mats the day before and hadn't had its usual practice and weight-cut routine.
"I sit down with this group of kids; I was trying to fill this lineup and make things work," said Alley. "I kind of briefly touched on the fact I was hoping it would snow and I told them they deserve better than this. I told them, we had a couple options, we all bump up a weight and we can get four or five matches in and just live to survive another day. It is going to be really tough for us to get this done. Those three kids said, 'No coach, we will make weight; we can make it.'"
"I put them in my pickup and turned up the heat and they wrestled in the back seat, trying to lose weight," he said. "All those kids that were 2 pounds overweight, by the time they got to the challenge scale, they all made weight."
Once the relief of making weight was over, the duals and matches soon began. Something happened when the Bulldogs hit the mat and everything started going Culver's way.
"We go wrestle and I had eight core kids in four dual meets, 32 matches and we went 31-1," said Alley. "One kid lost one match to a defending state champ. Everything went our way. In dual meets there is a coin flip for odd and even, to see who puts their guy on the mat first. We won all the coin flips we needed to, to force their hand."
Alley explained that at that time, the starting weight was selected out of a hat, "and even that played to our advantage. We had two really tough duals to get by in the quarters and semifinals."
Everything went their way and the Bulldogs won the 2003 Oregon Classic.
"When you look at that 20 years later, there had to be some divine intervention or something; I don't know," Alley said. "The bottom line is, it taught me that day, that if you don't put yourself out there, you are never going to win. That was a very satisfying high that day. Winning the classic after all those tragedies, feeling that you did your best to give your kids an opportunity to win, making the right calls and decisions; they deserved it."
"If my prayers were answered with about 4 feet of snow, we would have never been able to experience that," he said. "You might get your butt kicked, but if you don't stick your neck out, you will never get to experience that (feeling)."
"People always ask why we wrestle Crook County; (they say) you don't have a team that can beat them," Alley said. "I say, 'I know, but one of these days, we are going to beat them and if I quit, we will never have that opportunity to beat them.'"
The 2003 Oregon Classic was a defining moment for Alley. "Sometimes you have to show up, (and) put your toe on the line," he said. "Nothing great will ever happen if you don't stick your neck out."
Secret to success
With Culver winning so many titles, creating legacies and a dynasty, Alley was constantly being asked what the secret to all this success was. He never had an answer. But, the secret finally dawned on him in the strangest place.
Another tragedy had struck on Christmas Eve 2016, when Alley's father, Jack, passed away.
"My father had pancreatic cancer and some issues and we knew it was coming," Alley said. "It came as a shock that day because we had all been there for Christmas and he seemed just fine. We left and a few hours later, he was gone."
"Lots of things were going through my head. The decision was made to push the service out. He always said he didn't want a service. That wish was pretty much honored and there was going to be a celebration of life in March after wrestling was over," said Alley.
A few days before the service, Alley was asked to speak at the service. He agreed and started to prepare to speak — in front of friends and family — about his dad, who had been an influential person in the community.
The service was held outdoors, at the Gray Butte Cemetery, where Alley was doing his best to project his voice, so that everyone could hear.
"Looking through the back of the crowd, trying to make eye contact — but not make eye contact — and get through my piece, I get to the back of the crowd and I see Cylus (Hoke) and Lorenzo (Vasquez) standing there and I am still going, still delivering my speech," he said. "Nobody recorded it, I swear I didn't miss a beat, but my mind was thinking, 'What the heck are they doing here?' Neither one of them, maybe Cylus once, had really ever met my dad."
"All of a sudden, a lightbulb went off in my head," said Alley. "Reporters and people have asked me forever, what's the secret, what is the secret sauce? I now know it. I now know the secret to Culver wrestling. They (Lorenzo and Cylus) were there, which choked me up a bit."
"This is the humorous part," he continued. "I was thinking — and my wife doesn't think I can multitask — I was thinking about Culver wrestling, delivering my dad's service, dealing with all the emotions, and that is what got me through it. I started chuckling, thinking, 'Yeah, I am multitasking.'"
"The moral of that story was Cylus and Lorenzo came, not because they knew my dad, but they knew it was important to me, so they came," he said.
The bonds created through tough years, tragic moments and victorious celebrations were stronger that he had realized. Standing up and being there for kids, fighting and trusting one another, and just being there for them, even through the toughest times had led to that moment.
"We talked about advocating and fighting for kids," said Alley. "That is the best way we could sum it up. If it is important to me, it is important to them and if it is important to them, it is important to us, as a coaching staff. We have a great group of adults that help with the wrestling program, whether they are part of the coaching staff or just somebody behind the scenes."
"They will help them through that, whatever it needs to be," he said. "It is a phenomenal group, so many worker bees, whatever you want to call it. They just fit in and start working. I really think that is the secret."
A couple years later, almost the exact same thing happened to Alley. His uncle had died, and again, he was called upon to speak at the service. Once he began speaking, he scanned the crowd and found current Culver wrestlers Lane Downing and Isaiah Toomey standing in the back of the crowd.
"Lane Downing and Isaiah Toomey, a couple of guys we are going to lean on for wins and leadership this year, and there they are in the crowd," said Alley. "That exists. It started by battling, believing and getting people places, but it is just a culture and phenomenon that exists in Culver wrestling. It is not just me. There is someone in our group that will be there. No one is going to fall on hard times, emotional, physical, financial, without somebody there propping them up."
"Those are the hard times, and on the flip side, if we are celebrating something, whether it is an A, to get a kid a valedictorian medal, or state championship, or scholarship," he said. "Whatever it is, we are going to celebrate, too. We are there."
Planning for the future
Thirty years. Thirty years of memories, bonds, friendships. Alley and the Culver wrestling program are still on top and show no signs of slowing down, but time is always undefeated and nothing can last forever.
"Year 30 — kind of a monumental year," Alley said. "If you were a teacher, you'd start thinking about retiring. I need to have some conversations with my current assistant, coach Robert Frazier. He is a new teacher, new husband, new dad, new coach — a lot of things on his plate. I think he is one of the best candidates to succeed me in this 30-year timeframe. There is a lot of similar, conceptual things about the way we approach wrestling and coaching."
"There are a lot of things about coaching that are tremendously fun, but for every one thing, there are about four things that aren't fun," he said. "Always a mad parent, kid with bad grades, discipline issues, fundraising, scheduling, procedure and policy issues, weight management, OSAA issues."
"I always kind of thought, and I don't know the timeline, but there would be a meld over that way. You dump all that on a new coach with a new family, career, my fear is it would be overwhelming. Let him do the things that are fun. It is harder for me to do some things, like going down on the mat and showing moves. It is hard for this 53-year-old ogre. He makes that easy. That is fun; let him build relationships and let me deal with the bad things," he said.
The thought of ending his coaching career is running through Alley's head, but he is sure when and how that will come about.
"What a great conversation to have in your head," said Alley. "Do you want to be John Elway, win two Super Bowls and ride into the sunset, or do you want to be Brett Favre and throw an interception in the NCF championship game, and not get there. Both are Hall of Famers, both highly regarded as the best quarterbacks we have ever had. There is something about riding into the sunset and there is something about not leaving whoever is behind me with an empty cupboard."
"There are people, when they leave, they want everything to fall off so it makes them look better," he said. "I want Culver wrestling to be a dominant force long after I am 6 feet under. I don't want any hiccups. Whatever day I walk away, nothing would bring a smile to my face more than Culver winning a title that next year with whoever that coach is."
"I am building bonds with kids in kindergarten right now. Whenever I do leave, somebody is going to feel like I let them down I suppose. All records are going to be broke and when is enough, enough?" he asked, adding that those are the discussions he is having with himself every day.
No one knows how their journey is going to end, but one thing is clear. The bonds and relationships that have been built with current and former Culver wrestlers mean that they will always have coach Alley's back. Through tough times and celebrations, everyone involved with the program will remember who they went to when they needed a shoulder to lean on.
When the time comes for Alley to give that retirement speech, chances are good that when he scans the back of the room, his wrestling family will be there.
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