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Kerry Eggers on Sports: Former Arizona State assistant coach one of four finalists

CHRIS PENDLETONOregon State has hired a wrestling coach who will bring the Beavers back in prominence, members of the selection committee say.

Arizona State assistant coach Chris Pendleton was named Monday to replace Jim Zalesky as the man in charge of OSU's mat wars.

"Chris has the experience and the name, he can recruit, and he has good vision for where the program can go," said Greg Strobel, a two-time national champion for the Beavers in the 1970s. "That vision coincides with what we as alums would like to see — consistent top-10 teams, All-Americans and national champions. He has the ability to make that happen."

"He is going to bring an exciting brand of wrestling to Oregon State," ex-OSU All-American Bob Tomasovic said. "He has a great philosophy on how to wrestle.

"One of the questions the selection committee asked was about philosophy. The second part of it was, 'What would you like the fans to say as they leave Gill Coliseum after watching your team wrestle?' He said, 'They're aggressive. They score from every position. We just saw a tough, gritty, exciting team wrestle.'"

Pendleton won the job over three other finalists who were interviewed by the eight-person selection committee, chaired by senior associate athletic director Jacque Bruns. The others were Army head coach Kevin Ward, Oklahoma State associate head coach Zack Esposito and North Carolina State associate head coach Adam Hall.

"We interviewed four very good candidates," said Strobel, retired after a 13-year stint as head coach at Lehigh. "Any of them would have been a good choice. It was a tough decision. We gave the athletic director (Scott Barnes) our recommendation, and he went with it.

"It came down to the fact that the upside potential with Chris is probably higher. He can take the program further."

Pendleton, 38, was a two-time NCAA champion as a wrestler at Oklahoma State and competed on three Cowboy teams that won national championships. He was named by InterMat Magazine as one of the top 10 wrestlers of the 2000s in compiling a 118-12 record from 2001-05.

Pendleton is still active on the U.S. freestyle scene and has wrestled in international competitions in recent years.

The Lemoore, California, native began his coaching career as a volunteer assistant at his alma mater. He was there five years before becoming an assistant at Wyoming, and spent the last five seasons assisting Zeke Jones at Arizona State.

This season, the Sun Devils were 15-2 in dual meets — including a upset win over top-ranked Penn State that drew a crowd of 8,522 in Tempe — and were ranked No. 6 in the nation. They won the Pac-12 championship and had six wrestlers seeded for the NCAA tournament, which were canceled due to the coronavirus pandemic.

Pendleton has worked coaching national teams, including serving as an assistant with the USA Wrestling junior team in Finland in 2017.

"I'm pleased with the hiring of Chris," said Strobel, who served eight years as National Teams Director for USA Wrestlng and was co-coach for the U.S. Olympic freestyle team in 2000. "He still has some learning to do — he hasn't been a head coach — but I think he's going to be a good one."

Tomasovic said Pendleton's lack of head coaching experience doesn't bother him.

"Not at all," he said. "I very much feel he is ready to be a head coach. He convinced the selection committee that he is ready."

Zalesky had trouble with recruiting, especially in keeping the top prep wrestlers from Oregon in-state.

"Chris is going to be a fantastic recruiter," said Tomasovic, who was 31-3 and finished fourth nationally at 150 pounds in 1970. "He had a great record as an assistant coach at Wyoming. (The Cowboys) had top-10 recruiting classes. Look at the talent they brought in at Arizona State.

"He has a good handle on recruiting, knows what his plan is. He also has a great personality. He'll be able to connect with the team."

Tomasovic was pleased with the search, led by executive deputy AD Dan Bartholomae.

"The approach was absolutely professional," Tomasovic said. "The material provided, the candidates put together, the interview process — I felt like no stone was left unturned. It was a very complete and thorough process. No doubt, we got the right guy for the job."

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