Head coach jumps from HS to RU
Standing in a gymnasium in College Park, Md., Scott Goodale looked at the scoreboard and sighed. It told him his Rutgers wrestling team was on the losing end of a 34-9 score and his Scarlet Knights were 0-3 in his first year as their head coach.
Many, including some on Goodale's own roster, began to question whether the coach who excelled at Jackson Memorial High School (N.J.) had what it took to coach in college.
"There were probably some guys on the roster the first day I got here on Aug. 1, 2007, that felt I was just a high school coach," Goodale said. "And then we started 0-3. So then they really didn't start believing in us."
Gone were the days of dominating opponents with ease when he coached for seven years at Jackson. Gone were the four state champions, the seven-team district champions and the consistent top-five rankings.
But two things that never left Goodale's side were his determination to get the most out of his athletes and his vision for New Jersey wrestling.
While concerns about his ability to coach at the next level remained, Goodale knew the key to success laid in his relationship with the wrestlers, not with pleasing those who doubted him.
"At first, I was a little threatened by [the doubters]. Maybe they are right," Goodale said. "But in reality, it's a compliment. We try not to run it as a business. I don't want to be a CEO. I want to be a wrestling coach. I want to care about everything that is going on in our guys' lives. There are 30 guys on the roster, and they are all part of this family and that's how I treat them."
Since that loss to the Terrapins four years ago, the Knights put together a 71-17-1 dual-meet record under Goodale. They set off for Philadelphia next week for the NCAA Tournament with eight representatives and a legitimate chance to bring the first All-American to Rutgers since 2002.
In a time when wrestling programs are being cut across the country, the Knights attracted more than 5,000 fans for a dual this season and rank among the nation's best in attendance figures. The team now brings in revenue to the school as it proves Goodale is right to believe that in the face of adversity, New Jersey wrestling fans will not quit.
And even though there were some growing pains, Goodale knows he made the right choice in leaving the town where he grew up, wrestled, coached and built a pillar of success.
"You go out to Pittsburgh and football is king. You go down to Florida and football is king. I wanted to make wrestling king in [Jackson]," he said. "And that's what was tough to leave. I think that's kind of my personality, I knew [Rutgers] was dead in the water, and I just wanted the challenge."
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To see the legacy left by Goodale on the Jackson wrestling scene, look no further than the man who took over when he left for the Banks. Doug Withstandley, the new head coach of Jackson Memorial, wrestled for the Jaguars while Goodale was an assistant from 1998-2000 under Al Aires.
Aires retired during Withstandley's senior season and handed the program over to Goodale.
"[Goodale] ran a lot of the practices and everyone knew that Mr. Aires was just sort of grooming Scott to take over the program," Withstandley said. "My senior year, that's what we did."
It was that year — Goodale's first as a coach and Withstandley's final as a wrestler — when the two solidified a bond that continues to this day. The moment occurred at the state tournament with Withstandley in the finals.
"He lost his father at an early age in an automobile accident," Goodale said. "He was under so much pressure. I remember taking him out to breakfast that morning and talking to him. I told him, ‘You lost your father. You've had so much adversity in your life and you turned out to be such a great kid. This is just another wrestling match. Win or lose, the sun is coming up the next day.'"
As the match drew closer, Withstandley recalled the look of excitement in Goodale's face before he took to the mat. It was a look that Withstandley never forgot — a delight that transcended the usual connection between athlete and coach.
"His energy and his excitement just for one of his wrestlers being in the state finals was amazing," said Withstandley, who returned to Jackson to become an assistant under Goodale. "Right then and there, I realized the effect that a coach can have on an athlete. One of Scott's biggest attributes as a coach is to get the best out of every athlete."
Withstandley was the first state champion under Goodale, but not the last. That came in Goodale's final year with Jackson, where Scott Winston began one of the greatest high school careers in New Jersey wrestling history.
After moving from Edison his freshman year of high school, Winston quickly got to know Goodale, and the two took an immediate interest in one another.
"He was really positive," Winston said. "He knew a lot about everybody that I had either competed against or was going to be a teammate with. I was just very shocked and surprised that somebody knew that much about everything."
Goodale left for Rutgers before Winston's senior season, leaving Withstandley in charge of the program and responsible for ensuring Winston finished his high school career undefeated.
The head job may have come sooner than Withstandley predicted, but he had plenty of guidance from his former coach and mentor.
"We had one year together before [Goodale] took the job at Rutgers," he said. "In that one year, I learned at least three-quarters of what I know now as a coach. Scott has been very influential in my coaching career."
Upon graduation, Winston could have gone to any school in the country. But only one program had the coach that he wanted to compete for — even if many thought that coach could not deliver at the next level.
"I knew what [Goodale] was capable of, and I knew that at the time [Rutgers] wasn't a great team, but there was a chance for it to be what it is today and even more," Winston said. "They say he's a high school coach and they say he's this and that, but I don't know, he's winning at this level and he won at the last level, so I just wanted to be around a winner."
* * *
Before he was even offered the head coaching job at Rutgers, Goodale had a vision.
Scribbled on a napkin while having drinks with his wife, the vision outlined a five-point plan to rejuvenate a Scarlet Knights program stuck in the doldrums of a state brimming with wrestling talent.
"I was contacted by somebody who is pretty important in New Jersey wrestling and he asked me, ‘How can we make Rutgers better?'" Goodale said. "And off the top of my head, I started running through some ideas in areas where I think they needed help."
Recruitment. Scholarships. Academic support. Wrestling camps. Coaching staff.
The plan outlined everything needed to make a program successful, and it was a plan that Goodale believed in.
"The hardest part was everything that goes with building a program. And all of that was in that five-point plan," Goodale said. "As far as the wrestling part goes, that was easy. Wrestling is wrestling is wrestling. If you can teach Doug Withstandley and Scott Winston how to wrestle, you can teach anybody."
But more important than having a plan he believed in, New Jersey wrestlers needed to believe in Goodale.
Steve Rivera owns Elite Wrestling in Jackson and trained some of the state's top wrestling talent for more than 15 years after winning a 1992 NCAA Championship.
With contacts and connections throughout the state, Rivera served as one of the driving forces behind Goodale taking over for longtime Rutgers coach John Sacchi.
"Everybody knew that Sacchi was retiring," Rivera said. "Let's be honest, if anybody could [turn around Rutgers], it would be Goodale. It was something New Jersey needed. It was almost like everybody sort of pushed him in there together."
Rivera's relationship with Goodale goes back to the early '80s, when both were big-name wrestlers in New Jersey. The two developed a more personal relationship when Goodale coached at Jackson, convincing Rivera he was the right man for the job at Rutgers.
"Scott, given the opportunity to sit down in front of anyone, is able to sell you on anything," Rivera said. "His passion is pretty obvious, and his track record is hard to argue with. If you're trying to get something done, I think he's proven that he could do it. It's just a matter of how fast."
With the backing of a reputable figure in New Jersey wrestling, Goodale offered up his five-point plan and was rewarded with an opportunity to put it into action.
* * *
It was four years and 70 victories since the loss to Maryland, but Goodale found himself looking at the scoreboard with similar dread.
Much to the chagrin of 5,011 fans inside the Louis Brown Athletic Center, the score dictated another Rutgers loss. This time it was a 21-9 defeat at the hands of conference-foe Lehigh.
Unlike the loss to Maryland, Goodale did not fear a mutiny from his wrestlers.
This was his vision in action. It was a great night for New Jersey wrestling and no matter the outcome, there was no arguing the fact that the program took a giant leap forward that night.
"That week, I knew all that hype was going to drain our guys," Goodale said. "But we had 5,000 people. Nobody has better attendance — other than Iowa — than 5,000 people at a college wrestling match. It just doesn't happen."
The attendance figure did not ease the pain. Although it was only the team's second loss of the season, it still ate away at Goodale.
But he took solace in the unwavering support from the family and friends that supported his vision since Day 1 and reminded him why he took up the challenge in the first place.
"The personal life is very important. You've got to be able to separate the two, and the first couple of years, I had a tough time doing that," Goodale said. "Even now, like after Lehigh, I have a tough time doing that. But I walk out of the locker room and I see my daughter and it's all good. Because that's really what's important and I'll never ever lose sight of that."
With the loss in the rearview mirror, Goodale and his squad shift their focus to what can be a monumental NCAA Tournament.
It stands as a chance for the Knights to prove their ground — for the team to justify its No. 9 ranking and for Goodale to show he belongs at this level.
"To think it can happen overnight is unfair, but you're seeing the progress," Rivera said. "I think that Scott has a great chance this year to really shut the naysayers up. There are just so many guys [on the roster] there that are capable of getting this done."
No matter what criticisms come his way, Goodale remains committed to the vision he drew up well before arriving at Rutgers and his undying resolve to mold his athletes into great wrestlers and even better men.
"I want guys coming here to know that I'm going to have your back on and off the mat," he said. "Am I going to get mad at you? Absolutely. Am I going to push you? Are you going to not like me at times? Yeah. It's all for the good, and at the end of the day, it's all about getting a degree, being a good person and knowing that our relationship will last forever."
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