Gordon Connell is stepping aside after 31 seasons as McCallie’s wrestling coach.
Stepping aside, though, doesn’t mean he is stepping down or even out.
Gordon Connell, right, is stepping down as wrestling coach of McCallie School. Pictured with him at the recent state tournament is coach Mike Newman. Staff photo by Robin Rudd/Chattanooga Times Free Press
Connell will remain at the school as an earth science teacher and with the title of head coach emeritus as an advisor to the wrestling program and new head coach Mike Newman.
“What I love most about the sport is teaching technique on the mat, and I’ll be able to do more of that and not have to worry about the responsibilities of a head coach,” Connell said. “I plan on being in the room every day. That won’t change.”
Connell has not enjoyed dealing with the weight certification program put in place by the TSSAA and the National Wrestling Coaches Association, calling it a pain. He has endured the paper work and travel plans and the numerous other things that go with being a head coach in order to coach. Now he has found a way to do one without the other.
“He is really good at working with kids one-on-one and he’ll continue to do that,” he will still be very involved with the program,” said Newman, who worked with Connell for several seasons as a co-head coach and before that as an assistant. “The guy is a legend in wrestling. I know I have big shoes to fill but I’ve been around Gordon for 17 years and we have been fortunate to have guys on the staff that are wrestlers. We have bounced things off each other for years about developing a strategy for each wrestler and a strategy for the team. That won’t change.”
Connell’s youngest son, Adam, just completed his freshman season and the coach wanted to make sure that each wrestler in the program got the head coach’s full attention.
“When you have a son wrestling for you I think it’s only natural he’s the guy you’re looking at most, and I don’t think you can do that as a head coach. I want to be fair to everybody,” Connell said. “I sort of went through it with (elder son) Lee. I just want to be certain that I am fair with everybody.”
Connell has put in more time than most. Prior to his 31 years of service to McCallie, he spent three seasons as Hixson’s head coach, and took the Wildcats to their first state title, and then spent six seasons coaching the NCAA-accredited program at Middle Tennessee State University.
“There’s no telling what his record is. Even in off years his teams probably won at least 10 matches, so I’m guessing he has at least 450 wins,” Newman said.
As an active wrestler, Connell won the first individual state title at Brainerd (1966) for any sport, competed at Pembroke State and most recently the 62-year-old recently won a world seniors championship in 2004 at Hradec Kralove, Czech Republic.
Under his tutelage, McCallie has won 11 state championships including the 2006 state duals.
The coach also has filmed all of the NCAA tournament matches for decades and has been involved in that capacity also with the U.S. world team.
“I really plan on relaxing a little more, but a lot of things won’t change,” he said. “I’m going to save my sentiments and thank you’s and memories until I do retire. Adam has three more years and after that we may be walk away from McCallie.”
Ward Gossett is an assistant sports editor and writer for the Times Free Press. Ward has a long history in Chattanooga journalism. He actually wrote a bylined story for the Chattanooga News-Free Press as a third-grader. He Began working part-time there in 1968 and was hired full time in 1970. Ward now covers high school athletics, primarily football, wrestling and baseball and University of Tennessee at Chattanooga wrestling. Over a 40-year career, he has covered ...